Process Over Outcome
On doing work that matters.
I’ve written about this before…
It keeps popping up in different ways in messages from various sources. Here’s an audio capture of legendary music producer Rick Rubin in conversation with Joe Rogan on creative work.
Perhaps the most damaging thing to develop in Western Industrialised working culture, is that daily work has become a means to an economic end. It represents for most people, a must-do rather than a want-to-do. Utility comes first with meaning, purpose, and intrinsic value second if even at all. Work is something that is undertaken to provide income to accumulate stuff, pay bills and escape from the malaise of life. The weekend, holidays, drinking, drugs, sex, gambling, and other compulsive and damaging pastimes, have all replaced meaningful existence and serve only to compound our ill feeling. On top of this is the sense for many, that we’ve left behind something that called us; the urge to explore, to tell stories, to draw or paint, to sing or write poetry, to grow food because as our collective culture has taught us, nobody can make a living doing that. As such, human beings have allowed themselves to become objects of industry and daily work as a craft, a vocation, and a social contribution has been relegated to meaninglessness.
Am I overstating the matter? I don’t think so.
My position on this comes from personal experience in employment, self-employment, business ownership, and as an employer. I’m also drawing on your personal testimony and that of anthropologist David Graeber and his extensive research for the 2019 book, Bullshit Jobs. Here’s a note from his response to a question in this interview from 2018.
They’re miserable! Two or three people said they kind of like their bullshit jobs, but the overwhelming majority, they’re sick all the time. They talk about depression, they talk about complex illnesses, psychological and physical and immune problems that all clearly have to do with tension and anxiety and depression. And also they’re mean to each other. They scream at each other. The more meaningless the work, the more people suffer doing it and the worse they treat each other. - David Graeber
Although there are times when I forget, my thoughts seem to consistently return to the idea that what I’m doing now is more important than what that action produces. It is vital that the thing I’m doing reflects an intrinsic interest, with the outcome serving to inform the process. There is also the understanding that I don’t have forever. One day soon I’ll be gone and this realisation serves as justification for going where I’m drawn rather than in the direction of some kind of head goal. And where I’m drawn is to teach and to share the idea of “Command Your Own Work”. Little else in terms of daily work merits my attention.
Process over outcome is a major component of “command your own work”, and it’s taken most of my adult life to understand and assimilate it. It sits at the core of what I consider meaningful work and removes the economic imperative and profit motive. These ideas are percolating and combining, and they will eventually be documented in a book with the working title “The Tyranny of Work”. Your working life experience will form a central part of this account of work, and if you’d like to contribute, you can do so here.
This is a long-term project and I’ve been gathering personal workplace testimonies for a while now. I’m looking for themes in those responses. What exactly do people like you feel about work? What does work mean to you? Let me know in the Google form below— how do you feel about work?
The Sunday Letters Journal is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Are you a paid subscriber? If yes, you can view the working document below where I’m gathering my thoughts and references for this research and book project. Paying subscribers will get the following;
Access to chapters in advance
Access to bonus content
A free copy of the book
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial