The Sunday Letters Journal
Sunday Letters
The Gnömic: Fear & Work

The Gnömic: Fear & Work

A note on fear as a motivator and a viable alternative

I’m going to mix things up here a little bit mid-week. A poem, a sketch, a cartoon, a thought, an artist who has something interesting to say about daily work and so on. You won’t know what you’re getting until you’ve got it. Remove the predictability a little bit you might say. Let’s see where it goes…

I’ve been reading and listening to David Lynch recently. Here’s what he says about fear and work;

“When people are in fear they don't want to go to work. So many people today have that feeling. Then fear starts turning into hate and they begin to hate going to work… If I ran my set with fear, I would get 1%, not 100%, of what I get. And there would be no fun going down the road together.” - David Lynch

I think the challenge is to be easy about it rather than forceful. I was forceful with my people the whole time. I pushed hard and watched their every move. It’s stifling under that kind of scrutiny. Of course, there have to be standards, and the industry is filled with people with bad habits and poor training who don’t want to improve, to keep higher standards. But that’s the problem when you operate in a game where others decide what your work should look like–you don’t get to be truly creative and so there’s a certain resentment. In a game where the rules are set and people’s creativity is taken from them, they lose their power if indeed they even felt it in the first place. They become disenfranchised and demotivated. There’s no incentive to apply themselves. Ok, there might be a pay packet at the end of the week, but people aren’t motivated by money, not really.

The game is rigged. Humans are robots in the machine of production and consumption. Ever since Frederick Taylor made scientific management a thing, people’s creativity and intuition have been dampened, even removed completely. You could argue that this change came about through industrialisation. Today, instead of being able to think for oneself, to be creative and self-expressive, work has become a measurable and quantifiable exercise where your merit and reward is linked to how many widgets you can make in a minute, an hour, a day, a week. It’s the same in services'; you’ve got to be representative of what the company deems appropriate. Whatever happens, you certainly cannot be yourself.

There’s no love in that. It’s fear-based the whole way. No wonder people hate their work. My guess is that most people don’t even know there’s something better because all they’ve experienced is the dry and inhospitable contemporary workplace. A desert, you might say. That’s how I operated for years even though something in me knew that nothing would grow there, I kept pushing. Inputs and outputs, soulless shit. Planting seeds in the sand and none of them growing.

Operate in this dry and inhospitable place if you must, but understand that for you and those who work under your command, your output must exceed input. If it doesn’t, the game will fail you and you’ll fail the game. Also know that at some point in that input-output game, you may feel disillusioned and unfulfilled. You also might not. It depends where you derive your sense of fulfilment, and indeed, how thin that is.

Fear is not a sustainable promoter of growth. It might bring about short-term gain but it sacrifices people in the process. We call it burnout in psychological research terms. It’s ok though, there are always more and more willing to join the long line willing to sacrifice themselves and their potential for a fulfilling creative life for an ideal, not of their own making. Ideas of David Lynch and his kind keep me on track. It pays to read this guy.

“Keep your eye on the doughnut, not on the hole. If you keep your eye on the doughnut and do your work, that’s all you can control. You can’t control any of what’s out there, outside yourself. But you can get inside and do the best work you can do.” - David Lynch

Sketches by Larry G. Maguire
Sketches by the author: Derive from them what you will. I’d rather not be explicit as that would rob you of the opportunity to find something in these.

What’s the alternative? Find a way out. Read and watch people (there are plenty hiding in plain sight) that do the opposite, who follow a different road.

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The Sunday Letters Journal
Sunday Letters
The Sunday Letters Podcast is the weekly audio newsletter on the meaning & purpose of daily work from work and business psychologist Larry Maguire and philosopher Dmitri Belikov. We explore how human beings may break free from tiresome means-to-an-end labour and take command of their own working lives. Topics include daily work, jobs and careers, self-employment, socialism, capitalism, economics, slavery, colonialism, and society & culture. Content follows the written newsletter, which goes out to subscribers every Sunday.