The Strange Dichotomy of Daily Work

Daily work is necessary, yet we often resent it — it has become a means to an end. Is it possible to find happiness and fulfilment in work…

image of a desktop work station with the word work

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Daily work is necessary, yet we often resent it — it has become a means to an end. Is it possible to find happiness and fulfilment in work or are we destined to endure?

We’ve got a bit of a problematic relationship with work, don’t we?

We need it, yet we resent it. Given a choice, if it was not for the money, we might not even do this daily work thing. We’d grow fruit and vegetables, open a refuge for dogs, bake bread and make art. But instead, we endure the oppression of the daily grind. Friday comes, and we can’t wait to get away from it. Monday mornings are like groundhog day, heralding in that familiar dread while holding desperately onto the fragile promise of better.

Someday, in the unreachable future, we’ll have more money, live in a beautiful house in the suburbs and have more time to do those things we really want to do. But the reality of life seldom seems to reflect the dream, and meanwhile, we wish our lives away. Spending our so-called spare time engaged in frivolous activities that offer no complexity or lasting fulfilment, we never seem to get there.

We have become lost in the dichotomy of work.

Of course, work has many positive personal and social aspects. We find friends there, build relationships, hone skills, gather knowledge and develop expertise through its daily execution. However, many of us go to work not because of our delight at developing skills, but because it provides us with income. And more so, because the big unidentifiable other compels us to go.

Under direct employment, if we don’t follow through on our commitment to the rules, we lose our ability to provide for our families. We lose the right to live a comfortable life and no longer remain worthy members of society. In that respect, work has become a means to an end, and as such, it has developed many negative connotations.

Forced to comply with the terms of engagement, we feel forced against our will, and our naturally occurring tendencies towards creativity and self-expression are repressed. And so there comes for many of us, the dark feeling that somehow we’ve been sold a pup. On one uninteresting Thursday morning the realisation strikes us like a brick to the head; what the fuck am I doing this for?

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realise it is play.” — Alan Watts, Philosopher

So we don’t go to work that day and instead sit on a park bench and stare blankly into space immediately in front of us. We turn off the phone, and the existential crisis begins to take hold. The truth of the matter is that the whole thing has bothered us for years; we just didn’t admit it. Now, too many things have collided, and we can’t deny it any longer. We’ve been wasting our life.

This is the reality many people are living. I have lived it, and others close to me of another generation have lived it too. It’s a sickening empty feeling that life is meaningless and lacks purpose. And there’s nothing you can do about it other than ride it out or perhaps kill yourself. So you weigh up the pros and cons.

You wonder if this is how it’s supposed to be. You wonder that if money was no concern if you won the lotto or something, would you have chosen to waste your life doing that shit for so long.

Maybe you find a way back. Some don’t.

Standing back from the how and why of work, it may be plain to see the insanity of how people in western industrialised cultures practice the daily routine.

Between 7 am and 9 am every morning, perhaps earlier, the roads become crammed with lunatics driving white-knuckled to office blocks, factories and warehouses all over the country. Then from around 4 pm, we do it all again in the opposite direction.

When we get home, in anticipation of doing it all again tomorrow, our relationships are transactional and absent of real connection. Our children are rared by other people while our focus is on making enough money to live the hectic life we’ve made.

We spend our spare time staring at TV screens, computers and mobile phones. We watch cat videos and become voyeurs of other people’s fake Instagram and Facebook lives. We feed the algorithms, they ring the bell, and we salivate.

“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action. ” — Willaim James, Psychologist

This is it — life in contemporary society. It’s a truly insane situation, and I think it has become worse in the last one hundred years.

The extent of the problem came home to me quite firmly a couple of years ago. As I sat outside an office building killing fifteen minutes before a meeting, I saw something which in of itself was unremarkable. Nonetheless, it shifted my perception of work dramatically and altered my understanding of my place in the game.

So there I am, sitting in my van when I notice three guys walking along the canal laughing and joking with each other. I think to myself; these guys could be still drunk from the night before. But it didn’t matter; in fact, it probably enhanced the contrast for me.

All around them, dozens of neatly dressed people, the colour squeezed from their faces, made their way along the Grand Canal to their place of work. Yet here were these three guys having fun. It was almost 9 am and it was evident to me that none of these grey-faced people were having, or even anticipating having fun. They were going to work, and they looked serious.

The gravity of my own situation had been gradually hitting home, and I wondered why so many of us do this. I thought; I need to make a change. It wasn’t long after this experience that I closed my second business in four years, and I began to write my ideas about life and work.

Those ideas ultimately became the basis for The Artist’s Manifesto.

The Artist’s Manifesto is a creative philosophy for life and work that I first wrote in 2017. I had taken a job in direct employment for the first time in 15 years, and I was reaching the end of my rope — I wanted out. At the same time, these ideas were coming to mind, and I began to write them down. Although perhaps poorly written, the ebook captured the seed of something I felt was important, so I decided to make it public.

The short work encompasses a set of principles, the realisation and application of which brings about results that I came to know as Purposeful Accident.

Purposeful Accident is the inevitable coming about in our experience of favourable conditions as a result of following our curiosity and engaging, playfully but intently, in our chosen work. In the state of mind that brings about these conditions, ulterior motivations, applause and rewards are set aside, and we engage in the work for its own sake. Daily work becomes an end in of itself, and success, consequently, is immediate and intrinsic.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing” — Annie Dillard, Author & Poet

The philosophy does not attempt to convert you to a particular system of belief or ask you to hang your potential for worldly success on arbitrary concepts and processes. Instead, it asks you to let go of the idea that you need to “make it happen”. Consequently, and perhaps paradoxically, our realisation of success comes when we drop premeditated ideas and instead just do it.

All the problems we experience with daily work come about from these premeditated ideas. Our concept that somewhere in the future life will be better, that we will have more time to do what we really want, is a fallacy.

In reality, the future never gets here — all we have is now. This direct experience of ours is life itself, and right now is the only time we have to be happy and productive. So we’d better get busy doing things we really want to do, or one ordinary, dreary day we’ll realise too late that we wasted our life in resentment.

“The days you work are the best days”

— Georgia O’Keeffe, Artist

So in this thing we call work we have a choice. We either work in disharmony under the illusion that life will someday get better, or immerse ourselves in work that engages us and forget about the results.

Of course, we must be strategic when taking steps. For example; we’ll need money to live and provide for our families, so dropping everything without a few quid is not a good idea.

However, even if you do make the brave leap and give it all up right away, you’ll be happier in many ways. Things will be difficult, but what change is not?

Life is not supposed to be a smooth ride. It’s supposed to hurt sometimes, and it’s in the contrast of happiness/unhappiness that we exist. That said, is it not better that while we know life is inherently dichotomous, that we spend our working days in an activity that makes us smile?

I think so.

Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. Every morning you’ll find me sharing a new thought on life, art, work, creativity, the self and the nature of reality on The Reflectionist. I also write on The Creative Mind. If you like what I’m creating, join my email list to receive the weekly Sunday Letters

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