I promise to make sense of the sandwich soon, but first a thought about work, passion, and alienation.
The problem with doing a job you hate is worse than mere alienation or not self-actualizing, as most personal development gurus put it. Doing a good job—but without a convincing display of enthusiasm—will get you fired.
In our hypercompetitive capitalist environment, you are competing with people who either love to do what you are doing for a living (even though you hate it) and/or can pretend to love the work more “authentically” than you. These happy-looking people work harder, longer, and don’t complain to management when their health benefits are taken away. Your job security is at risk if you don’t give a convincing display of loving your work, hence all the anxiety-driven, manic (tom peters!) search for one’s “true” calling.
The demand to not only do a good job but have a mandatory positive attitude creates a context in which those that hate their jobs and aren’t afraid to show it get fired. Furthermore, most of their co-workers believe this is a just cause for termination. After all, so-and-so had a bad attitude and was bringing down the team. So much for authenticity!
In many ways it would be better if the culture at large accepted that work…well, it’s work! For almost everyone, work sucks. But since the corporate culture in America says “thou shalt love thy job (or else!),” we strive to pretend to be happy doing things we’d rather not.
Joanna: You know what, Stan, if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair, like your pretty boy over there, Brian, why don’t you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair?
Stan, Chotchkie’s Manager: Well, I thought I remembered you saying that you wanted to express yourself.
Joanna: Yeah. You know what, yeah, I do. I do want to express myself, okay. And I don’t need 37 pieces of flair to do it.
[flips off Stan]
~from the movie “Office Space”
We wear “pieces of flair” (i.e. expressions of our passion for our work) because it’s mandatory. But it’s not enough, because what’s really mandatory is that you enjoy wearing your pieces of flair—and any perceived inauthenticity in such a display can cost you your job. This is why Joanna’s anger is refreshingly authentic, or at least was when Office Space came out. Nowadays many more people (especially the younger Millennial generation) are like Brian, whether they work for a large corporate entity, or are “solo-preneurs” relentlessly promoting their authentic personal brand by showing what a great life they have (and you can too!). Frank Kern has his surfboards, Chris Guillebeau has his world traveling, but every guru has their enthusiastic embrace of the crumbling work/play dichotomy.
While most of us at times fantasize about finding work we love that pays us handsomely, many would be quite content to have work they can tolerate and enough time in the evenings and on weekends to do what they want as long as they don’t have to pretend that they love what pays the bills. This public-private division is being eroded whether we like it or not. Many personal development folks claim that the belief that work has to suck is negative cultural conditioning created by corporate interests to prevent us from being our true selves. We should also ask ourselves whether the desire to find work we love is the more damaging cultural conditioning, being that it is pressure to accept the hypercompetitive new economy that benefits a few at the expense of the many.
Presenting an image of loving one’s work isn’t just a corporate culture thing—it pervades the get-rich-quick and get-lifestyle-quick schemes that present themselves as a key to “escaping cubicle nation” and becoming “paid to exist.” This is true whether the source is Syndicate-based or “third tribe” (which is really the same thing anyhow). Nowhere is someone allowed to just dislike their work and prefer a private life that has nothing to do with making money.
Job security has effectively been eliminated, but we don’t fight it. Instead, we now volunteer to “embrace chaos”—having totally surrendered to the ethic of unrelenting corporate competition with no real social net to speak of. Loving one’s work is now a requirement for job security in the age of anxiety, where one could be fired for frowning or otherwise indulging in negative thinking (such as predicting an impending mortgage crisis a few years ago). Today’s self-help guru fully embraces the demand for and image of work-as-passion, whether or not the day-in-day-out realities line up with the personal branding.
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