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October 8th, 2019
The question of what work we should do is perhaps a question that needs work.
It’s played around with much in childhood, fretted over as school comes to an end, and becomes less and less active as we get older and our method for making money becomes entrenched by time, habit, and obligations.
It might resurface in the form of talk about a career change.
At that point it’s not really about work so much as it is about trajectories within society.
Very few people pull the ripcord from their career and strike off at an awkward tangent into a totally different direction. There’s so much verbiage floating around to make such a decision taboo. It’s giving up, admitting defeat, being unsettled, inconsistent.
All such notions carry a heavy weight telegraphed by the nervous and looming stare of society.
What lurks in the basement of all these notions is a rather dismal insecurity. Behind and underneath questions of acceptance lies the potential for total rejection. Tribe mentality primes us to think that someone is either with us or against us, and if their against us then that’s a danger that needs to be dealt with. And what are the first signs that someone might really be against us? Well they don’t do the same things. Their different.
This might seem a bit of a stretch to follow the ramifications of this problematic feature of the human operating system all the way up to simple matters of career and work, but it would be a mistake to forget that almost everything we do is tempered, dictated or at the very least informed by what others think of us, and what they will think of us.
You can take any one of us and ask: what is that person without others?
Picture this: take any person and make them the very last person on the planet with absolutely no possibility of restarting the human race. Such a person would have no real use for speech, other than to hear themselves talk which would ultimately be a bit of a charade to pretend like someone else is present. And then, what would a person do? Would there be any point to build anything beyond personal practical needs? Would there be any reason for art or writing some sort of message if there were absolutely no chance for another consciousness to one day experience it?
But the point here is to realize just how much more meaningful such actions are when we know that someone else might see the fruits of such efforts.
Even the hermitic artist toiling in obscurity is doing so with the hope that one day such work will be appreciated by others.
Is it no surprise that the opinions of others, or at least our idea of what their opinions may and might be would dictate what we do?
The gaze of others presents a paradox. In one sense it constrains us. And this is why we hear the perennial advice to stop caring what others think. And yet, anything we do is effectively meaningless without the notice of others.
We all walk the tightrope of this paradox. It’s similar to the advice: don’t let your past define you. It sounds great but, the obvious follow-up question is rarely asked: what else is there to define a person other than their past? Even the present is just a tiny slice of time away from becoming the past….
These tricky paradoxes are not easy to resolve, and for the most part we simply steamroll ahead after some sort of emotion registers.
The same is mostly true for most people’s working lives. The domino effect of life’s obligations often knocks us into a certain position that lacks much choice. The need to pay rent and buy food whittles options down to short term actions which can then become unfortunately long-term careers via habit and the perpetual domino effect of obligations. Rent and hunger pop up frequently enough to keep people in lockstep.
There isn’t much room in society for a protracted, thoughtful departure. We might think of holidays or vacations, but the incessant strain of daily work on the human psyche seems to be constantly priming people to constantly seek release. Whether that be the unhealthy meal choice at the late hour of the day, the accompanying drink, or the crammed itinerary of a destination vacation. Almost no one ever gets enough time off for all this need for release to settle, for the dust to clear, so to speak, and for a quiet, contemplative space to emerge.
Yuval Noah Hararai, author of the bestseller Sapiens has described his meditation practice as simply the process of letting all the humdrum thoughts get their moment in the spotlight of attention, one at a time, like a line of children waiting to tap you on the elbow and show you some innocuous detail, until the seemingly endless pool of concerns is exhausted and all that is left is a glimpse of pure consciousness and open attention.
Unless a person cultivates this sort of contemplative space, what happens when most people say ‘I’ll figure it out’ is that they simply take the most sensible next step. What’s sensible in that case is really dictated by what everyone thinks. The Next Logical Step in a career path is simply what everyone thinks it should be.
But this is a poor way to determine what sort of work we should do.
We are each gifted with a unique perspective
We often bemoan that no one can see our point, but such a complaint is actually evidence of the single greatest gift we’re afforded. If your perspective were so obvious, it would be because someone else has the exact same experience, which simply isn’t possible. The paradox here is resolved by the infinite boon of language.
Our perspective is our greatest potential asset. The real work is finding the best method and delivery for such a perspective.
The career space, or trade needs to be simply a vehicle for that method and delivery. But that is rarely the case. Just about everyone can agree that this resonates to some degree. And many reasons that begin with the word ‘but’ will crop up. But I have a mortgage. But I have a family. But I have to pay the bills. But I have to eat.
A different mechanism is coming online here: a soporific cocktail of fear, laziness and resistance to change.
What’s needed to really address these issues goes against the large tracts of emotional grain in society.
To pause, and dig deeper for a better question.
Such thoughtful departures ultimately create rifts in systems. This is noticeable on a practical level: when someone leaves a job, someone new needs to be hired and trained, and this puts stress on the system that is otherwise unwanted. We can see the truth of this by simply amplifying the effect: would anything work if a totally new and untrained group of people showed up to every job every day? No, not at all. Every time someone leaves a job, it nudges the operation in that direction, which is on the spectrum between inconvenience and nightmare, and for the most part none of us want anything to do with this spectrum of chaos. We’d rather stay off it all together and just have things continue on like they did the day before.
To pause, and dig deeper for a better question involves entertaining chaos. The chaos of an untrained mind, the chaos of an unknown future, and the chaos of potentially jumping tracks in a world full of parallel rails.
The cost of not doing so is potentially huge, not just personally but for society as well:
Without such working questions, we lose a unique perspective in the humdrum gear box of society.
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