I was asked recently by an old friend: "how can, why do, you do what you do. How do you live with such a life. You have nothing! Nothing." I attached bar-code stickers to library books for a living. Part of a minor semi-skilled clerical feat known as copy cataloging. The point is taken, there is not much there. Pulled short, I fall back on my pop-culture touchstones. The Gun Club "Carry Home" and the line "Oh but I didn't change, I just had to work". A line that captures the essential alienation of work, a potential of all work. Its been a long time since I expected work to be anything other than alienating. I don't have much invested in copy cataloging, yet the trace of original interest in the broader body of this work could still manifest itself in taking on the rigor of original cataloging, Resource Description and Analysis as they term it. This; however, is unobtainable behind the wall of professional librarianship. Likely I would default in any fortress storming exercise to some form of writing. About governing, the individual and the place of the individual within the whole. Certificates of societal validation are supposed to set goals institutionally gate-keep and organize ambition, for those who desire them, They shouldn't inhibit those who don't. Regardless certain points of achievement require certain outlays of effort either way.
There are many types of work, requiring many different skill sets, some of which must be possessed innately, some of which can be learned. There are many different rewards for various types of work, which range from high compensation for both desirable and undesirable jobs alike and to a nebulous diaphanous sense of personal satisfaction of a body of work done, and done right. Which in many regards may be the the most profound sense of reward possible. Work may also be a substitution process of a kind, where one manner of work is done to provide space and means for another. A complex trade of circumstance, ability and affinities.
Most, if pressed, would undertake work, whatever work was available, to provide for their table and to keep the wind and rain off that table. In the first instance work is all about the roof and food. human industry is about creature comforts. In subsequent instance, beyond thatch and barter, it is about pay prestige status. Any of these is fungible with one or more of the others. Kal Penn, for instance, had he not put his career on hold to take that job with the White House might be up to Harold and Kumar 7 by now (My suggestion: H&K vii/Kentucky Fried movie ii) -- Harold and Kumar open a Chicken Franchise with a secret recipe of 12 herbs and spices. He would have so much money, he could have Barrack Obama and Hugh Laurie come work for him.
My instinct is that everyone has a right to a livelihood, the right to work. My second pop-culture reference kicks in about now Chelsea - "Right To Work". Always liked that song; Gene October vs Thatcher England. For those who claim only those who work ought eat, then the well-formed society, after caring for those without ability, ought provide a portion of work to every one who can do, this is is their due. It is I feel in accord with Natural Law to earning a living in the heart of the society. or be allowed strike out for a frontier. An implicit sub-contract of the social compact.
At others times when this notion of work has pressed me I have looked towards a handful of definitions for clarity of categories and answer. Principally vocation and avocation. The romantic notions that there is a thing out there to engage with and create that is inimical to ones spirit. The work version of a soul-mate. One that can be obtained through a process of self knowledge and discovery. The concept of vocation
[vocation - Free Online Dictionary] has broadened out to contain the idea of any work that is suitable and stable to a person, yet it still contains its core meaning of a calling (Latin vocare) to a religious life. Enough that vocation can still carry the connotation of a special and rare circumstance. Avocation [avocation - Free Online Dictionary] is the simple variant that speaks to a calling away from this centrally and looking instead to the spaces between compensated work to find the place where a person is drawn and feels engaged. It seems clear, considering this, that the matter of work involves a consistency with the self; with aptitude, education (aptitude for education). It involves As well ones chosen set of values. There is much work out there that would only be misery for someone with a personal code aligned against it even if he or she is a natural talent for it. It is a matter of knowledge of ones nature whether such contradictions can be contained or not.
There is another dichotomy between the terms job and work. These are the terms of the situation, the french term for employment. A thing that can be considered to turn on the particular employer and task. I should say something perhaps about aspects of the organizational/industrial work place. A situation calling for institutional and leadership skills. I am aware that my workplace (like others) in search committee work regard management skills to come from prior management, not innate and fully formed in magical individuals. The (US) Navy, a previous situation of mine, officially stuck to the rubric that you can train leaders, in practice this was not emphasized far -- experience was. The Navy did have concept of deep selection (for promotion) attempting to identify exemplary leadership early. Trying to find a saddle point between youth and experience. I apprehend my workplace's institutional face as a featureless blank wall, but that is merely part of my ongoing sense of disassociation.
It is the test of ones daily routine and habits to find the locus of meaning.
There was a small article in the Atlantic online recently which I read only after I had written much of this. It dealt with the lowered expectations todays young job seekers face regarding not only pay but more poignantly expressing ones self through a job. I article points out that there was only a narrow window of higher expectation historically for this in anything other than exceptional scientific or artistically endeavors. A generation older than current new seekers I don't recall regarding it as much of a birthright though it was held as an ideal. The article also suggests that there is a danger lurking in mistaking the terms of the work /job dichotomy. Meaning is a trap if you expect it to be given.
But while the impulse to find meaning in one's job may seem naive and vulnerable to corporate distortion, the drive to find meaning in work is not. Our modern tragedy is to mistake a job for work, and to expect any particular job to bring us not only opportunity and income, but meaning, exhilaration, purpose.
Is Work Still Meaningful? - Atlantic
To me work signifies positive engagement with a task, possibly involving a component of pride. Job is a stick that keeps wolves from your door, it is hours to endure. The weight of particularity behind income and opportunity.
I think that everyone feels that the things they do or strive for give purpose, some reason for being. These are the terms of self fulfillment. The pinnacle of Maslow's hierarchy. The wrong work is a stripping of ownership, the alienation from labor, the elimination of purpose. Coming back for a moment to the notions of a good job distinguished form a bad one. There are facets of job prestige: money, travel perhaps, public visibility. Fame fortune adulation. These are all tangible facets of desirability. Through the filter of self actualization I would argue that there are others. Whether in regard to ones total situation does your work give you choice independence a measure of autonomy? If it does that you have freedom and the imperative to create, to fashion a true good. Worry about nothing else.
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