Work, what is it good for?

Absolutely everything! (Ring in Edwin Starr’s classic 70’s Soul track)

In today’s cultural narrative, particularly amongst the youth, we find a compulsion towards finding work that you “love” and you’re “passionate about”. I think all this is nonsense and the narrative is long past its prime. There are innumerable 20-somethings who bought into the idea that we must find work that we’re passionate about (and if not, then we’re unhappy).

The result is that we have a generation of young people dissatisfied with their jobs – jobs which are commonly labeled “blue collar”, jobs which are necessary for society to operate, and jobs which are absolutely respectable.

However, let’s shift the context for a minute. If in a smaller community, such as those communes created in the sprawling American Western frontier of the 1800s, the hard labor you performed was a blessing not only to your community but also to yourself.

We need to shift the perspective of work as a burden to work as a birthright. Good, honorable, useful work is for the betterment of mankind… and yourself.

These necessary jobs are very often technically based, whereas the jobs we’re passionate about often fall in the realm of soft skills, such as coaching, public speaking, storytelling, writing etc.

Don’t get me wrong, these positions are perfectly legitimate in organizations that allow for higher overhead costs.

The problem is that these positions have been disproportionately sought after and held in high esteem. The trend seems to be weighted towards large and/or liberal cities. The largely forgotten and underestimated workforce tend to be in rural and/or conservative areas.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes quarterly “Occupational Employment and Wage” tables for each city in the US. It’s interesting to note the higher percentage of occupations such as “life, physical and social science” or “Arts, design, entertainments, sports, and media” in liberal cities like Los Angeles, CA and Boulder, CO.

Whereas, places like Columbus, Ohio tout percentages of workers higher than the national average in fields like “Office and administrative support” or “Business and operations”.

The cultural narrative changed recently – focusing less on productive professions and more on innovative technology. Innovation sounds like a lot more fun, but we cannot forget about the run-of-the-mill producers.

Contractors, technicians, managers, miners, truck drivers, servers, farmers etc. represent the bulk of America’s productive activities according to the Center of American Progress, a liberal think tank. These are the people that make sure you have functional heating, that clean water comes out the tap, that there’s fresh food at the grocery store.

The rich tapestry of service providers allows for the modern standard of living. It’s a beautiful web of collaborative effort.

If you’re a net recipient of all these services, it is wise to take some time to be grateful for these people. If you yourself are in the working class, as many of us are, then it is similarly wise to step back and feel a sense of belonging with the diverse activities of the world around you.

There are two main takeaways I want to impart to you:

  1. As an upper-class individual, judgment towards the perhaps more rugged character with oil stains on his jeans is a block in your mind that you must overcome. The difference between the rich and poor are blurred by the fact of our common humanity and relatively equal basic needs. Gratitude is vital for satisfaction in your life.
  2. The social narrative espoused by millennials that praises the internet marketer and ignores the farmer needs to stop. This hyperfocus towards the innovator creates an imbalance in society as a whole and the individual psyche in particular. Balance comes from glimpsing the complexities of economics and the importance of every single person’s value.

As a personal note, as I was finishing my studies at college I was very much enchanted with the ideas of the entrepreneurs around me. I knew many young people making money on the internet by marketing, web development, life coaching, speaking engagements, ebook sales, and a thousand other ways I had never heard of before or could understand.

I thought to myself, “How did I miss the boat?” These people are traveling the world, connecting with global communities, and having a blast all while making a self-made fortune seemingly stress-free from behind a computer screen.

I tried to play their games. I went to workshops and seminars. I was told that if I could only transform my relationship to money and find my passion, then I would find my purpose, create an impact in the world, and become a millionaire doing it. I was served the self-help slogan du jour and I drank the Kool-Aid.

The only problem was that it didn’t work. Turns out, I don’t have any online marketing skills… and I don’t like crouching over a computer all day.

I later found out that all those beautiful people making money on the internet were either funded by their parents, heavily in credit card debt, not actually making any money, or a combination thereof. I felt tricked and jaded, while I struggled to pay the rent.

Then I was fortunate enough to be offered a job on a construction site. It changed my life. In the beginning, I knew nothing (my degree only helped get the interview). The only thing I could do was work hard: I dug holes, swept floors, fixed drywall, spot painted apartment units and did the occasional excel spreadsheet.

It was a turning point. My idealistic naiveté quickly wore off. I disengaged from certain self-help communities. I came home each day dirty and tired. I budgeted, curbed my lifestyle expenses, patiently paid off my debts, and slowly educated myself in career and finances.

Just a couple of years later, I feel momentum in my career opportunities and financial growth. More importantly, I know the value of hard work. I am no longer a worker suffocated by the grip of a capitalist system.

Now, I am a sovereign individual doing honest and honorable work in my pursuit of financial independence.

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