Why We Perceive Work As Bad

This is the second article in our series on The Power of Work. In this article we look at why we perceive work as bad and how we can fix this. If you like this article, you can simply click on the link and start the whole series to eliminate all of the little things that hold you back. But let’s dive straight into the matter now.

In the days before the industrialization, work was mainly divided between farmers, shopkeepers and craftsmen. With the industrialization came specialization. 

Instead of needing to know how to produce a full sword from the very beginning to the very end, the process of creating a sword was broken down into tiny bits. Specialists for the sourcing of material started to emerge, specialists for hammering the metal, specialist for the finishing, specialist for sales, specialists for taxes. And so on. 

Of course during and after the industrialization it was a bit less about swords and more about cars and so on; but you get my point.

Instead of fully thinking about a new and fantastic device and then creating it, work all of a sudden became compartmentalized and workers found themselves doing tasks like screwing a screw into a specific part and doing that exact same thing as often and quickly as possible.

Work Went From Creation to Doing One Thing as Efficiently as Possible

And while the team as a whole was still „creating“, the screwing specialist by him-/herself, did probably not really perceive the task as a „creating“ or „creative“ one.

On the other hand, this specialisation comes with a lot of advantages. By limiting the task of a person, they will be able to perfect the skill required for that specific task. And if this works for everyone who is involved in the creation of a product or service, the quality of the product will increase.

Costs will be saved and prices for the products will fall. In other words, specialisation is necessary and good, if we want to continue the innovation in society with the speed we experienced in the last 200 years.

Think about it; who could build a self-driving car or robot all by themselves? And if there would be some genius able to do it, how long would it take that person to do it and how much would such a product cost?

Keep in mind that this specialisation does not only apply to blue-collar workmen. It occurs everywhere and in every business. Even the highest C-level executives are specialised in their tasks and don‘t usually know how to do every single task in their business.

It follows that specialisation and compartmentalisation are good and necessary. However, in most organizations which offer jobs, they are not very well implemented. Doing the same thing over and over again will become quite boring after a while.

And after couple of months, the phenomenon of small steps sets in, meaning: the worker is entering a state where the brain is switched off during working hours and starts to really live from weekend to weekend and from paycheque to paycheque, because there is no immediate reward offered.

Imagine you would receive a daily bonus on hand everyday after work based on your performance- how motivating that would be even with the most repetitive tasks. Yet companies never do that. In fact, in most cases companies have resorted to paying a monthly salary without bonus. Waiting one month to reap one‘s works fruit for a dull job isn‘t exactly a good daily motivator.

Even worse, in most companies low performers and high performers are paid the same or based on their experience or other factors, such as the salary negotiation.

Imagine finding out that the lazy person next to you who constantly takes breaks, comes late and rarely gets anything done earns much more than you do for one reason or another. How demotivating that would be. Well, it is a well known fact that these things occur on a daily basis.

What Keeps High Performers in The Game?

So, what keeps the high performers in the game? Apart from an attitude of working hard, which they have acquired at some point in their life, they usually stick around for the chance of a promotion. Oh yes, a promotion.

Working often times twice as hard as their neighbors for this thing where you get another one or two hundred bucks a month more and a slightly fancier title. The problem is that a promotion is yet another long-term goal that offers no immediate and tangible reward, essentially leading to frustration and them seeking for better odds outside a company.

And the career carrot comes also with the disadvantage that it is by no means a safe and guaranteed outcome. After all, who gets promoted and who doesn’t is probably more often than not related to your likability or in other words: how well you kiss your superior‘s ass. Excuse my language. 

The way we perceive work today is greatly influenced by the industrialization. For it was here, when strict shifts were introduced and work became a planned 365 days a year part of life. Don’t get me wrong: this has also greatly influenced the wealth in which we live in today. Before that, farm work happened on an as-needed basis.

During harvest, a work day on a farm practically never ended, but during winter, the work day basically ended after taking care of the live stock. The approach of making it a daily 8 hour shift is fairly new and effectively steals away your freedom. This is something that gives the normal work quite a bad rep.

A set amount of paid time off, often no option to decide when you come into the office and when you leave, where you work from, and not even the option to take unpaid leave don’t really help with the basic need for freedom.

Welcome to The Matrix

One could say that a time matrix is laid upon your life and limits you in a way that many find difficult to cope with. And it does start quite early. We are being trained to accept this time restraint from a very young age. Starting in kindergarten and never stopping.

In addition to this, work as many see it, usually means that you keep no ownership of the things you produce. The best allegory for this, is the beehive.

Because obviously bees don’t get to work all day long only so we can enjoy honey on our morning toast. They do it to ensure the survival and growth of their colony. The way we humans use them, is to place our beehives at strategically sound places.

For instance in a forest to produce forest honey or close to specific flowers to produce this specific honey. Then we let them work in peace and tranquility and regularly check on their health and well-being.

When it’s time for harvest, we take all their produce and leave them just about enough to ensure their survival through winter. Some even take all the sweet honey and give them sugar water for that. And that’s the way it normally also works in companies.

You work for the illusion of security (they will still be able to fire you at any time they need or want to) and in return the company takes your honey and leaves you just about enough to ensure your survival. Granted, in most jobs a few perks here and there. The problem with that is that capitalism is all and only about ownership.

The person that owns something can and will make money. Is it abusive? Well, it can be. As the civilized world allows everybody to own things and to start their own business, it essentially comes down to a decision.

Not The Work is Bad, The Circumstances Are

So, yes, while work in itself is a beautiful thing, the understanding of work is based on circumstances which represent a system that is restraining us and limiting. The irony is that only work can get us out of this system. It just has to be done and it has to be the real thing.

It is true, in today’s world, we consider work as something dreadful. Slaving away for somebody else’s profit, is one of those definitions of work. But in fact work is one of the most natural and important things in our life. Just imagine what would happen to you, if your heart, liver, colon, or lungs would stop working. They have an even tougher life because they work all around the clock and you would die should they not work to the best of their ability. 

The ability to work is inherent in all creatures on this planet. Birds wake up to the sun’s first rays and start to work, building their nest and looking for food they can eat. Other than that, they are looking to mate. The same goes for lions.They usually lay in the sun, unless they are hunting for prey to provide them with food … or they mate. 

And mankind used to look for a cave and something to eat. Combined with the need for reproduction and love, a cave, and something to eat/drink is all we need to survive. However easy it sounds, nature is designed in a way that makes it rather time-consuming to find all of these. But luckily, through our willingness to work, mankind has created tools, and eventually even a system, that allow us a fairly save way of living, if we are willing to work.

But back to caves for a second. Mankind quickly started to gather in groups, because they understood that surviving is easier when you are more than one person. They selected who would be their best hunters, who would be their best gatherers, who would best be able to mind the children and cook. So a concept was introduced into the world, which we are still using today: the division of work. 

The lives in these caves must have been horrible. After all, these caves probably had some other inhabitants or visitors, such as poisonous spiders, bugs, and the occasional bear or tiger, who looked for a warm place to stay. And life in these days was dangerous. Food had to be hunted and collected. In the winter-time, it was not only cold, but food was also a very scarce resource. One cut could kill you. One illness, that could today be healed by eating chicken soup and resting, was potentially fatal, if the temperature was too cold or not enough food was provided. 

Until one day, one particularly smart person, built the first house. This required extra work, but eventually paid off. Now people could breed animals for their consumption, and seed plants that could be eaten. But by learning how these resources could be conserved, food became less of a problem. And more importantly, the structured approach, made the process of food provision much less work. While the hunters, had to be in groups consisting of many of them, all of a sudden, they were able to have only one or two people doing this work and providing for the whole community.   

But as work is an inherent feature in us humans, the other people, who were now basically unemployed, looked for other ways to work. Like this, they specialized themselves in a big variety of crafts. The bigger their society grew, the more complicated it got. They introduced money as a means of trade currency and soon enough, young people could learn a craft in an apprenticeship, to work for another craftsman and become a master in the process, which enabled them to start their own business and teaching their skills to other young  people.

No Wishing to The Universe Involved

Note how no creature on this planet, wished for something, and left it to the universe to fulfill their desire. If somebody dreamt of a tool that would allow him to cut something, they worked on making a stone sharper and sharper and after some work, they had something resembling a knife. It was work that enables you to take a hot shower whenever you please-a luxury that not even the richest kings 300 years ago could afford.

And that is the beauty of work. You can create something. In fact, the word “creativity” has the create part at its very beginning. So by means of work can we be creative. And that is the true beauty of work.

Our world evolved more and more, until it reached this highly specialised world in which we are living nowadays. Our work is incredibly divided. And this is part of its success and part of its tragedy. Because a high division of work, also means performing rote, repetitious tasks on a daily basis. 

That is obviously not true for all of the jobs. But it certainly is true for a majority of them. And this, together with some other factor, at which we will be looking later, gives work a bad name. 

However, that can easily be combated. Not by working less, but by working more. Think about it that way: You hobbies are work too. You don’t consider them as work, because you usually have fun doing them. But every hobby is in fact work. 

So by having a couple of hobbies, you can effectively get more variety in your life. And the best thing would be, if you could somehow manage to incorporate some of your hobbies into your daily routine. I am aware that this doesn’t always work. But with a bit of thought, at least some of your hobbies would be break-time compatible. If you like to paint, you could get a good painting app on your iPad and paint during your breaks for instance. The same goes for producing music, reading, knitting, or going for a walk outside.  

Not only is work a very creative process, it also enables you to leave your legacy to this planet. I agree that this might not be the case if you are currently working as an advisor in a call center. But after all this series wants to motivate you to achieve more by working hard. So if you follow my advice, there is no real reason why you should still be a call center agent in five years time.

Work leaves its footsteps in history. Imagine you would write a book, compose and record a symphony, or build a business that will survive you. Generations to come might see the fruits of your work – and in some sense this makes you immortal. 

Think about the compositions of Mozart, Bach, or Beethoven. Think about the books of Robert Louis Stevenson. Or the paintings of Picasso. We all still know these people because they worked and created something. 

Obviously, it doesn’t have to be one of these big projects. If you would knit a family blanket and ask your children to pass it on from generation to generation, or if you would create a painting and pass them on to your children – all of this leaves a part of you in this world, when you are long gone. So, it doesn’t have to be the huge project. But it has to be something. 

If you just work the classical from nine to five job, come home and watch TV, what will stay on this planet, when you are gone? Your children might, that’s already a very good starting point. But do you know the name of your great-great grandfather? Probably not. 

Would you know the name of your great-great grandfather, if he would have created something that lasts? Funded a hospital that is named after him for instance, or written a book that became a bestseller (at the best case) or still lies on the attic somewhere (at the worst case). 

You probably would. How interesting would it be, if you would find a book written by your great-great grandfather? Or listen to a composition your great-great grandmother has written? A poem. An invention. Or some other project that they did? 

Our time is limited. One day we will die. And it is through actively working, that we leave our marks here.

Being proud of what you do

Work also enables you to express yourself in a way that enables you to be proud of it. No matter whether your hard work enables you to skyrocket the career ladder, provides you with the monetary means to buy a beautiful mansion, or simply makes you known as an authority in a given field. If you have worked hard enough to get it, you can be proud. 

Think about all those lottery winners who made fortunes only to find themselves completely broke and unhappy a couple of years later. I feel for them. Because they reaped the reward before doing the work. And that means that they lack the respect for the fruits, which seed they never planted.