I’m worried about our future. No matter what form it takes, work is taking a lot of our time and energy. Even when we love what we do, it takes that much space that I am worried that there isn’t much left for things that matter, things that make us happy, things that make our life meaningful.
Some will probably say that work can be meaningful, that we can find purpose into our work. I say there is no purpose other than love. Connecting to one another, being together, helping each other, that’s what gives meaning to our life. As Matthieu Ricard says so beautifully: Let altruism be your guide.
If your job is about that, if you get the chance to do something that meaningful on a daily basis, than great. On the opposite, if you don’t have the opportunity to use your personal strengths and qualities to help someone else concretely, connect and share experiences, that’s fine too. It just means that you need to get to develop those meaningful relationships some other way (only if of course you are looking to fill that need for a meaningful life, otherwise you can stop reading right here).
That’s where I find myself worrying about our future. With work being the principal activity of our life, what time is left for activities that make us feel alive, that makes our experience richer and more authentic?
I believe we seriously need to rethink work. Most of us are not working in a factory anymore, but we still use the same management system we used to back then. If organizations want to be effective and perform, they need top talent. Corporations are now more than ever focusing on recruiting the best people.
But what after? They still make them work the same way they were before, with a few adjustments (hello espresso machines and ping-pong tables). Is that really going to make us happier? Do we really buy that?
Of course not. And organizations know that. So instead of focusing on free goodies and benefits, the new trend now is to focus on culture. Building a strong culture is the number one priority, and keeping it strong as the company grows is key for companies who want to stay on top of the game.
Corporations looking to create more meaning for their employees develop strong manifestos, get employees that share the same core values as them, write mission statements about happiness and joy. Really? Is Coke so powerful that it can bring optimism and happiness? Isn’t only a sugary drink?
Showing a strong culture is now the new asset to attract the top talent, but also brings its load of pressure to perform and stay at the top. Netflix is not even hiding the fact that you either fit in that excellence culture or you go.
Work is not about you
In law, we refer to a company as a moral person. That is one of the beautiful paradox of capitalism, since I believe there is nothing less moral than a organization created to increase the value for its shareholders. The main objective of private companies are to make profit, no matter what they will say. And that’s okay. But with that objective in mind, everything else put in place is to help achieve that objective. Studying management has let me to see the devil everywhere. Behind every “kind” move an entreprise makes, I see a way to manipulate the employees to make even more profit.
So let’s agree that corporations are sneaky. The thing is however that we are also part of the problem. As employee, we go for it.
Or do we really? Even if we are skeptical about all those speech, we still spend a lot of our time at work, spend our energy on the company’s projects, look forward to get rewards and recognition out of it. In a way, we still expect our work to bring us happiness, satisfaction and meaning. We want the whole package: the meaningful work that fulfill most of our needs, and the money that comes with it.
No matter how much we wish to have it all, how much we want the cake and to eat it, we have to remember one thing: it is not about us. Organizations do their thing, and we can choose to work for them, and find some joy doing so, but we have to be careful about it. We have to carefully listen to ourselves, be aware that in the end, the work we do, the money we make, is not that important. If we don’t find ourselves living the authentic and passionate life we want to live, then we always have the choice to move on.
How much money do we really need?
But we still need money right? Yes we do. But much less than we think I believe. The most precious things I believe do not cost a lot.
“Richard Easterlin, professor of economics at University of Southern California says previous generations have proven that our desires adjust to our income. “At all levels of income, the typical response is that one needs 20% more to be happy.” Once you have basic needs met, the axiom is true: more money does not make more happiness.” – Penelope Trunk, How much money do you need to be happy? Hint: Your life sex matters more
Time is precious. How much is your time worth? Are you willing to give that, the best years of your life, to somebody else, that will make profit while you work day in day out?
Love is precious. How much is your love worth? Are you willing to spend that much time away from the people you care about the most, sitting behind a computer?
Life is precious. How much is your life worth? Are you willing to waste it, are you really having the life experience you were looking for when you were thinking about being a grown-up?
“Everyday, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.” – Daila-Lama
How much money do you really need to get those things? How much money do you really need if you let your ego out of the equation for a moment, and simply come back to what truly matters to you. If you were giving a month, six weeks left to live, what would you do? Work even more to get more money the first few weeks and then enjoy the two or three weeks left with that money you made? Or simply stop and do what you really care about?
We are confusing the mean with the end, working as a way to get what we need to live and working as a purpose in itself. Lost in our routine, we forget to step back and take a look at what our lives have become over the years. We are spinning in that perpetual circle of working, spending the money we made, working more, enjoying our free time spending even more money, because the more we work, the less time we have to think about what we really want our lives to stand for, and what we really need in the end. We are trying to buy confidence through beautiful clothes, cars and houses, we are trying to buy comfort through smushy couches and big warm bathes, we are trying to buy happiness through nights out and all-included trips. We forget that these things are free, accessible for us right here, right now.
“The individual, in our society, works for profit; but the social purpose of his work lies in the consumption of what he produces. It is this divorce between the individual and the social purpose of production that makes it so difficult for men to think clearly in a world in which profit-making is the incentive to industry.” – Bertrand Russell
Let’s reverse the equation. Instead of spending the amount of money we make, why not make the amount of money we need to meet our basic needs? Let’s make time in our busy schedule to figure out what we really need, and how much money it takes, then find a way to make that amount. And if we do want more things, than perfect, we will simply work more, but at least it will be a conscious choice based on a real need or desire, and we will for sure appreciate it probably more because we will realize how much it is really worth of our precious time.
I have a dream
No matter how depressing some of these observations are, I just can’t resign myself to let that be. I can’t simply surrender: our lives are worthwhile, our lives can be bold, audacious, authentic, passionate and meaningful.
Free espressos, ping-pong tables and access to yoga classes on lunch breaks are not enough. If we want to improve the quality of life at work, we need to rethink the whole thing.
Right now, we have two options: we either go with the flow and accept the way organizations define and organize our work, or we get out of this system and create a business, choose to not work, or do something else.
I want to create a third path, a real way for human beings to work and live in balance and harmony. I aspire to create a beautiful future for us, where we can have it all. I want more time for leisure, family and friends. Our family and our friends, not the “company’s big family” or co-workers who become your best friends because you don’t have any time left for others. I want people to find a meaningful work, a fulfilling job, without having to put aside everything else.
Just like Martin Luther King, I have a dream. I dream about freedom, the freedom to choose who we want to be. I dream about a society that wouldn’t be evolving around work, this “society of leisure” we are still waiting for. I dream about families being able to chill at breakfast and be reunited at 4pm, not 6, to get some time off together without having to rush in the evening. I dream about the possibility of having an interesting job and a part-time schedule. I dream about people being able to find a meaningful work, a fulfilling job, without having to put aside everything else. I dream about all of us, working on projects that matter, towards this aspiring future.
Until it happens, I am willing to compromise, working for the public good, providing services to the population. But I will not give up. I still don’t know how I will make it happen, but believe me, I will work as hard as I can, and put the energy and time, for this dream to become reality.