Last month in The Atlantic Monthly, there was a very stupid article called “A World Without Work.” I call it stupid because everyone who submitted utopic ideas confused “jobs” with “work.”
A job is something you do for money – to pay bills, to put food on the table, because everyone else does it. Work, on the other hand, is something that humans do so that we feel some kind of purpose in life, no necessarily a job we do for money. Gardening is work, editing photos is work, scrap-booking is work, reading magazines that make you think is work. Work helps us give our lives meaning.
If we are lucky, the job we do to pay our rent or mortgage is also work – we find it fulfilling in some way. I’ve been at my current job for about ten months, and I’ve found something unexpected occurring. My job is slowly but surely becoming more than a financial necessity. Maybe it’s because I’m completely daft or overly ambitious, but I am seeking out – and finding – ways to make all the work I do fulfilling in some way. This is fortunate, because I spend most of my time working. I do work from home now, which means I have more time to myself, more time to do things for myself, and I gain valuable time back into my life by eliminating a commute. But working from home doesn’t mean I work less – it just means I have more control over the work that I do and how I do it. It means I have time to think before I respond to somebody. It means if I need to let off steam, I can. More offices should have screaming rooms, because sometimes that’s just something you feel the need to do. Sometimes, too, you want to laugh, and in many offices that’s frowned upon as well. If an emotion happens and no one is there to see it, does it make a sound? Yes, it does. Quietness without solitude can be deafening at times.
At our jobs, we expect – hope – to be compensated financially for the work that we do, and I’m sure most of us feel underpaid and overworked. This dumb Atlantic article proposed that a world without work would be a world without income. I don’t think the Donald Trumps of the world would go down without a fight. I think there would be civil war. Whether we admit or not, we are a class-based society, and class – and the ability to rise above it – is part of the American identity and the American dream. I’m not sure people raised in a class-based, capitalist society would want to have no income. For better or for worse, a bit of our self-worth is conflated with how much we earn, how much crap we can buy, and the belief that more money buys more happiness.
I don’t think more money necessarily buys more happiness, but I do think it can buy me more designer handbags, which sort of make me happy – but only up to a point. There’s only so many handbags one can buy, and after that, really what I want is to be rewarded for the work that I do in the currency of time, which as we all know is something that money can’t buy, and no matter how much time we gain, there’s never enough of it.
Which brings me back to the The Atlantic Monthly article about a world without work. This magazine, by virtue of it being monthly, should have better and more in-depth articles than, say, the New Yorker, which is published weekly, but it doesn’t. If wealth is measured by time, The Atlantic is the poor man’s New Yorker, a periodical for people who simply can’t find the time to keep up with a weekly magazine full of very long articles, probably because they spend too much time working.
I don’t have a solution for any of this, but this weekend I had the luxury of time to think about it, and it’s made me a little more rich, and a little more ready to go back to work tomorrow, a sometimes daunting task that also happens to be my job. It’s not a perfect world we live in, but we can seek out ways to give our lives meaning. Another thing money can’t buy.