Why Do You Work So Hard?

Why Do You Work So Hard?

Is it maybe time to quit your safe job and follow your path and infuriate the establishment?

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, July 8, 2005

There remains this enormous and wicked sociocultural myth. It is this: Hard work is all there is.

Work hard and the world respects you. Work hard and you can have anything you want. Work really extra super hard and do nothing else but work and ignore your family and spend 14 hours a day at the office and make 300 grand a year that you never have time to spend, sublimate your soul to the corporate machine and enjoy a profound drinking problem and sporadic impotence and a nice 8BR mini-mansion you never spend any time in, and you and your shiny BMW 740i will get into heaven.

This is the American Puritan work ethos, still alive and screaming and sucking the world dry. Work is the answer. Work is also the question. Work is the one thing really worth doing and if you’re not working you’re either a slacker or a leech, unless you’re a victim of BushCo’s budget-reamed America and you’ve been laid off, and therefore it’s OK because that means you’re out there every day pounding the pavement looking for work and honing your resume and if you’re not, well, what the hell is wrong with you?

Call it "the cafe question." Any given weekday you can stroll by any
given coffee shop in the city and see dozens of people milling about,
casually sipping and eating and reading and it’s freakin’ noon on a
Tuesday and you’re like, wait, don’t these people work? Don’t they have jobs?
They can’t all be students and trust-fund babies and cocktail
waitresses and drummers in struggling rock bands who live at home with
their moms.

Of course, they’re not. Not all of them, anyway. Some are creative
types. Some are corporate rejects. Some are recovering cube slaves now
dedicated full time to working on their paintings. Some are world
travelers who left their well-paying gigs months ago to cruise around
Vietnam on a motorcycle before returning to start an import-export
business in rare hookahs. And we look at them and go, What is wrong
with these people?

It’s a bitter duality: We scowl at those who decide to chuck it all and
who choose to explore something radical and new and independent,
something more attuned with their passions, even as we secretly envy
them and even as our inner voices scream and applaud and throw
confetti.

Our culture allows almost no room for creative breaks. There is little
tolerance for seeking out a different kind of "work" that doesn’t
somehow involve cubicles and widening butts and sour middle managers
monitoring your e-mail and checking your Web site logs to see if you’ve
wasted a precious 37 seconds of company time browsing blowfish.com or reading up on the gay marriage apocalypse.

We are at once infuriated by and enamored with the idea that some
people can just up and quit their jobs or take a leave of absence or
take out a loan to go back to school, how they can give up certain
"mandatory" lifestyle accoutrements in order to dive back into some
seemingly random creative/emotional/spiritual endeavor that has nothing
to do with paying taxes or the buying of products or the boosting of
the GNP. It just seems so … un-American. But it is so, so needed.

Case in point No. 1: I have this sister. She is deep in medical school
right now, studying to be a naturopathic doctor at Bastyr University
just outside Seattle, the toughest school of its kind in the nation,
and the most difficult to get into, especially if you’ve had no formal
medical training beforehand, as my sister hadn’t.

She got in. She bucked all expectation and thwarted the temptation to
quit and take a well-paying corporate job and she endured the
incredibly brutal first year and rose to the top of her class. Oh and
by the way, she did it all when she was over 40. With almost no money.
While going through an ugly, debt-ridden divorce.

Oh you’re so lucky that you have the means to do that, we think. I’d
love to do that but I can’t because I have too many a) bills b) babies
c) doubts, we insist. We always think such lives are for others and
never for ourselves, something people with huge chunks of cash reserves
or huge hunks of time or huge gobs of wildly ambitious talent can do.
It is never for us.

And truly, this mind-set is the national plague, a fate worse than death.

And while it must be acknowledged that there are plenty who are in such
dire financial or emotional circumstances that they simply cannot bring
change, no matter how much they might wish it, you still always gotta
ask: How much is legit, and how much is an excuse born of fear?

The powers that be absolutely rely on our lethargy, our rampant doubts,
the attitude that says that it’s just too difficult or too
impracticable to break away. After all, to quit a bland but stable job,
to follow your own path implies breaking the rules and asking hard
questions and dissing the status quo. And they absolutely cannot have
that.

Case in point No. 2: I have a young and rather brilliant S.O., a
specialist in goddesses and mystics and world religions, who is right
now working on a book, a raw funky spirituality "anti-guide" for
younger women. She took a six-month leave of absence from a very
decent, reliable, friendly administrative job so as to focus on the
creation of this project.

And while she has no trust fund, she does have the "luxury" of small
parental loans to help her through, though it hardly matters: Giving up
her respectable gig was insanely stressful and wracked with doubt.
Leave a honest job? Give up paid health care? Have no reliable source
of income for months on end? Trade calm stability for risk and random
chance? No way, most people say. And of course, it was the absolute
best choice she could’ve made. Time instantly became more fluid and
meaningful. Mental clutter vanished. Possibility grinned.

Case in point No. 3: Not long ago, the CEO of one of the largest and
most powerful international real estate firms in the nation quit his
job. Stepped down. Not, as you might imagine, for retirement and not to
play more golf and not to travel the world staying only in Four Seasons
suites, but to work on rebuilding his relationship with his estranged
wife.

My insider source tells me it was one of the most touching, and
unexpected, and incredibly rare corporate memos they had ever seen. No
one — I mean no one
in this culture is supposed to quit a job like that just for, what
again? Love? Relationship? It’s simply not done. But of course, it
absolutely should be.

We are designed, weaned, trained from Day 1 to be productive members of
society. And we are heavily guilted into believing that must involve
some sort of droning repetitive pod-like dress-coded work for a larger
corporate cause, a consumerist mechanism, a nice happy conglomerate.

But the truth is, God, the divine true spirit loves nothing more than
to see you unhinge and take risk and invite regular, messy, dangerous
upheaval. This is exactly the energy that thwarts the demons of
stagnation and conservative rot and violent sanctimonious bloody Mel
Gibson-y religion, one that would have all our work be aimed at
continuously patching up our incessant potholes of ugly congenital
guilt, as opposed to contributing to the ongoing orgiastic evolution of
spirit.

It is not for everyone. It implies incredibly difficult choices and
arranging your life in certain ways and giving up certain luxuries and
many, many people seemed locked down and immovable and all done with
exploring new options in life, far too deeply entrenched in debts and
family obligations and work to ever see such unique light again. Maybe
you know such people. Maybe you are such people.

But then again, maybe not. This is the other huge truism we so easily
forget: There is always room. There are always choices we can begin to
make, changes we can begin to invite, rules we can work to upset,
angles of penetration we can try to explore. And if that’s not worth
trying, well, what is?

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