What is Work?

“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”

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special info I have been reading Designing Your Life and answering several questions as part of one of the early assignments to get to know what we really want a little bit better. Unfortunately, I didn’t really answer the question for myself, but I did end up writing for quite a while.  The first question was “Why Work?”, but I really wasn’t able to answer that.

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chicos coqueteando I first set out to define work; my first thought of was something completely ego-driven (I define ego as self-importance).  I want to create something that I acknowledge as great (based on my lofty standards), many others regard as great, or people remember.  Ego is generally regarded as negative by society and even by Ryan Holiday, someone who I respect, who wrote Ego is the Enemy. I am a bit more ambiguous because I believe ego can be the spark of ambition.  I lost a portion of my ego and felt like I had no drive to really do much of anything.  I was floating through life.  I don’t really think of ego as a negative, but rather as something that can drive amazing creation or terrible destruction.  I think that moderation can work at keeping ego in a healthy check, but it also might hold back our greatest work which runs contrary to Holiday’s narrative.

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best site My next thought was that it is human nature to create so maybe work is the creation of things.  Work is striving to create something to fill someone’s needs or make something better; however, this is starting to sound like “art” as publicized by Seth Godin in The Icarus Deception.  I am not sure of the difference between Seth Godin’s definition of art vs Designing Your Life’s definition of work.  DYL says that work is something that is results driven which can coincide with art, but it is not the same thing.  I do believe humans are called to create art.  Nietzsche claimed that art is the fundamental metaphysical activity of Man, the highest form of human activity, but that doesn’t sound like work to me.

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rencontre blanc et noir After contemplation, I settled on work being something that is required for survival.  Humans have always had to work to perpetuate their own life and their species.  Art feels like something that we can only do once our survival is taken care of, a higher level on the hierarchy of needs.  I believe work is to perpetuate the survival of ourselves and our friends and families. If you don’t need to work to perpetuate your own life or those close to you, I don’t believe there is any need to work.


In the modern world, money is generally required for survival.  Therefore, the purpose of work is to make money, at least in most modern situations. One must have a certain amount of money or subsistence before he can go on to higher callings. This fits with the age old of theme of artists and writers coming from the established aristocracy. If you would do your “job” for a bare subsistence of your current lifestyle or less, I would not call it work any more.  However, I don’t believe this is the intention of the authors as they simply suggest a definition of work that is results oriented.  I understand why their beliefs are beneficial to having a happy and fulfilled life, but my criterion are slightly more strict


This definition of work is disappointing for me because I resent the common slave-slaveholder mentality of many work operations.  This mentality depresses hope and confidence.  I was inspired to think more about confidence by the “Confidence” video by The School of Life. The video claims that the reason it is so easy to lack confidence is that when the majority of the population were serfs or slaves, there was very little room for hope (in the current life).  Hopes can actually depress one’s current situation by reducing happiness in the moment and they can reduce the quality of one’s work while one thinks about future possibilities.  When the possibility of change is very small, hope can feel dangerous to ourselves and to our owners, so we default to doing what we are told which is safe for the inevitable status quo.


School and work in the modern world differ surprisingly little from the serf days. We are told to be good little boys and girls in school and to follow the rules at work.  When combined with the fact that people are being told to spend all of their money or more, people become bound to their current job and the slave-slaveholder relationship is born.  We can step outside of this relationship in several ways, but the most obvious is to step outside of consumerism and save a large portion of one’s money.  This is something I did intuitively without real hope or a plan for the future because I have always been uncomfortable about having my job (or any job).  It always felt unnatural to be chained to my desk for long hours almost every day being told what to do.


The above video argues that we can develop confidence by measured attitude of disrespect by questioning established norms.  I have always felt slightly disrespectful compared to what society expects because I rarely give people or institutions respect for free.  I want to make people prove to me why they have value before I give them my respect.  I do think this attitude requires a bit of self-confidence or self-importance to have this belief.  Despite, this questioning attitude, I still feel somewhat constrained to be something or act a certain way by society.


This constraint I have placed on myself is where my demons lie. I resent the way I behaved as a “good child” and a “good student.”  Early in life I placed all my values on being what other people wanted me to be and thought it was virtuous to be “good.”  Now, I see virtue as the exact opposite, which is critically evaluating about everything.  I used to see procrastination as shameful, but now I realize it is a form of rebellion against the requirements society places upon us.


Perhaps, this why I fetishize freedom.  Freedom is the option to not conform or comply with another person’s or institution’s desires.  I still have the anger inside of me because of an intense hope for the future coupled with the constrained present.  The only way I can see to conquer this anger is to internalize that I am really am far more free than most people in the world and embrace that I have the potential for more freedom if I could only conquer my mind and the subconscious limitations I place on myself.

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