Thursday, August 15, 2013

Work . . . W-O-R-K!

(Note: I began this post on Monday, thought I'd finish it on Tuesday before I was to leave on Wednesday morning, but here it is, Thursday and I'm now in a guest room at the Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania where I'll finish it and post it. This is the location for the annual Veteran Speakers Retreat that I've now hosted for the past 12 years including this year. This is my last year hosting the event as I turn the reins over to members of the dedicated planning committee who have backed me for the past 12 years. But, just like Johnny Carson, of the "Tonight Show" fame, you just know when it's time . . . and it is time.)

One of my favorite TV characters was a beatnik by the name of Maynard G. Krebs. Maynard G. Krebs was the sidekick of one Dobie Gillis, played by Dwayne Hickman on a the TV show titled . . . "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," aka, just "Dobie Gillis." Krebs was played by Bob Denver who reappeared a number of years later as the first mate on the schooner, S.S. Minnow on another TV show called "Gilligan's Island." But, the

Maynard G. Krebs, the beatnik, was allergic to work. Whenever anyone mentioned the word work, Maynard would shriek the word . . . W-O-R-K! I guess that was my first real exposure to the concept of an anti-work ethic. I, like many Greatest Generation folks (which I just barely qualify for, having been born in 1945 - if I had been born in 1946 I'd be a Baby Boomer) and certainly the majority of Baby Boomers, was raised with a strong work ethic. I began my business life at 12 as an independent paper boy with one of the largest paper routes at my newspaper.

So, after being a lifelong entrepreneur and displaying my work ethic for over 50 years, I, for some reason think back to that time, to that TV show and realize that, maybe, Maynard really had a point. Think about it. How many people do you know who are doing unfulfilling work? How many refer to their jobs as the "salt mine" or the "old grind?" How many refer to their "9 to 5?" How many do you hear talking about "putting in their 40 years" like it's a sentence? (Actually, it may be a life sentence, when you think about it except one makes a bit more than a few cents an hour and doesn't necessarily make stones out of big rocks . . . or do they?)

So, here's the thing. We know there are no real "free lunches." There is a price for everything, right? But, why does work have to be, well . . . W-O-R-K? Sure, since Adam and Eve (you determine how you wish to define this concept), I mean, since animal life forms in whatever shape or species made their debut on this planet, there has been a need to "make a living." In the most primitive form, it means going out on the hunt and "bringing home the bacon," so to speak. That really is the most basic definition of work. Doing what you have to do to survive. It could be as a carnivorous predator fresh meat or as a gatherer seeking the manna that has been provided as part of natures wonderful food chain. But, you had to be proactive to catch and kill your food or find and pick your vegetables and fruit.

This is a point where I could move off in a tangent about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, but I've discussed that before in this blog, so I'm not going back there. But, ponder this thought from Maslow about the human species, "The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short." Have humans always sold themselves short and, even more importantly, are humans still selling themselves short?

Maslow also said, "I was awfully curious to find out why I didn't go insane." Is it insanity to continue doing what you've always done, but expect a different outcome? Einstein defined that concept as insanity. But, isn't it some form of insanity to keep doing what you've always done knowing that the outcome will be the same? I hear people say, "the harder I work the behinder I get." Or, "I can't stop doing what I'm doing (working at an unfilling job) or I'll lose all this." My questions is, "All what?" Now, we start entering another realm, the realm of values. But, that's also a tangential topic for another time. But, really, is "all this" worth your life? In the criminal realm his or her crime is the criminal's work. A criminal's work may be stealing, conning, pick-pocketing, shop lifting, even murdering for hire, etc. There is a saying, "Don't do the crime, if you can't do the time." But, the majority of law abiding people don't engage in any crime, yet, they condemn themselves to 40 (or more) years of hard labor. They didn't do any crime, but they still do the time.

Complexity Creates Jobs and W-O-R-K!

Okay! So, going back to the "Adam and Eve time," everything was simpler. No computers, tablets, telephones, cellular phones, television, radio, newspapers, books, supermarkets, giant box stores full of more items than one can even conceive of for purposes that Adam and Eve couldn't have even thought about. You know what I mean. Life, as we know it today, is complex. Even some of the most simple and mundane things have become complicated by laws, regulations, rules and so on. Humans with this wonderful ability to think and reason and use logic have taken life from the simple, basic level to an unbelievable extreme. We have created jobs and W-O-R-K!

As infants we enter this world with unlimited creativity, complete innocence (not knowing the difference between good and evil and being neither) and an unlimited potential to soar. Yet! Only a tiny percentage of the billions of infants who have been born ever exercise much or any of this creativity and potential. Even before many children are old enough to enter the formal educational system they have already been indoctrinated into the world of W-O-R-K! That's how I grew up and, that's how I raised my son. But, please! Do not confuse work with being a productive human being. There is a difference and it may be all the difference in the world.

And, let's also not forget that in our current complex society, we NEED the billions of people around the world who work and jobs I would shriek the word W-O-R-K at, like Maynard. But, we have made the world and everything about it so complex that it can't function without all these jobs and people putting in the 9-5's for 40 years. I do not disrespect anyone who chooses to live this kind of lifestyle. Some of us actually create our own "life sentences" and we don't do 9-5's we do 6 (AM) - to 10 (PM's) and we don't do five days, we do six and seven days.

A Life Sentence To Put Bread On The Table

Yes! It's a complex subject and each of us has an opinion about it. Some of us just accept that this is life - period! Just deal with it. Some of us take Maynard G. Kreb's approach to W-O-R-K. Others fall somewhere on a continuum between the two extremes. It's great if we can get past this when we are young and break out of the 40 year life sentence and create a perspective where we fit work into our life and it's something we enjoy and gain personal and psychic fulfillment from. But, some just seems wrong to me when life is focused around the J.O.B. and we have to fit the rest of this short life we are each given as a miraculous gift in around the J.O.B.

My friend's 90 year old mother, born in the early 20's, grew up during the depression, and filled men's jobs during World War II, recently said to me of her late husband, dead for about 25 years now - he worked 45 years in the paper mill. He hated it! But, he knew he had to do it to put the bread on the table. He lived for about 10 years after he retired from that mill. So, out of 75 years of life, he realized about 10 of them to use as he wanted. But, worse yet is that for 45 years he hated what he had to do five days a week, plus an additional three years where his life was on the line as he fought in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Prior to the war he worked and, of course, as a kid growing up, his freedom and choices were limited and controlled by his parents.

I'm not saying that this was a bad life. I'm simply saying that we are given this precious gift and unlimited potential to do and be anything we want to and go anywhere we want to, but we are indoctrinated by a system that holds us back and takes the majority of our life from us in ways that most not only find unfulfilling (other than putting bread on the table), but dislike intensely or hate. Yet, we accept it as our only option and our lot in life.

This subject requires a lot more thinking on my part. I know what I'm feeling. I know my own experience. I know what I've seen others do with their lives. I'm simply pondering what I may be able to do to influence others to consider alternatives to this system. What do you think?


Linda Sand said...

Today's phrase is: follow your passion. Those like my husband who found jobs they enjoyed doing did not feel sentenced to work. The challenge is helping people find jobs they would enjoy doing. Dave was lucky to stumble across his when taking an elective course in college.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Linda, there are a lot of people who, I dare say, envy your husband and people like him. Unfortunately, there are always going to be jobs that are distasteful and that someone has to do. In a perfect world, that wouldn't have to be the case and certainly, one of the benefits of advancing technology, some, if not many, of those jobs have been taken over by machines and computers.

You assessed the challenge correctly. However, I also believe over the past three or four generations, people's expectations have expanded regarding where they want to live and the kinds of homes they want to have, the cars they drive, the designer clothes they wear, the amount people eat out at restaurants and the "toys" they all want, all driven my an extremely effective "marketing machine." Add to that the ever increasing availability of easy credit (though a bit tighter now after the Great Recession) and - voila - people don't look for work they love, they look for work that pays as much money as possible to finance their insatiable appetite for "stuff." They hope they will find a job that they will love, but just as in the early days of this country and European (as well as other) societies, people have worked hard at laborious jobs just to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and a decent pair of shoes on everyone's feet. They were lucky if they could afford a radio back in those earlier 20th Century days, let alone a 72" flat screen, 3D, LCD TV with a 7.1 surround sound home theater system. So, the story is similar, survival, but early on it was just that, survival. Today, it's more than just survival, it's having all the stuff and surviving the bill collectors and foreclosures and repossessions. Loving or even enjoying what one does for a living really takes a seat in the back of the bus.

Dave and I have something in common. While I was already entrepreneurial when I entered college, I didn't have a clue what my career track would ultimately be. But, in my freshman year - in my case - through my work scholarship, I discovered and fell in love with the audio/sound/recording industry and it's been my primary career for 50 years.