Thoughts on Employment: “So What do You Do?”

So what do you do?  The question inevitably comes up when meeting new people or people you have not seen in a while.  In the English speaking world the question is shorthand for “what do you do to support yourself financially”.  It seems to carry with it the implicit assumption that one’s identity is wrapped up entirely in his or her means of generating an income.  I find it troubling that this is the case.  I have worked quite a few positions since I was old enough to be employed, and while I got various degrees of satisfaction and enjoyment from each (ranging from very little to quite a bit), even the most rewarding and noble employment positions I have held are not things I want to define myself by or wrap my identity in.

In all honesty, the work I do for money tends to be the most mundane part of my day, and I do it largely in order to fund my other activities.  I have held multiple volunteer positions in various nonprofits, coordinated awesome events with notable public figures appearing, contributed to multiple blogs and pod-casts, and have done a great deal of volunteer work.  I have met and interact with quite a few people that I place among my personal heroes and have gotten to travel to many different places.  Additionally, I work with wildlife, I a play the guitar (badly, I admit), and I frequently go camping, hiking and skateboarding.  I am a decent cook, an armchair political theorist and philosopher, a  prolific reader, a constant dispenser of opinion and I know my way around a record store.  I have also been told that I am wonderful romantic partner, a good friend and a solid family member. All of these things are far more important to “what I do” than my official means of employment at any given time.

Even if I did nothing outside the work day, but watch television and sit on my bum, I would still have the same attitude.  While many people out there do have rewarding jobs that they actually live for, most of us work because we have to and tend to consider the time spent at work as time that we would just assume spend elsewhere.  This is especially true, in this day in age, when some of the biggest employers tend to be massive call centers or offices filled with endless homogenous cubicles.  The reality many of us live in is more like Dilbert or Office Space than it is to anything glamorous that we want to be remembered for.  Work for many Americans is mundane, soul-crushing and mind numbing, and it is tragic that many of the people who are working these positions are grateful to be there, only because unemployment is so much worse.

This experience is only going to become more common as we live in an economy where much of the meaningful work has either been, or will be deskilled, mechanized, computerized and automated out of existence.  Unfortunately, the benefits of this increased productivity are largely being concentrated in the hands of a minority of owners managers and shareholders.  Rest of us are still expected to work just as many tedious hours to support himself, as we were a few generations ago, despite the unprecedented growth in productivity.  I say we use this increased productivity, that results from labor saving technology to save us from the need spent so much of our time laboring.  I am open to any ideas as to how we can do this.  In the meantime, I’d like to remind all our readers that you are not your job.

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4 Responses to Thoughts on Employment: “So What do You Do?”

  1. kellymudry says:

    Funny, I always thought it was a cosmic error that my husband was not born filthy rich and actually had to work to support himself, because he always felt work just got in the way of everything else he had to do. Now that he’s retired, he’s still busier and more engaged with people and activities. But he would be the first to admit, it takes money to do all the stuff he wants to do and in this economy, and looking at what it means to be poor in some countries, we’re grateful he had a ‘soul destroying’ job that let him keep body and soul together while pursuing his passions.

    • Mr. Wilson says:

      I definitely can relate, while I am definitely happy to be employed (as it certainly beats the alternative), it does strike me as pretty awful that so many of us are in this position of having to not only spend most of our waking hours doing things we do not want to do, but also saying thanks for the privilege.

      On some level I have to question whether it is necessary. Us, in the developed world live in a society of plenty, we have the capacity to feed the whole population. with only a very small portion of the population working in agriculture. What’s more technology is advancing at such a fast pace that nearly all jobs done today by humans can and will be done by computers or machines in the life times of people alive today. I feel it is time to put labor saving technology to its full potential and save people from the need to labor.

      Why not use the wealth and technology we have to free people from the pointless sales and paper shuffling that define most of their lives? We will probably have to anyway, since employment levels have stagnated, and there simply is not going to be enough work for everyone who wants to work, to do before long.

  2. Pingback: Thoughts on Employment: “So What Do You Do?” | Abolish Work

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