What does it mean to work?

I realize I haven’t posted in a while. That’s mostly because there haven’t been any exciting developments in the But Until Then household–dog is still an adorable hairy rug that pees a thousand times a day, bathroom renovation is still not complete (c’est la vie), and The Man is still as kind and funny and smart and handsome as ever.

Something exciting did happen this past week, though, and it’s taken me some time to think through it. As you may recall, I am relatively new to my current job having been a part of the team for fewer than six months. It’s been a great few months, but I didn’t really feel like an official part of the team until now. Why? Because I got to experience the crazy that is the annual user conference my team puts on every year.

Having spent the last seven days working 16 hour days, I started to think about what work means to me, why I do it, and comparing my understanding of work to that of other people. Purely based on these (admittedly) limited discussions, motivation to work comes down to two things: economic and emotional.

The economic portion is pretty obvious. We work to survive, to pay our bills and feed ourselves and enjoy fun activities in our free time. For those of us, like The Man, who see work as a primarily economic function, it is also a temporary arrangement. The Man has a clear plan to work intensely for the next number of years and save money aggressively, giving him the freedom to release himself from the economic commitment of working (at least for a while) before typical retirement age. This is a great plan and definitely smart thinking, and makes sense for The Man who very much values autonomy over his time.

That’s not how I view work, though. While I certainly see the economic value of work–I also like feeding myself and saving for the future, etc.–I don’t have the motivation to stop working sooner rather than later. I enjoy working and really don’t mind “losing” some of my schedule flexibility. I enjoy the process of being productive, working through problems with my team, and having the opportunity to contribute to something that moves on a grander scale than I, as one person, do.

To me, working is a net gain. I learn, I find meaningful community, I contribute. Working provides a sense of community and structure that I need to thrive and function, and I don’t mind doing so at the “expense” of my time. Even if I don’t like what I’m doing that particular day, or maybe I just don’t feel very good and could really have used an extra few hours of sleep, working is a great opportunity to learn how we, as people, have built our culture and communities.

Right now, retiring seems like a real drag. But ask me again in 20 years and we’ll see how I feel.

Do you enjoy working? Why/why not?


One thought on “What does it mean to work?”

  1. Great article! I’m definitely in your camp, but I like jobs with the flexibility for me to take extra long (unpaid) vacations because at my heart I’m a traveler.

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