(2019-03-01) Guinn In Praise Of Work

Rusty Guinn (Epsilon Theory): In Praise of Work. Work is on my mind right now in part because of two essays I read this week. One was written by Ben Carlson at Ritholtz Wealth Management (2019-02-28-CarlsonWhyArePeopleMiserableAtWork). The other – which was heavily referenced in Carlson’s piece – was written by Derek Thompson and published in the Atlantic (2019-02-24-ThompsonAmericasReligionIsWork). They are both really good and worthy of your time, but it’s Thompson’s piece I want to talk about (in part because I don’t disagree with anything in Ben’s excellent piece). I think Thompson gets nearly everything right, too, but for all that somehow ends up in the wrong place.

By any measure, we are more emotionally invested and connected to our jobs and our coworkers. We aren’t any happier. Thompson is right. Of course he is right.

But why now? The Protestant Work Ethic has been a dominant narrative in northern and western Europe for a few centuries now. Even the term Max Weber used to describe it is more than 100 years old.

if all of that about workism is true, why isn’t this happening in the trades and what is left of blue collar labor? And why was this the dominant culture of consulting and banking for >50 years before it found its way to the rest of white collar work?

My answer is this:

  • The problem isn’t that we derive too much of our worth and value from work.
  • The problem is that our jobs are becoming increasingly abstracted from work. (abstraction)

Consider the jobs of the construction worker and the banking analyst

The banking analyst, on the other hand, will have a little more difficulty telling you what his work is

Over time, he comes to understand that his job function is explicitly this: to permit his immediate boss to signal competence to her immediate boss, a chain of signaling which ultimately ends with a client who wants to do something (e.g. buy another company) (signalling)

generally speaking, banking and consulting make nothing – not even ideas, not even connections. Their service is to shift and allay the career risk of institutional decision-makers. (risk management)

That is the soul of workism: that the job is, in every meaningful respect, to look like you are doing the job.

I maintain that the strongest influence has been the coming-to-maturity of software-dependent professional fields, which is to say…just about everything. (Software is Eating the World)

American corporate culture proposed two solutions

the first solution was, as Thompson points out, to introduce myths of meaning, belonging and calling into our offices.

This kind of meaning was a nutritionless husk, a crude analog to real human engagement. It goes without saying that it made the problem worse

Perversely, the second solution we promoted was nearly the opposite of the first. We promulgated the mythology of work-life balance. This remains, in fact, the ultimate recommendation of Thompson’s piece

work is not life’s product, but its currency. What we choose to buy with it is the ultimate project of living.

Hear me again: your work is holy. (The Craft)

No I don’t mean your dayjob. I also don’t mean your passions. Your life’s greatest work may never be a passion.

Does your labor result in knowledge, happiness and health, beauty and wealth, for yourself or for others?

Good people are wired to be productive, to contribute and to give more than they got. Unless you are a sociopath, you cannot trick your brain around this.

You want to make money and live a fruitful life. So do I.

Neither you nor I have the option of doing all these things, but we both can do some:

Clear Eyes:

If you can, and if you want the flexibility to determine how closely related your work and your job will be, there is no substitute for spending time in what others consider to be an elite employer in your chosen profession, at an elite educational institution, and probably with time spent in a big city

Spend three years at one of these inherently work-abstracted, soul-sucking institutions, get your passport stamped, and GTFO.

Don’t Be a Hero:

you won’t fix your company’s workism culture. Don’t try.

as much as you possibly can, be intentional and honest about connecting your time and tasks to non-zero-sum, actual work products

you can find at least two more hours a day to spend on something that matters MIT.

Tell A Partner or Friend What You Did. Every Day:

Do it to check yourself on your how much time you are wasting on looking like you’re doing your job instead of doing work. And do it so that you won’t forget to properly value how much work you really are doing.

Full Hearts:

Spend At Least Three Hours Making. Every Day: Hopefully you can do this by contributing to real, non-risk-shifting, paper-shuffling, zero-sum work you do in your job. If not, then maybe it’s a lesson for the kids.

unlike the counsel provided in the Atlantic, I think that part of the answer to our jobs supplanting the fulfillment that can only be provided by work is doing more actual work. Anything that contributes to knowledge, happiness and health, beauty or wealth.

Train Your Voice and Use It

the unhappiest people in the world are mute creatives

Every creative person should start a blog to express and develop their art.In Praise of Work - Epsilon Theory

Work is on my mind right now in part because of two essays I read this week. One was written by Ben Carlson at Ritholtz Wealth Management. The other – which was heavily referenced in Carlson’s piece – was written by Derek Thompson and published in the Atlantic. They are both really good and worthy of your time, but it’s Thompson’s piece I want to talk about (in part because I don’t disagree with anything in Ben’s excellent piece). I think Thompson gets nearly everything right, too, but for all that somehow ends up in the wrong place.

*By any measure, we are more emotionally invested and connected to our jobs and our coworkers. We aren’t any happier.

Thompson is right. Of course he is right.*

But why now? The Protestant Work Ethic has been a dominant narrative in northern and western Europe for a few centuries now. Even the term Max Weber used to describe it is more than 100 years old.

if all of that about workism is true, why isn’t this happening in the trades and what is left of blue collar labor? And why was this the dominant culture of consulting and banking for >50 years before it found its way to the rest of white collar work?

*My answer is this:

The problem isn’t that we derive too much of our worth and value from work.

The problem is that our jobs are becoming increasingly abstracted from work.*

Consider the jobs of the construction worker and the banking analyst

The banking analyst, on the other hand, will have a little more difficulty telling you what his work is

Over time, he comes to understand that his job function is explicitly this: to permit his immediate boss to signal competence to her immediate boss, a chain of signaling which ultimately ends with a client who wants to do something (e.g. buy another company)

generally speaking, banking and consulting make nothing – not even ideas, not even connections. Their service is to shift and allay the career risk of institutional decision-makers.

That is the soul of workism: that the job is, in every meaningful respect, to look like you are doing the job.

I maintain that the strongest influence has been the coming-to-maturity of software-dependent professional fields, which is to say…just about everything

American corporate culture proposed two solutions

the first solution was, as Thompson points out, to introduce myths of meaning, belonging and calling into our offices

This kind of meaning was a nutritionless husk, a crude analog to real human engagement. It goes without saying that it made the problem worse

Perversely, the second solution we promoted was nearly the opposite of the first. We promulgated the mythology of work-life balance. This remains, in fact, the ultimate recommendation of Thompson’s piece

work is not life’s product, but its currency. What we choose to buy with it is the ultimate project of living.

Hear me again: your work is holy.

No I don’t mean your job. I also don’t mean your passions. Your life’s greatest work may never be a passion

Does your labor result in knowledge, happiness and health, beauty and wealth, for yourself or for others? (Transcendentals)

Good people are wired to be productive, to contribute and to give more than they got. Unless you are a sociopath, you cannot trick your brain around this.

You want to make money and live a fruitful life. So do I.

Neither you nor I have the option of doing all these things, but we both can do some:

Clear Eyes:

If you can, and if you want the flexibility to determine how closely related your work and your job will be, there is no substitute for spending time in what others consider to be an elite employer in your chosen profession, at an elite educational institution, and probably with time spent in a big city

Spend three years at one of these inherently work-abstracted, soul-sucking institutions, get your passport stamped, and GTFO.

Don’t Be a Hero:

you won’t fix your company’s workism culture. Don’t try.

as much as you possibly can, be intentional and honest about connecting your time and tasks to non-zero-sum, actual work products

you can find at least two more hours a day to spend on something that matters.

Tell A Partner or Friend What You Did. Every Day:

Do it to check yourself on your how much time you are wasting on looking like you’re doing your job instead of doing work. And do it so that you won’t forget to properly value how much work you really are doing.

Full Hearts:

Spend At Least Three Hours Making. Every Day: Hopefully you can do this by contributing to real, non-risk-shifting, paper-shuffling, zero-sum work you do in your job. If not, then maybe it’s a lesson for the kids.

unlike the counsel provided in the Atlantic, I think that part of the answer to our jobs supplanting the fulfillment that can only be provided by work is doing more actual work. Anything that contributes to knowledge, happiness and health, beauty or wealth

Train Your Voice and Use It

the unhappiest people in the world are mute creatives

Every creative person should start a blog to express and develop their art. (Reflective Thinker)


Edited: |

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