Why should we work?
A Psychological Perspective
I would like to touch upon this topic by asking you “What do you think work is?” and “Is it important to work? Why or why not?”
We all know that we need to work because only then we can accomplish what we set out to accomplish. We all have our reasons behind why we work but apart from the goal and the final outcome aspect of work, there is probably more to look into the process part of it.
“Life is like a bicycle. To keep the balance, we must keep moving — Albert Einstein”
Here is a way of viewing work. Among all the people, theories, lessons, wisdom and everything, I have found work to be one of the most reliable tools to ensure a holistic individual balance and progress.
At a mental level, work is the ability to redirect a train of thought towards in a particular direction. This state of mind allows us to bring the connected and relevant thoughts together and line them up to lead in a particular direction. Contrary to the default state of random thoughts constantly running in all directions at a great speed (often perceived as “Free Will”), when similar or related thoughts come together, that’s when ideas and solutions are generated, clarity is attained which eventually helps us to close the open loops in our head and this process translates into internal balance, peace, fulfillment, high self-worth and a sense of liberation. The act of disciplining our lives and our actions boils down to disciplining our thought and work serves as the best indirect anchor to make that happen.
We become what we repeat, consciously or unconsciously. If we consciously train our thoughts to be connected, linear, focused that’s going to be our default mode of thinking, even when we aren’t consciously directing them. Habits become automatic after a certain point. And since our default mental and emotional state is a product of our thinking, it’s going to determine how we feel on an ongoing basis which further translates into how we respond to events occurring in our lives, how we enjoy life, how we treat others, how we feel about ourselves etc. All this is just the process aspect of work i.e who we become, but outside of this, by working, we also get to enjoy the sense of accomplishment through the external progress we make along the way.
Inability to work or the lack of interest in work is simply the inability or the unwillingness to redirect our thinking in a particular direction. Of course there are moments of rest and repair and we need to take time out to restore our mental/emotional faculty, but outside of that, inability or unwillingness to work is the inability to redirect and align our thoughts which is a sign of thoughts running around in a million directions at a great speed thereby making it difficult to slow down and redirect/discipline the train of thoughts, for the purpose of the task at hand. In short, outside periods of rest, recover and leisure, inability or unwillingness to work could be a sign of mental and emotional mess. It’s easier to stop and redirect our thoughts in a particular direction if we have learned to still the inner ripples or attained inner peace and balance. It is okay to spot patterns of inner disturbance because we often tend to fall into these loops from time to time and we are humans. But once we spot, we can decide to turn it around through incremental improvements. Perfection is not the goal, improvement is. Keep it simple and focus on tiny improvements on a daily basis.
Hence work, even the day to day menial and boring tasks, is an opportunity to align our mental and emotional faculty, to control our focus at will and it is nothing but an exercise in discipline, flexibility, focus and organized rational thinking.
Work doesn’t lie, it shows us who we really are and what precisely and absolutely needs to be done and what needs to be left out. It often helps us to draw a clear line between delusion and the reality. We tend to overestimate or underestimate when things are in our head until we put things into action. Work allows us to move from vague thought level generalizations and ambiguities to meaningful specifics. It’s an exercise to cultivate emotional balance, emotional intelligence, discipline, grit, intellectual intelligence, creative expression, authenticity, love. It is reluctant to show us mercy and many a time, it doesn’t give us an out if we are sloppy but at the same time, it rewards the ones who do it right, if not externally, probably in terms of internal satisfaction or fulfillment or a much-needed lesson. Work reveals our true nature and the subtle nuances of our character by being a platform to test our strengths, weaknesses, and lessons including the ones we aren’t even aware of. It doesn’t wear masks and play games and doesn’t resort to manipulations, trickery, and shortcuts. It doesn’t fall for those things either. It’s the truth and it is what it is.
Work may seem like our worst enemy, but it is our best friend. If we need someone who can be a great friend and will have something truly valuable to offer us, especially when we need, as much I hate to say it, work itself or an individual who is a personified version of work could be one of the best companions. It’s the truth, day in and day out, in the absolute exact form and it is genuine and honest with zero drama. Work saved my life and made me complete and whole again.
The popular work myth and the illusion of the free will
“Discipline equals freedom — Jocko Willink “
Of course, outside our individual capacities, work drains us as it involves progressive usage of our mental, emotional and physical resources. But what I have observed is, many a time, in a steady state of linear flow of thoughts which comprises a major part of the work, the usage of our mental, emotional resources is optimal and is often less than the excessive and uncontrolled mental, emotional drainage we go through in some of the typical non-work scenarios like gossip, overthinking, daydreaming, negativity, entertainment, complaining, worrying etc.
When we work, on top of optimally using our internal resources, there is a renewed sense of energy and inspiration attained from the sense of progress and the vision of a specific outcome that work provides. Clarity is power and clarity is freedom. Work fosters clarity and is a way out of the default state of ambiguity and wasteful emotional and mental extremes. It is safe to assume that most of the human race has not cultivated the art of deliberately slowing down our thoughts and emotions hence, assuming that free will is going to automatically bring us at peace, can backfire as once we come out of the confines of a disciplined thought and emotional engagement of a task, the mind is free to wander far and wide and there is no limit to how far it can go. Free will is not free. With free will, can come the cognitive overload of too many uncontrolled trains of thoughts, decision fatigue arising out of too many options and lack of clarity. What will actually set us free, is discipline.
On the other hand, free will and periods where we aren’t consciously forcing our will are extremely important to maintain inner balance, to optimize creative and logical expression and to let our mind and spirits recover but wild wandering must strike an optimal balance with organized and disciplined rational thinking. This is probably the balance between left and the right brain. Excessive free will can lead us to unresourceful and rapidly growing downward spirals and excessive task oriented mental engagement can hinder creative expressions, leaps and deprive us of inspiration. Inefficiency has its value too but it must be balanced with efficiency. It’s not Either/Or but the right balance and this balance is different for different people.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish — The Bible”
Work brings back our focus, attention, and energy from flying in a million directions to a precise, limited and linear train of connected thought form leading to a particular objective. It’s an exercise to weed out irrelevance, randomness and fluff and the likes of “just for the heck of it”. Work is the most efficient use of our mental and emotional resources. I cannot say how many times I get back to work with a sigh of relief and feel a renewed sense of energy, after getting drained in idleness, boredom or a non-stop loop of baseless and meaningless gossip which apart from sucking out my vitality also sends me down a guilt trip. I don’t always work because I want to achieve something, of course, most of the times I do but I work because it is the only thing I trust that will help me to get centered and balanced and will help me to align my mental, emotional, intellectual resources in the right order and this I believe, is the ideal individual standpoint to make other good things happen. I have found that the act of constantly anchoring myself to some kind of work or duty has been one of the best ways to attain individual balance, freedom, and fulfillment.