From Despair to Mainstream Drama.
Why it’s time to reboot The Work Project.
Last summer I found myself at a crossroads. I’ve always been a hard worker, but just over a decade since I graduated, my relationship with work and the idea of a ‘career’ had been patchy to say the least. A few things were happening in my life and I suddenly had the opportunity to really consider my next step.
I wrote a business plan for a cool company that would be somewhere between a creative agency and a recruiting company, played with other ideas and was buzzing after my experience organising All About People, a small conference I’d put on to look at how amazing workplaces are created. As the summer progressed, I watched TED talks and started to question what I really wanted to do, how the world of work worked and wondered how it could all be better.
In early August 2014, I had a conversation at a barbecue with a real-life person who would inspire my cardboard creation John — the faceless worker. He told me unequivocally that most people hate their jobs, they just have to do them to fund the time they’re not at work. This felt wrong on so many levels — and related to some of my own experiences with work too.
I resolved to see if it was possible to find a different way to work. The Work Project was born, asking the question:
Could I remove myself from the usual structures of work for twelve months and still find a way to earn a living?
An experiment where I’m the subject.
I set out to look at how we define work, how work defines us, how we assign value and started to play with a range of interesting and obscure side-projects on the subject. I loosely started to blog on Medium, in the hope that my findings would give something back to people like John, but I had no previous blogging experience and it turned into a patchy, infrequent diary of my emotional and financial rollercoaster.
Now, eight months later, The Work Project has started to work and I realise how little of what I’ve learned has been shared so far. There’s so much of it!
I’ve discovered lots about how work affects us as humans, how we can change our relationship with it and make it work. I’ve discovered tricks for improving productivity, wellbeing, career progression, happiness and creativity and learned about the past, present and future of work. The problem is, too much of it stayed with me — it’s time to share it so that others can change their relationship with work too.
As I’ve started to cover my bills, the different types of work I can and want to do are emerging and I’m trying more and more things, just to see if and how they combine. It’s all become very interesting and more than a bit exciting!
I’m doing fun, impactful and rewarding work with amazing organisations, but I’m also doing more leftfield things. This coming month I’m going to spend five days on set as a background artist on a well-known British drama series, work as an art courier, deliver workshops in global companies, carry on with my experiments in the sharing economy and possibly launch a venture. I’ve also just spent a week knocking around with my kids in the school holidays. It’s a good time to sit back, reconsider The Work Project and make sure I’m able to share it all in the right way.
The main thing I’ve realised is that I’m obsessed with making work better for myself and everyone else. We spend so much of our lives working, it’s really time we looked at it from a new perspective.
Where it’s going.
I’m two thirds of the way through the year I set out to complete, but I can’t see this stopping. Rather than a time-limited project, it’s become an evolving adventure in work! There’s so much to share and –now things are emerging- it’s time to do just that. If I can change my relationship with work, then hopefully others can take something from my experiments and do the same.
I’ve just finished rebuilding The Work Project website, this time it has a back end and is 100% focused on the project itself. The idea is to use it as a platform to share the adventures and insights the project throws up. I’ll share a weekly work diary, more in-depth write-ups of the experiments I’m doing and most importantly, a series of “Work Hacks” that give insight into how to improve or change your relationship with work. All of this will be digested into a weekly email newsletter, You Are The Work Project that goes out every Monday to help you get through the working week.
This Medium publication will become less a personal diary and more reserved for features such as write-ups of specific experiments I do within the project. At some point I’m going to start a bi-weekly video blog looking at some of the more abstract themes related to work and throw a few reviews in there too. Interviews are high on my priority list, expect them to start appearing on the site. Everything I do will be shared via my social media channels.
I’m really interested in the relationship between traditional ‘work’ and art, I’ll be looking at that. I’ve started to commission artists to create images based on a simple question — ‘Work?’ I’ll be making them into t-shirts which you’ll be able to buy through the Wear The Work Project store. I’m in the process of deciding on a charity to support with any sales — I’ll write something on the website when it’s all confirmed.
I’d love your support. Please read and share, sign-up to the We Are The Work Project weekly email, spread the word, suggest an experiment, give me some feedback, or anything else you can think of… the best part of this journey so far has been the people who have shaped it!
We spend so much of our lives at work, let’s make it a positive experience, together…
This article is a slightly amended version of one I published over at The Work Project site.
To stay up to date with the latest from The Work Project, join We Are The Work Project for a single weekly email with insight, thoughts and hacks to get you through the working week.
I’m on Twitter @AndySwann.