We're joined this week by Paul Millerd, who's spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and writing about 'work'. We talk about the current culture of 'work-ism', the history of work and how we ended up here, the assumptions that our culture makes about work, and how to reimagine our relationship with 'work' to live happier lives.
Some of the highlights from our discussion:
When people make decisions about what they want to do in life at age 16 or 18, they are doing it largely based on one data point – their family. Most people go through life with one data point about what family is and what people expect. If you are making decisions based on one data point it doesn’t seem an ideal way of pursuing a career or leading your life.
Among the knowledge working class of people, ideas about career are so deeply ingrained that progression is almost an unspoken requirement. You either need to keep moving to move up or find a different way of living – for Paul, he felt trapped in a job where he was increasingly frustrated with who he was becoming.
“I don’t think anything is fun as a full-time job. The thing can be fun but when it’s a full-time job, it has all of the baggage of the fact that it’s a full-time job!” - Ali.
The question “what do you do?” has become such a ubiquitous question that we often feel under pressure to provide a satisfying answer. It can feel uncomfortable when we are unable to define exactly what our occupation is to other people. We often feel the need to justify why we have pursued a particular path because so much of our identities in modern society are tied up with the idea of work. Many people are just workers – the one decision about jobs or careers dictates everything in their life. A better way to ask the “what do you do?” question would be to rephrase this as “how do you spend your time?”.
The emergence of hyper-capitalism has led to the evisceration of boundaries as we are no longer limited by 8-hour days or scarce resources. As a result, even more of our lives are dictated by the work identity and we’ve taken the conception of leisure and pushed it to aside – now it’s seen as a break from work and a chance to recharge to be able to return to work. Everything is geared towards work.
“There are a lot more ways to engage with the world aside from making money. Part of the problem with politics in the West is that we tend to look at everything as a financial calculus. People are scared to admit that they want a lot of money” - Paul
The generation before the current generation came of age in a demographic blip where they peaked as the majority population at every age of their life. The UK and the US had incredible economic growth and the mindset of continuous growth works if everyone else is doing it because everyone else is orienting their lives in the same way and secondly if the economic growth is providing enough economic opportunities. Now, lower growth and budget cuts mean more competition for jobs and overall more frustration – which is what the current generation are facing.
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