WORKING FOR NOTHING

I was surprised to read a smart quote by an 18 year old graffiti artist that you may know as Borf:

Borf often finished his graffiti early in the morning, just in time to see a spectacle he despises — rush hour. “People all heading downtown,” he said. “Like, it’s ridiculous if you think about it. Like, Orwellian-ridiculous. And they do this with so-called free will.”

It is ridiculous (though maybe not as ridiculous as choosing property defacement as your means of enlightening the masses). Being raised in the American middle class leaves little room for a creative life. You go to high school, sit through student council meetings, attend college, have unprotected sex, and then eventually get a real job, until your body starts giving up on you in your sixties. A wise Turkish man once told me, “In America, you are supposed to work hard in your best years to have money for when you are old and half-dead.” He didn’t really understand why people accepted this model of living – the “American dream” – but it’s something that we all have accepted.

Columnist Mark Morford has it right:

Work hard and the world respects you. Work hard and you can have anything you want. Work really extra super hard and do nothing else but work and ignore your family and spend 14 hours a day at the office and make 300 grand a year that you never have time to spend, sublimate your soul to the corporate machine and enjoy a profound drinking problem and sporadic impotence and a nice 8BR mini-mansion you never spend any time in, and you and your shiny BMW 740i will get into heaven.

Is this guy jealous of successful people or does he see something that average people can not understand? One of my favorite bartenders recently left the city to be a bartender in Greece, living one day at a time with uncertainty in an unfamiliar place. I asked her why she was doing it and she just shrugged, “You only get one life.” It’s a romantic ideal that I’m sure many of us dream about, but one that none of us will actually do. Our molded brains start asking the obvious, practical questions: “How is she going to save for retirement? What is she going to do when she gets old and can’t bartend?” A person who doesn’t know what she’s doing in three months is unlikely to plan for old age, and while that may be crazy and stupid, it is what separates us from them.

As I get older I’m finding it impossible to shrug off my parents wisdom as mere old-people talk. Their life will mirror your life in some way, for after all they are you. I asked my dad what is point of our existence, what should I be doing to lead a fulfilling life, and how work fits into it all. He simply said, “Just enjoy the time you’re here.” It’s hard to really answer how much I’m enjoying this very moment as I sit in front of a computer screen, but that’s a question that I’m sure everyone can ask themselves.

22 thoughts on “WORKING FOR NOTHING

  1. Anonymous

    ?Like, it?s ridiculous if you think about it. Like, Orwellian-ridiculous. And they do this with so-called free will.?

    Yeah. Brilliant. It’s a misapplication of the term Orwellian and is a wonderful representation of the foolishness of an eighteen year old graffiti artist. So-called free will? Would the world be a better place if we all lived with our parents and defaced public property?

    Brilliant.

  2. mass

    Well, you read Mark Morford. You have that going for you.

    Poor anonymous. He just doesn’t get it. Besides, it’s not actually a misapplication of Orwellian.

  3. Anonymous

    Why not work hard in your 30s & 40s, so that you can best enjoy your 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s? Not sure why it makes more sense to “enjoy” your 20s & 30s more than your later years. We are better situated when young to both work & party. You can’t do that when you get older.

  4. Andy

    This is something that I wish more people at my school would realize. They are so concerned with getting a 4.0 and saving every fucking penny they earn that they end up missing out on 90% of what college has to offer them.

  5. J.P.

    I think this has been discussed on this page many times. I think a lot of us who are in yuppie type jobs (or in my case law school) start to realize in their mid to late twenties that we don’t mind working hard, in fact LIKE working hard, we just think there are also other important things in life. Unfortunately a lot of people never have this epiphany- instead they focus on the things you were mentioning- mostly material things. When I was young I could never understand why people offered an opportunity to make more would not take it, but now I get it. There’s a certain level at which the return on the time you put into certain types of work is extremely low when compared to what you give up to put that time in.

  6. James

    I believe North Americans get really crappy vacation time compared to our counterparts in Europe. I know some people are all “Rah rah USA!” and all that, but me, I prefer the lazy route. I’m not against working hard, but I’m not gonna slave away 60 hours a week in an office building. Man was not made for that.

  7. Marc

    I wrote about a month ago that working a lot of hours is wasteful towards a more meaningful existance.

    The 3 weeks after that I was in the office 60 – 70 hours each week.

    The way I always saw work, was that it was a means to an end. My job wasn’t my life, it just fueled my real life which takes place outside of work.

    Simple math shows that software engineering pays more than flipping hamburgers or digging ditches.

    A lot of people look at work as an evil, and that working all day for the first 30 years of your life is wasteful, because by the time you’ve amassed enough money to not have to work, you’re too old to enjoy it.

    Last time I checked, they didn’t give out fortunes to young people so they can enjoy life and not work.

    It’s been said so many times before, and it probably cliche’ but life is a journey, not a destination.

    If you feel like your work is meaningless tripe that doesn’t mean shit, you’re in the wrong job. you should be able to work, make money and have a life you enjoy living outside of that.

    It’s a personal choice. People who are poor, who work crap jobs for minimum wage then bitch about rich people have only themselves to blame. Everyone has a choice.

    Having a nice big house, and expensive cars is a choice. If you can afford them and still save for your future, why not?

    It’s so weak to drag others down because they have expensive things and you don’t. Forcing your values and beliefs on others is weak sauce indeed.

    Rant Rant Rant.

  8. Eric

    here’s my take on it:
    I’m interning with a financial consulting company right now. I’d say the average work week for people here is about 60 hours; I’ve seen some people work 80 hour weeks, and I’ve seen people get out of the office at 5 each day. It depends on how many clients have projects concurrently.

    The people in my group (i.e. the people I work with, not the people I get work from) are all between 1 and 3 years out of college. They have several things in common:
    -they like finance
    -they live near our office (downtown)
    -they like going out

    When we’re young, our bodies are resilient enough to sickness and durable enough to work 60 hours a week AND party. Working 60 hours a week, hell, even working 80 hours a week leaves time for doing fun things – I have friends interning at investment banks in NYC right now that go out at night after pulling 16 hours days.

    The problem I see people facing isn’t work/life balance, but what they do with that life portion. There are a ton of people in my office that are 23/24/25 and married with houses 45 in suburbs 45 minutes away from downtown. Working 60 hours a week isn’t necessarily forfeiting your youth; getting married young is, because you’re burdening yourself with mid-life circumstances.

    And saving for retirement isn’t that big of a financial commitment; $170/month and you’ve maxed out your 401(k). Buying a huge house in the suburbs, making payments on an SUV, having kids, etc. at 24 IS a huge financial commitment, and it requires you to spend money that otherwise would have gone to “young person” activies.

    In short, playing a role into capitalism isn’t tantamount to throwing your youth away because as a youth it’s possible to work hard and have a social life. Buying into the idea that you have to get married and start having kids as soon as possible, however, is the definition of forfeiting one’s youth, and the two have somehow become conflated to mean the same thing.

  9. Muffin

    “Work hard and the world respects you. Work hard and you can have anything you want. Work really extra super hard and do nothing else but work and ignore your family and spend 14 hours a day at the office and make 300 grand a year … and your shiny BMW 740i will get into heaven.”

    That reads like a 17 yr old’s view of adulthood. What a pile of bullshit.

    Go fuck off to Greece to be a bartender if you want to. Sounds like a good time, actually. It couldn’t hurt for a couple of years either – it’s not like most people think about retirement till they’re 30+ anyhow.

    People everywhere have worked hard since history began. You think finding food when you’re a barely evolved primate incapable of making tools is easy? You think being a surf in the Middle Ages was a 30 hr week? The work most people do in America isn’t that hard or onerous. There’s room in our economy for all kinds of priorities.

  10. Chase

    As someone in my late-20s, this topic is something that my friends and I have often discussed. Are we fulfilled with our lives? Are we just doing what sociaety expects us to do? Why are we planning and saving for something that is not guaranteed? How about living in the moment?
    I am often conflicted because half of me is responsible, hard-working and constantly puttting money aside for the future. Then there is the part of me that enjoys living fabulously now and being spontaneous and indulging in everything I want because tomorrow (much less 30 years from now) is not guaranteed.
    Fortunately for me, I have a job that is fun and creative and I LOVE! I don’t work the typical “9 to 5”. I work for 5 hours (okay maybe 6 or 7…it’s up to me) a day and I get to listen to music and talk to people and I get payed extremely well. So..I have both I can be responsible and yet still enjoy my wealth.
    However for my friends who aren’t as fortunate, I say, if you love what you do and do what you love…the success and fulfillment will come. It’s all about balance.

  11. natty_g

    Muffin raises a good point, re: how good we have it today vs. most of the rest of human history. That doesn’t mean we must be satisfied with working 80 hours or anything, but I think it’s a point often overlooked. Our generation has been raised completely spoiled, compared to everyone before us for all but the last 100 years or so. The concept of living for personal fulfillment or satisfaction is really a new dynamic.

    I’d also be curious as to whether those who are so quick to judge the “hard-workers” have ever really struggled to get by. Have you ever lived for weeks at a time not knowing where or when your next meal would come? Or wondering what you’re going to do to have a roof over your head at night?

    In asking that, I don’t presume that everyone has lived a sheltered life. It’s an honest question. I suspect that because I’ve had a relatively easy childhood, I take a lot for granted. I suspect that I would be less prone to complain about long hours, or less determined to find personal satisfaction, if I had ever experienced real poverty. But maybe I wouldn’t. I don’t know, and hopefully never have to find out.

  12. jessa j

    what if you really enjoy the 22 hour days and it’s something youre passionate about. i don’t consider my “job” as just a means to get by. i don’t consider work something i do so i can play later. although wouldnt it be nice if we could all find jobs that were both fulfilling and well paying.

    not to mention that i don’t really agree with the notion that it is pointless and meaningless to work towards a mini-mansion and a sweet ride…
    we make money to spend it. otherwise we’d all be marine zoologists.

  13. Marc

    I’ll have you know I make good money as a marine zoologist.

    I just bought a new Kia, does that say low pay? I think not.

  14. Jay Gatsby

    What it all comes down to is choice. Unfortunately, many of us make decisions before we know all of the facts and repercussions of our decision. We often place our trust in our parents, siblings, friends, co-workers without recognizing that what they want may not be what we want. Everyone in this world has an agenda, and people will often convince you to do something, not because doing so is in your best interest, but because doing so will serve *their* interests.

    You should always take your time in making any decision, no matter what people tell you to do. There is, however, a difference between being contemplative and procrastinating. Thus, regardless of the decision you need to make — you must ultimately make it.

    Materialism is an “us versus them” type of word, and carries a negative connotation assigned by those who have disdain for enjoying material things. Again, it comes down to subjective priorities. If you wish to work 80 hours a week to afford the $1 million+ home in Potomac/Great Falls, along with the new 7-series BMW, then those things are yours for the having. Opportunity costs will always be present in any decision you make.

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