What’s it all About (Alfie)?

It’s a commonplace in the media that large numbers of people hate their jobs.  They work to live rather than live to work.   Adverts for job boards and agency recruiters try to capitalise on the downer of  that ‘Monday morning feeling’; or the joy of Friday nights.

In his excellent book ‘The Idler’, Tom Hodgkinson compares his varied and stimulating life as a student with his first job and concluded that the only true pleasure his job provided was the negative one of sitting in the pub at the end of the day with co-workers complaining about the bosses.

Hodgkinson reckons that the concept of a job is a relatively modern phenomenon.  Created  by protestant reformers to keep intemperate labourers out of mischief; and by the early architects of the industrial revolution to furnish factories with workers.   In his 1910 polemic, ‘What’s Wrong with the World’, GK Chesterton said:  “they did literally force [the poor] into factories and the modern wage-slavery, assuring them all the time that this was the only way to wealth and civilisation”.

We still complain about ‘wage slavery’ today.   According to the EU’s  Fourth European Working Conditions Survey, we work an average of 35 hours per week in the UK – a surprisingly laid-back 7 hours per day, when compared with Turks who, on average, work 10.8 hours a days.  Having said that, I don’t think I have ever worked only 7 hours a day, and I don’t know anyone else who does either.  But maybe that’s because I have always worked in the City or Civil Service and so have tended to belong to the  13% of UK workers who work more than 48 hours per week (just over 9 ½ hours per day).

In any event, our consumer-driven model of capitalism conspires to make us work ever longer hours in pursuit of economic growth.   It goes like this:

  1. An unholy cabal of advertising and our media-driven celebrity culture makes us aspire to  fancy possessions.
  2. Our possessions (houses, cars, clothes, watches, holidays, etc)  mark out our social status.
  3. Lack of possessions indicates lack of status, which provokes ‘status anxiety’ – a gnawing fear that somehow we are not keeping up with ‘the haves’.
  4. Since our role models for ‘the haves’ tend to be super-rich celebrities and other super achievers in the media spotlight, the bar is set pretty high, and so most of us feel like  ‘have nots’.
  5. Our anxiety compels us to buy ever more things to demonstrate our high status, thereby creating jobs for the people who provide those goods or services.  The workers in those companies earn money and become buyers of other goods and services themselves.  And so the wheels of capitalism keep turning.

The point about this is that, when you find the job you’re looking for, if you live in the UK, you’re likely to be working for between 35 and 48 hours per week.  And, given the pitiful state of our pension provisions, you’ll probably be working till your late 60’s or early 70’s.   That’s likely to be more than 40 years for a new graduate, which equates to a boggling 65,000 hours (assuming 6 week holidays per year).

I think you’ll agree that that’s a lot of boredom to cope with if you don’t like your job!

Yet most people I meet don’t really take the time to work out what it is they really would like to do.  They either accept work as a necessary evil, or live for the weekends and evenings; or they allow others (their parents, their spouses, their current levels of family expenditure, their headhunters, etc) to dictate their career path for them.  Taking the path of least resistance.  Leading lives of quiet desperation so vividly described by Mark Hodgkinson when discussing his first (and only) job.

I can’t stress strongly enough the importance of taking the time to work out what it is that you want to do – before you start applying for jobs. 

As Sir Ken Robinson describes in his recent book, ‘The Element’, this means trying to identify that happy meeting place where the things you like doing and the things you are good at doing intersect.   Sir Ken calls this meeting point “the Element”, which is “the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the element, they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels.”

I  talk about this in a bit more detail in the section What’s your Passion?

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