Why do we work so hard?
Ryan Avent is The Economist’s Free Exchange columnist and a senior editor. I just finished reading his 2016 article titled Why do we work so hard? I thought his thoughts, reflections, and research on the answers to the question were pretty fascinating. It was also relatable in many ways. I took my many highlights and summarized it into this paraphrased takeaway:
“What is less clear to me, and to so many of my peers, is whether we should do so much of it [work]. It becomes our lives if we are not careful. It becomes us. It makes permanent use of valuable cognitive space, and chooses odd hours to pace through our thoughts, shoving aside whatever might have been there before.
The problem is not that overworked professionals are all miserable. The problem is that they are not.
Retirement sounds awful. Why would we stop working? As professional life has evolved over the past generation, it has become much more pleasant. The pleasure lies partly in flow, in the process of losing oneself in a puzzle with a solution on which other people depend. The sense of purposeful immersion and exertion is the more appealing given the hands-on nature of the work: top professionals are the master craftsmen of the age, shaping high-quality, bespoke products from beginning to end.
The inadmissible truth is that the eclipsing of life’s other complications is part of the reward. It is a cognitive and emotional relief to immerse oneself in something all-consuming while other difficulties float by. The complexities of intellectual puzzles are nothing to those of emotional ones. Work is a wonderful refuge.
One reason the treadmill is so hard to walk away from is that life off it is not what it once was. Social life ceases to be a refuge from the indignities of work. The society of people like us reinforces our belief in what we do. Working effectively at a good job builds up our identity and esteem in the eyes of others. This is what a class with a strong sense of identity does: it effortlessly recasts the group’s distinguishing vices as virtues.
To build my career is to make myself indispensable, demonstrating indispensability means burying myself in the work, and the upshot of successfully demonstrating my indispensability is the need to continue working tirelessly. I am thinking about identity, community, purpose – the things that provide meaning and motivation.
I am talking about my life.”
Read the article here: Why do we work so hard?