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Work is not the enemy

“We’ve waged war on work. We have collectively agreed, stupidly, that work is the enemy…I can say the willingness to get dirty has always defined us as an nation, and it’s a hallmark of hard work and a hallmark of fun, and dirt is not the enemy.” -Mike Rowe

I still believe in work.

I’m suspicious of the notion that a majority of people will leave this life regretting having worked too hard.

I’m inclined to believe that an equal, if not greater, source of regret will be overindulgence in convenience and luxury.

So much of our beauty goes unexpressed simply because we’re afraid to do hard work.

How many novels go unwritten, how many dreams go left unfulfilled, how much human potential remains uncultivated because of our unwillingness to endure the temporary experience of boredom or discomfort?

Years ago I read an article on meditation entitled “noble boredom.” In that article, the rabbi spoke of treasures that are only available to those whose concept of pleasure extends beyond the passive gains of immediate gratification.

The work of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Performance) and the more recent writings of Robert Greene on Mastery provide stimulating insights in support of the notion that people are happiest when they are creatively challenged by goals that compel them to actualize their potential.

Here are two of my favorite quotes from those works:

“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”  –Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

“We are all in search of feeling more connected to reality—to other people, the times we live in, the natural world, our character, and our own uniqueness. Our culture increasingly tends to separate us from these realities in various ways. We indulge in drugs or alcohol, or engage in dangerous sports or risky behavior, just to wake ourselves up from the sleep of our daily existence and feel a heightened sense of connection to reality. In the end, however, the most satisfying and powerful way to feel this connection is through creative activity. Engaged in the creative process we feel more alive than ever, because we are making something and not merely consuming, Masters of the small reality we create. In doing this work, we are in fact creating ourselves.”  -Robert Greene, Mastery

There is a growing body of reasearch that seems to indicate that work is not a necessary evil, but rather a necessary good.

If there is any tragedy involved in working at all, it lies in the fact that many of us have never been taught how to develop innovative and inspiring approaches to work.

Work is not a curse. Work is a gift. Work is an opportunity. Work is a tool that we can all use to reinvent ourselves and our world.

When work seems like a burden, perhaps it’s really an opportunity for us to work a little harder at being conscious and creative in our efforts to define the “why” and “how” of our professional lives. Few things are more unpleasant than going to work without having already worked on one’s philosophy of work.

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