Why do we work so hard?
I spent 40 days between jobs without working. This is the first time I’ve spent 40 days in a row without working at all since I got my first sumer job in high school (that is if one counts going to school as “work”, which could be debated).
As excited as I am about the new job and new opportunities I have, I wasn’t exactly excited to be leaving behind the luxury of my 40 days of time off. We kept pretty busy with traveling (vacation and holidays) and getting settled into our new home, so I really only had a week of what I would consider true down time with complete flexibility in my days and tasks. I cleaned, ran errands, caught up on my finances, read, and cooked a few really great dinners. I felt so relaxed – it was wonderful!
A few days before I went back, T and I had a conversation. ”Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we work so hard to achieve?”
Don’t get me wrong – I liked my last job a lot and I intend to like my new job just as much. T loves his job. I really like being productive, working with a team, taking on new challenges and learning new things. Yet, it can be hard to keep a full work schedule and have time for everything else. Even a job you love can be stressful at times.
There are a lot of different was to be happy in life, and the vast majority (all?) of them don’t involve big careers, high salaries, and the norms that tend to surround those things. Still, both of us (and many of you) are motivated to achieve these things. It isn’t just for the financial security aspect. It isn’t because we are hung up on status. It isn’t for the STUFF. It is a little bit for the travel / experiences, but that is only a few weeks a year at best. What is it for? I can’t quite figure out why I’m compelled to achieve.
I’m not too embarrassed to share a quote from Grey’s Anatomy that resonated with me the first time I watched the episode. ”We push ourselves. It doesn’t matter how much we achieve. If you’re a climber, there’s always another mountain.” (Did I just admit to watching some episodes of Grey’s Anatomy more than once?)
Since my lifestyle does currently make me happy, I’m not too concerned. I’m just curious if all my choices are truly optimal from a lifetime total happiness perspective. If not (and surely not!), what are the big drivers that would make impacts?
I came across this really interesting article describing a study where participants “earned” chocolates by listening to static noise for a certain period of time. Many participants “earned” far more chocolates (average >10) than they could consume ( ~5) or predicted they would consume (~4). They also noted that people seemed to be driven by how much “work” (noise) they could withstand rather than how much chocolate they needed.
Since I know many of you are similarly minded, why do you think you work so hard to achieve?
PS – Here is the end of that quote, which doesn’t resonate with me quite as much: ”“ They take pictures of mountain climbers at the top of the mountain. They’re smiling, ecstatic, triumphant. They don’t take pictures along the way. ‘Cause who wants to remember the rest of it? We push ourselves because we have to. Not because we like it. The relentless climb, the pain and anguish of taking it to the next level, nobody takes pictures of that. Nobody wants to remember. We just wanna remember the view from the top. The breathtaking moment at the edge of the world. That’s what keeps us climbing. And it’s worth the pain. That’s the crazy part. It’s worth anything.””