The True Value Of Work: An Inquiry Into Personal Beliefs

July 19, 2009 § 1 Comment

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Last evening I had a chance to catch up with an old friend at a western-eastern fusion themed restaurant. Food was great, so was the conversation. We were from the same secondary school, and during our conversation I realized that its been a good seven or eight years that have passed since we finished secondary school. I lamented at how, while everyone came from the same school, its amazing how everyone has different views on how they want to lead their lives, the work or career paths chosen, and even personal beliefs.

He remarked that the kids from our school had were looked upon positively as friends, from other schools, because apparently in other secondary schools there were lots of plotting, unhealthy competition. (Really, at 14-16 years old? Sounds like Mean Girls, Singapore edition.)

I may be wrong, but I think that the ages of 18-22 is when people start forming or discovering what values and lifestyles that are important to them. Values can be formed through a variety of means, and these days the most influential being the media.

Take for example, my beliefs in the idea of “Work”.

Since young, we’ve been told that work is something you do to earn money, and money is needed for survival. Therefore in order to survive in society, one has to work. Career field didn’t matter, so long as it was one that yielded the most amounts of money.


As I grew up, I learnt that work was sometimes, more often than not, an unpleasant thing. TV programmes and ads declaring that the importance of working a little less, spending more time with the family. Then there was the slackerism culture that gripped many of us teens and college students, where it was “cool” to not give a damn about anything, and the optimal lifestyle would be one with unlimited sources of wealth, which would bring about great social and material life. Many college students could afford this type of lifestyle simply because they were trust-fund children, and never needed to worry about budgeting, textbook expenses, or part-time jobs. While I received monthly allowances from my parents, blowing a big hole in my pocket in the first few months of college brought me back to reality and the realization to pick up on some much needed personal finance skills.


And then I began to read up ideas on personal finance, getting rich, and retiring early. Work was framed as the something to be avoided, and an unfruitful struggle. The “Rat Race”, they called it. There were better ways to earn the currency you were spending more and more of each day apparently. You had to break out of the cages and wheels of your rat race to gain true happiness in your life. Books and blogs espoused the various methods of having to work just four hours a week, spending the rest of your time doing what you want, and still earn income that could beat the regular rat running in the endless race. The fact that I am about to graduate into one of the worst economies of the decade, with many out of jobs, helped to paint a less than rosy picture of work and the active workforce.

I thought I found my path in life: to break out of the rat race. But I was wrong. Breaking out of a rat race isn’t really a “goal” or endgame. Just like how focusing simply on money and power would be a likely vicious cycle and endless loop. It just didn’t make sense. Like many of the times throughout my adolescent years. Guess I’m still forming my values. Just a few days ago, I was watching a presentation given by Dirty Job’s Mike Rowe. I love Mike Rowe. He has an incredible sense of humor and his quirky career path called out to me. I watched Dirty Jobs simply for entertainment value though. That was until I heard what Mike had to say during the 20 minute presentation. I would never look at work, or Dirty Jobs the same way again.

In his presentation, Mike posits that our society has declared war on work, and how one’s career path should be based on “finding your passion” is overrated. Based on the examples that Mike gives, and the work I see the people do on Dirty Jobs, I must say Mike’s argument is very convincing. If everyone craved for the 4 hour workweek, would our modern society still exist as what it is? Who assembled the parts in your Iphone? Who clears the trash near your apartment each day? Whats the true intentions of media messages, such as “Life would be better if we worked less”

And so I find myself reassessing the values I have towards career, work and lifestyle. I don’t have any immediate answers for myself, but I believe that what I have read, heard, seen, and most importantly , done , will help me shape my values and beliefs towards work and life.

Suggestions and ideas?

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