Why Do We Work? To Simply Make Money Or Are We Seeking a Higher Purpose?

This is a guest post written by my wife who is enrolled in a writing program at Middlebury college, which is considered one of the top writing programs in the United States.

Why Do We Work?
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Are we meant to collect and paycheck and go home?

As a public servant, much of my reward is a product of the change I see before my eyes. I have never been someone who thrives off of capitalistic gains. Money does not excite me as much as the feeling of accomplishment does.

In my household, my father worked as a mechanic at a local airport. Despite his low pay, he showed me that even the most basic work breeds professionalism.

His home projects busied him and concurrently developed his self worth. He studied for hours to complete personal projects that were irrelevant to his mechanical projects, but I could tell he transferred this grit and skill back to the workplace.

My father’s work life was dedicated to practice, discipline, and skill, three characteristics that hinged themselves on his personal need to be a provider for our family and to consistently develop his worthiness as an employee.

Are we working simply to make money or are we looking to satisfy a larger desire within our human nature?

Working As Means To An End

There are two types of work in our society. Some might expect that “work” entails offering a means to an end, something that affords an individual the simple necessities of life or the luxurious accouterment of their dreams.

But here lies the importance of defining work within a social paradigm. In the modern, capitalistic United States, work can offer the opportunity to surpass one’s position in life; something most Americans identify as the defining element of the American way. Simply put, we are working to achieve financial success.

Working For Higher Purpose

On the flipside, work can be deemed a profession. A particular form of work that relies on someone’s intrinsic duty to “do.” “Doing” one’s work through the lens of professionalism suggests that the toiling away serves a higher purpose.

This “work” can be perceived as a series of actions that fulfill some part of the person’s intellectual, emotional, or creative aspirations.

Therefore, using the term “work” for pursuits of passion feels almost malapropistic. It serves some individualistic need or purpose rather than the means through which one can gain capital.

Thinking About The Meaning of Work

Is it dangerous to think of work in such a binary way? Certainly. The second definition of work is much more cinematic and enthralling to wonder about. Paradoxically then,

All work cannot be defined as some soul-engulfing experience in which one feels more connected to their identity, the universe, and their passions.

If so, how will the population characterize those who are third shift Amazon workers or mechanics at a local bait and tackle shop on the Cape or migrant laborers who are ferried amongst local building contractors?

Are they left to be defined as faceless grunts on which our economic prosperity depends? For many of these workers, there is some impossibility for work in soul-enthralling professions or positions.

Work that possesses professional elements often requires excessive college degrees and, therefore, an abundance of capital. This suggests that defining work and what some Americans “do” to earn money can be entirely class driven. Those provided the luxury to seek personal fulfillment in work can do so. Yet, those who need to work to survive are bound by their original positions in life (with the very rare few who can escape them).

Is All Work Noble?

This survivalistic work is something to wonder about in itself. Shouldn’t any performance in the workplace that serves one’s wellbeing, family, or community be considered noble work?

Of course it should.

The ability to perform one’s job requirements, even for a job as simple as that of a gardener for a substantial profit return is noble. For this reason, I think our society’s use of the word “work” has become sticky, sloppy, and misused. “Working” implies that the action requires an almost tolerance for monotony, self-sacrifice, and physical discomfort.

Most Americans would agree that every profession they’ve worked in has created these three feelings, yet I do not think that they would be substantial enough or foreign to other parts of the human experience outside of profession and earning.

Appreciate The Process of Labor

There is something oddly satisfying about sweeping a deck or shoveling snow in the winter, yet we call it “housework.” For the slight inconvenience and being out of a luxuriating position, we label these slightly unpleasant moments of our lives as “work,” the same term we use to define how families have carved a place for their families within the American landscape.

If there were the possibility of not working, I could not bear to do so. I find that my idle mind and body does not produce any good within my own life or society.

There is a natural reciprocity to work that reflects what it means to be a human; one deed elicits another, and so on. Without a measured approach or habit towards achievement, there arrives a tarnishing effect on my identity as a human being.

Final Thoughts

The need for financial and personal reward is then the key to a strong work ethic. It is instilled from a very young age within the sociology of our families, communities, and our class.

This is what drives Americans to work and keeps them working.

Why do you work? Is it simply for money, or are you seeking or serve some other self satisfying aspiration?

Comment below and let the RWPF audience know!


Why Do We Work?
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