Is Work Really That Bad?

You Think Your Job is Bad?

You Think Your Job is Bad?

Are you fired up at the end of the weekend to get back to your job first thing Monday morning? Not likely. There appears to be a universal hatred of work. Employees of the world are seeking ways to escape the “rat race” or get out of the “9 to 5.” Is work really that bad?

Let’s do a little test. Consider these four following work situations.

Example 1: Work to Save Money

Imagine that you paint houses for a living and your own house needs painting.  Doing the work yourself will save you money compared to hiring outside contractors. You may prefer to paint yourself because you will do a better job than others. This will also give you the freedom to do it how and when you want.

Example 2: Work for Friends or Family

In another situation, you paint your grandmother’s house for free. She offers to give you some money, but you refuse as a token repayment of all the kindness you have received over the years. You can’t charge your grandma!

Example 3: The Employee

You are hired by a company to paint a house. You may or may not like your job, you probably have no connection to the customer and let’s assume that your boss is a jerk that is trying to pay you as little as possible.

Example 4: The Business Owner

In the final example, you own your own small painting company. You have a couple of workers that have trouble showing up to work on time and try to do as little as possible. Despite their poor performance, these two are among the better workers you have hired over the years.

The Work Test

All four of these examples comprise the exact same type of job: painting a house. Only the conditions around why you are painting change. Now for the test. Will the quality of your work change in each example? Will you spend more time on your own house, than you would on your grandmother’s? Will you work harder in your own company than you would working for someone else? What is your attitude to the exact same type of work in each of the four examples.

If you are honest with yourself, certainly there will be changes in your attitude and motivation for each situation. It is not the work itself that is changing, only your motivations for doing the work change.

“If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.”

There are people that would give their full attention to all four jobs. For some, there is great satisfaction in doing good work regardless of the conditions. Of course, money is important and we all need to earn a living, but there is no denying that some people gain deep personal satisfaction from doing everything to the best of their ability. These people tend to excel at school, sports and in their careers.

All Work Sucks

On the other extreme, there are others that wouldn’t bother to start any of the painting projects and couldn’t care less about the outcomes. They don’t have the time. They don’t like their grandmother anyway. Their boss is working them too hard. Customers are too demanding. “What do they expect, I am only human.”

These examples can be broken down further. If you are a hired worker like in example 3, you will probably work harder and be more motivated if the economy is down and jobs are scarce. If jobs are plentiful and there are many opportunities to find other higher paying employment you will probably have a different attitude to your employer and the work you are doing. This rock star attitude was very evident last year prior to the market crash. Companies couldn’t find enough workers to competently do the work at any price.

Your attitude towards work will also change in your own company. If you are new and struggling to get clients you will go out of your way to deliver quality service. If business is booming, you will be in a position to turn down work and only accept the highest paying, easiest work.

Perhaps you might not willing to help out granny if you are too busy making money on other lucrative projects. Even your own house could be left partially finished for months on end because you don’t have the motivation to get the job finished.

Work means different things to different people. For some it is a way to contribute. For others it is a necessary evil just to pay the bills and survive. Another group might avoid any kind of work at all costs. Work itself is neither good nor bad. Your attitude determines whether it is a positive or negative experience.

Work is not all fun and games.

I have written several times on my disagreement with what many call “passion” in work. I believe in doing things you love, but the reality is that nothing is enjoyable all the time. Anything done to an extreme gets boring and can grow into something you despise. When you eat that first piece of fine gourmet chocolate you feel ecstasy, maybe the second piece is still good. If you keep on eating you will eventually get completely sick of the smell of that disgusting treat. When it comes to work, most of us are puking out Belgian chocolate in the company bathroom.

My disagreement with the “passion” argument is mostly semantic. Of course, I believe in finding something you love to do. The problem in my mind is that most people don’t know of anything that keeps that engaged and excited all the time.  I don’t think the objective should be to find work that is 100% bliss all the time, it should be to maximize our happiness and contribution to the world. There will always be lousy parts but our successes and the goals we accomplish will make up for all the bad times.

Work is a Gift for Others

I think the key thing to remember is that work is done in the service of others.  Whether it is paid or not, the greatest contribution we can make to mankind is to create value for another individual, animal or even ourselves. Businesses grow when they create more value than the charge the consumer. Businesses die if they can’t consistently produce more value than they charge. Work is about creating value.

When that employee in your favorite cafe can’t be bothered to clean the tables because they feel their salary is too low, they are essentially telling you to get lost. When United Airlines baggage handlers are mishandling luggage that was entrusted to their care, they are saying that United’s passengers are assholes. Sure those employees hate their jobs, that is obvious, but why should paying customers bear the force of that resentment?

Work is not bad

If you can’t be bothered to put in a decent effort into your job, then quit and do something else. No matter what work you do and whether it is paid or not, you are in service to your fellow man. You can be a jerk or you can go out of your way to create great experiences for everyone you deal with. Lasting success does not come from a single lucky break. It is that hardworking courteous paperboy, that goes on to being a great employee in a fast food restaurant, that then puts in the practice and effort to excel at sports and at school, that works hard in university and then puts in 60 hour work weeks in their own company, that gets bought out by Google. Success is the accumulation of a lifetime of effort. It is all about the journey, not the destination!

Chris Brogan has become a celebrity in online marketing because of his work ethic and care for delivering great service all of his life. President Obama, didn’t just get lucky in the last election. He has been grooming himself for a life in politics many decades before he had a shot at becoming the leader of America. Obama started his presidency back in high school or even earlier. I still fondly remember the guy selling the flattened pennies at the top of the Empire State building. He made a squished piece of copper an entertaining experience. My wife and I watched him for 10 minutes. He could have been smoking a cigarette and looking at the clock all day but he chose to give that job his full attention. His dedication to delivering a quality experience was completely above and beyond his job description. I am sure that he touches the lives of thousands of people everyday.

Putting in mediocre efforts in any job or hobby, says one thing: you are mediocre. What are you going to do when your grandma needs her house painted? Will you do it to the best of your ability or will you tell her that it is not your job and stay at home to watch re-runs on TV?

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

13 Responses to Is Work Really That Bad?

  1. Colin Wright says:

    It’s good to remember that last point, especially. When you work, you are providing an experience of some sort to an end-user somewhere along the line. If what you’re providing isn’t giving that person a positive experience, you might want to rethink your trade or work ethic.

    It’s hard for me to remember sometimes that there are those who would most definitely prefer option 3 over the others! My older sister, for example, is a company woman through and through. She’s been working for the same company for years, and she loves it. Wouldn’t trade it for anything. And you know what? That’s okay, because that’s what makes her happy. She enjoys having a workday routine with a job she finds challenging and people she enjoys being around. The idea of being an entrepreneur of any sort is more annoying to her than anything…why would she want to re-invent the wheel when she’s working for a company with LOTS of wheels?

    I still can’t believe that baggage handling story. I flew from LA to Seattle to Missouri this last week, and for one of the flights (in a very small plane) my carry-on had to be checked. The whole time I was thinking ‘don’t destroy my bag don’t destroy my bag.’ Major culture shift needed, there.
    .-= Colin Wright´s last blog ..Tip Well or Eat Spit =-.

  2. Awesome post, John!

    I like the way you presented the argument and made your point. You are absolutely right. All work is a service to mankind, and who you are shows up in how you perform that service.

    Thanks for sharing.

    .-= Rasheed Hooda´s last blog ..Weekly Roundup#1 =-.

  3. John says:

    Thanks Rasheed.

    I appreciate the comments.

  4. Zoe says:

    Excellent post John, and very timely. I kinda quit my job the other day and have to find a new way to pay the bills 😉
    .-= Zoe´s last blog ..Australia’s Best Surfing Beaches =-.

  5. Nate says:

    It’s really all about providing value. I really try to remember this, even when I’m doing something that I really don’t enjoy. As long as someone is benefitting, I can usually find some motivation to try at least a little bit harder. There are a ton of really great points in this post, John. Really good stuff.

  6. James NomadRip says:

    I was waiting for you to post this after seeing your comment on Johnathan’s blog post. You’re right when you say each of these can be broken down many more ways. Everyone is different, and has different beliefs on what is important in life, particularly when it comes to work, money and value. That’s what makes it tough to get the same output and single-mindedness out of any two people, even doing the same job.
    .-= James NomadRip´s last blog ..NomadRip: @davrutick There are a bunch of those families, but never seen a quint-bike. May ride w/them when they pass through here. =-.

  7. Robert says:

    Your article on the disagreement of passion and work really opened up my eyes. I realize you don’t condemn having passion for what you do, but warn against thinking that you’ll get everything you need out of “making bracelets” just because you think it’s the best thing in the world right now. It reminded me that everything requires balance, things in excess, or depravity for that matter just don’t work. Glad to see a push for being the best you can be in all situations….what I’m left with is that it’s not the work that necessarily needs changing, although it might….but it’s yourself.
    .-= Robert´s last blog ..Life Designers | Meet some Players, Get in the Game =-.

  8. John says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I never thought of it like that, but you are right I guess I am talking about balance. I am not saying all work is great, but there are rewards from doing any job well. I always view monotonous tasks like distance running and boring jobs like cleaning the bathroom as a form of meditation. Buddhist monks keep busy to focus their mind on the moment. The work itself doesn’t have to provide the enjoyment. Real happiness and satisfaction comes from within.

    Thanks again, you have stimulated ideas!

  9. Hey John!

    Awesome post, stumbled it to share it with the world 🙂

    I agree very much that everything can be seen as work, however, when you love doing what you do, you do not view it as work. Like for me, blogging is an example, writing blogs articles every week, commenting on blogs I read, working on design, coming up with marketing ideas. I put many many hours into that, and others would view it as work. I do it for fun 🙂

    Of course, sometimes even doing what you love can not be super fun at all times, but at the end of the day, it feels good to have done something.

    Love the post!
    .-= Diggy –´s last blog ..Red Bull gives you wings =-.

  10. Gordie Rogers says:

    Hi John,

    First time here. It’s great you left a couple comments on my blog. As a result I’m now aware of another Lifestyle Design blog. It’s great to meet you online like this.

    Great post you’ve written here too. I think it’s a good attitude to do your best when you work. However, if you’re able to it’s better to work for yourself rather than someone else. Time, mobility and money are three precious gifts life can offer us. Why make someone else rich buy using most of your energy and time and still run the risk of losing your job when you can work for yourself and own your job.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts.

  11. John says:

    Hi Gordie,

    I completely agree with you here. It is far, far better to work for yourself. I just think that there is a case to make for “stopping to smell the roses.” Life is not that bad. Do everything to the best of your ability and I believe, many more opportunities will come your way.

    Consider this example, in any job you are in now, do you think it is better for your future if you;
    A. Work your ass off, deliver great results and make good connections?
    B. Slack off, complain about everything and leave on bad terms?

    I completely believe in entrepreneurship, but being your own boss won’t solve work ethic problems. Self employment often brings more work and more obligations.

    Thanks for the contribution!

  12. Sean says:

    As a former house painter, who has been in each of those 4 positions, I could TOTALLY relate to this article.

    I like what you said about life being about the journey and not the destination. While I didn’t necessarily enjoy the act of painting houses, it did allow me to get a college education; it taught me the principles of business (marketing, accounting, management etc); and it taught me a trade skill that will come in handy later in life.

    I think there is an excellent point, that if you work hard and apply yourself in whatever job you are currently doing, there is something to be learned, that will ultimately get aid you in getting to where you want to be in life. I am confident that the skills I learned painting houses will be crucial when i start my own business later on.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  13. Androes says:

    As a former house painter, who has been in each of those 4 positions, I could TOTALLY relate to this article.

    I like what you said about life being about the journey and not the destination. While I didn't necessarily enjoy the act of painting houses, it did allow me to get a college education; it taught me the principles of business (marketing, accounting, management etc); and it taught me a trade skill that will come in handy later in life.

    I think there is an excellent point, that if you work hard and apply yourself in whatever job you are currently doing, there is something to be learned, that will ultimately get aid you in getting to where you want to be in life. I am confident that the skills I learned painting houses will be crucial when i start my own business later on.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!…

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