The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work #LaborDay

“…Workplace dynamics are no less complicated or unexpectedly intense than family relations, with only the added difficulty that whereas families are at least well-recognized and sanctioned loci for hysteria reminiscent of scenes from Medea, office life typically proceeds behind a mask of shallow cheerfulness, leaving workers grievously unprepared to handle the fury and sadness continually aroused by their colleagues.”–Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

pleasure and sorrows of work

On this Labor Day, I am inspired by the wit and wisdom (much of it more positive than the quote above, which you must admit leads to a thoughtful chuckle no matter how much you enjoy your work) of de Botton’s book where he explores meaning at work through occupations like rocket scientist, accountant, artist, and cookie manufacturer.  de Botton is my favorite modern philosophical writer, with other thoughtful musings in books like The Architecture of Happiness, Status Anxiety, and The Art of Travel.

As someone who has invested 27 years in human performance in the workplace and a woman who never forgets how lucky I am to be able to choose to work (and vote, and drive myself to the grocery store), I believe fully in the impact of each person via how they do their work–with integrity, building trust, self-managing emotions, contributing to something larger than oneself.  Let alone, say, eating and paying the mortgage.  And many, like those doing relief work in Houston following Hurricane Harvey make a life-or-death difference each day.

Work provides meaning.

Work builds community.

Many of our achievements at work matter, to our own sense of contribution, to the organization or community, to society as a whole.

As Peter Senge stated in The Fifth Discipline, “When you ask people about what it is like being part of a great team, what is most striking is the meaningfulness of the experience.  People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative.”

But for those of us not in life-or-death professions, how can we suppress a smile when de Bottom refers to financial statements as ” . . .only emphasizing the extent to which generating money is really an excuse to do other things, to rise from bed in the morning, to talk authoritatively in front of overhead projectors, to plug in laptops in foreign hotel rooms, to give presentations analyzing market shares . . .”

On Labor Day, in de Botton’s closing words, remember that at a minimum, work ” . . . will have made us respectably tired, it will have put food on the table.  It will have kept us out of greater trouble.”

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"I urge you to read this remarkable book! It offers the push you need to transform yourself, prosper, and get the career satisfaction you crave."
~ Robin Ryan, author of 60 Seconds & You're Hired!