I was driving a colleague home last night.
As often happens when someone is stuck in a car with me for a long time, I dragged her into a fairly deep conversation about beliefs and their connections to careers (that poor girl).
We both work for the Department of Corrections where most of the roles and jobs are at least indirectly related to the basic concept of helping people. Rehabilitation, reintegration, employment etc are all core aspects for our roles.
My colleague and I started talking about the differences between public and private sector, and how we ‘poor suffering’ public sector employees get paid a lot less than our private sector equivalents to do really demanding jobs.
And then it hit me: Why do we?
Why do we accept less money to do really challenging and often traumatic work? Well the answer is fairly straightforward at first: we serve the people and we are doing ‘noble’ work, so we should not overly profit from it. But, again, I felt compelled to ask ‘Why?’ – or in this case, ‘Why not?’
At that point I almost drove my car off the road because I was hit with an epiphany so hard that it shook the very foundations of one of my oldest belief systems. I suddenly realised that it’s not just public sector employees that suffer in some way for the ‘greater good’; nearly everyone does this!
The belief many of us have is this:
To prove to ourselves and others that the work we do is worthwhile and meaningful, we must show evidence that it causes us hardship!
It looks crazy and illogical when written out like that, right? Well maybe it will make more sense to you if you look through these examples:
– Accept low pay
– Work long hours at the expense of our personal lives
– Get really exhausted
1) ACCEPTING LOW PAY
I’ve noticed that many people on crap pay actually seem to take some satisfaction in complaining (read: bragging) about it. Particularly when they work really hard for that small amount of money or other compensation. People wear low-pay like a badge of honour, proof that their job must be difficult.
What I now ask is Why? Why would you accept low pay for any job? Is your time not as valuable as someone elses? Sure, someone who has spent years and a lot of money acquiring valuable skills you don’t have should be paid more than you, as they produce better outcomes. But low pay does not have an excuse.
I often see this in the trades, where apprentices and other newcomers have to accept pitiful wages which they can barely survive on (let alone enjoy their personal lives). They do this because that’s how it has always been. Yet there is no law of the Universe declaring that if you are unskilled you must accept an abusive level of compensation.
Some people even feel guilt at being paid too much. Especially those in industries for helping underprivileged people. My roommate is a speech and language therapist who easily has the skills and experience to become an entrepreneur in this field and probably make a tonne of money helping kids with speech disorders. But she says she couldn’t do it because only the wealthy families could afford her and the poorer families wouldn’t be able to.
How about this: once you have ‘served your time’ working with the underprivileged, start your own company. Make room for the next new person to step up and learn what you have learned – hell, you might possibly even create new jobs. And with things like speech problems, why are the kids with wealthy parents less deserving than the poorer families? They’re still kids with speech issues right? Money doesn’t make that any better for them as kids. And with a lot more money you could do completely free therapy for the poor kids, whereas right now they still have to pay a bit.
If you work with underprivileged in any industry for rubbish pay, ponder how going private once you become an expert could actually do more good than you do now. Most of this kind of work is heavily government controlled or restricted by funding bureaucracy – imagine a limitless version of the work you do!
2) WORKING LONG HOURS
Having recently read Tim Ferriss’ book “The four hour work week” (highly recommended) I have been pondering the concept of the 40-hour work week. Many people do more hours than this, but the main point here is the accepted belief that ‘work’ must take up a significant majority of your waking life.
Again, why? Research into early human beings has calculated that they worked an average of 20 hours per week, to accumulate all the food and shelter needed for survival, and the rest of the time they did as they pleased. So at some point in time we have managed to create a way to work together in such a fashion that it doesn’t actually save us on time, it costs us.
Think of the massive range of jobs that employ people in a 40-hour work week contract. There is such a vast variation of roles within that category that there is simply no way they all take exactly 40 hours per week to complete. No chance! So that means for every job that does not require 40 solid hours per week to complete (I would venture most jobs probably don’t) the people doing them must be filling up the left-over time with pointless activity. Or stretching and complicating tasks to make them take longer.
Why would anyone do this? Because they, and more importantly, their company, hold the belief that a person must work this length of time. Got nothing to do? Send another email; sweep the site clean; design a new extravagant and pointless spreadsheet; or simply sneak a look at Facebook until the clock strikes five. This is mentally insane!
If theoretically most jobs should take on average 20 hours per week to complete, this means most people are wasting a possible 46,000 hours in the average working lifetime. That’s just under 2,000 days, or just over SIX FULL YEARS! What could you accomplish with six years’ worth of free time?
By the way, if you’d like to create more free time, check out my time saving tips here.
Nothing proves your job sucks worse than other peoples’ than being knackered every day. People love to compete over how tired and exhausted they are from work. It’s our way of convincing ourselves that we have done something worthwhile, because look how much we suffer! Right?
Wrong! Again there is no rule of the universe that says you must work yourself to death. There is no rule that says you must have a heart attack from stress, or a constant back injury, or any other form of ongoing suffering. And yet we accept these things as a natural consequence of doing good work.
Here’s a new idea, what if we were allowed to enjoy doing meaningful work? Imagine going to work every day feeling valued, rewarded, fulfilled, energetic and excited, while only having to put in a few hours a week. Then you spend the rest of the time improving your life and exploring all the wonders of the world to create your ideal lifestyle.
So why do we believe that work-related enjoyment and relaxation are not allowed for some reason? Why do we think that in order to prove you work hard you must show some form of suffering?
Not everyone has this limiting belief, and to those of you who have never suffered it count yourselves lucky. Most of the world are slaves to their jobs because of this belief, and even when they don’t believe it, they feel constrained and controlled by a world that does. So even when someone figures out how to do their job in four hours per day instead of eight, their boss will simply give them another four hours’ worth of work.
So what’s the solution? Well, it starts at an individual level. Ask yourself this:
What part of my life do I not enjoy because of work?
Think of my examples above. There could be more, like having an abusive boss, or not getting holidays and sick leave. Once you’ve answered that question, ask yourself an even bigger one:
So what am I going to do about it?