The definition of work
My idea of work has changed several times in the last ten years. In school, friends alluded to the definition of work as the beginning of the end. To me, it was just the end. The last and longest stage of life I take on the way to retirement. ‘Work’ didn’t mean much other than decades of disconnectivity, ordinariness and something that blocks me from directing more time into my passion.
I hoped that university a few years later would be a different, more insightful experience. A time for individualism, to learn what I want and feel sustained. But I left still with my earlier belief of ultimately being in a dead-end career feeling unfulfilled—now I just knew what industry it was to be in.
It wasn’t until I finished uni and reached a breaking point that I heard an idea of work I can be obsessed with. I was lost with zero fulfilment and not enough confidence to challenge what work means to me.
Fast forward to now, I recently fell in love with a quote my ex-manager told me during a coffee and catch-up at a London train station:
Work is anything of value you create for someone else; learning is also work; supporting people is work; love is work; sharing is work; anything of value you offer to others is work; your life is searching for the strongest possible connection between what you feel and what you give to others.
I knew this not too long ago but couldn’t put it into words. As time goes on, I’ve asked myself more and more about what I’m interested in. As in: what do I actually want to give to others? I think when I was younger, I wanted to understand this because I felt alone, out of place. I wanted something to love. A “thing” that was part of who I am. Now I have it, and I feel more and more that if you’re working solely to get something, you’re messing up. That’s not what work is about. It’ll never be fulfilling that way.
What work offers, in and of itself, is the chance to get out of your own skin, your own bubble. It’s oppugning the idea someone told you that a building with only four windows and a door is all your house should be. When, in fact, nobody can define what you need from your job but you.
The philosophy of ikigai—the real, non-westernised ikigai—helped me realise how much I just need to listen to my feelings. Looking back, it proved to me that feelings never lie when I ask why I do what I do now. I turned writing into my career because it helps me feel existence. Same with sports. I spent all my years reading, studying the English language, competing, and loving stories and the art of communication. I’m often reassured by the nature of how I developed my objects of ikigai (relationships, experiences, roles and memories) and strengthened the belief of having a life worth living.
There’s arguably nothing more meaningful about the human experience than realising you’ll never get enough of something you don’t need. The same applies to your work. You’ll rarely be happy if you’re not getting what you need from your work. Work is interconnected with the sources of value or things that make your life worthwhile. That includes all things, from the little joys in life to the pursuit of life-defining goals.
Your work is a personal reflection of your inner world which you express faithfully. Work and ikigai share a commonality in that neither is responsible for a long and happy life, but they share the secret of self-acceptance. Both are not about finding your centre or a sweet spot. It’s about what makes the right impact on your life and the life of the people existing around you.
Like ikigai, work should have little to do with the pursuit of making money. Sure, it’s one thing we hope for to make life easier, but going in with that mentality is you screwing yourself over.
You’ll find in the right idea of work that the human experience exists. You’ll find a life that helps you feel like you exist. Nothing is more meaningful because you’d leave all feeling of being atomised behind. No more. And you’ll see it in yourself that your life is significant when your idea of work shifts to giving, connectivity, awareness and experience.
What I’ve Learned
Here’s what I’ve learned recently.
How people learn
From James Clear: You’re not learning when you’re always right, and you’re not reaching when you never fail. We all want to succeed, but if you’re always winning, you’re undershooting your potential.
The link between personal philosophy and action
From Eleanor Roosevelt:
One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.
Do the work
There’s too much productivity advice. Do the work. It’s the only productivity advice you need. It’s the only useful advice. Work means sitting down and getting through what you need. No amount of productivity hacking will make that easier. Sure, we can direct our attention to a million optimisations. But don’t. Ignore all this, and do the work. Because when you do, everything else optimises itself.
One Question for You
Where do you go when you want to get away from the world for a moment?
Until next time,