Some Thoughts on Work and People

Tomorrow, I’m going to be starting a new job.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that it’s not in my chosen field of biochemistry, or even a related physical science position.  No, I’m going to be working part time at Wal-Mart for the foreseeable future.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that I am getting back to work.  Besides getting more money, which is always a good thing, it’ll give me something to do to occupy my time (although, I’m sure I could come up with other things I’d rather be doing).  It’s just sort of bittersweet to end up working a job for little more than minimum wage (I’ll be earning less per hour, I’m sad to say, than I earned at McDonald’s when I worked there during high school) after years of schooling and further years of work experience.

The Philosophy of Work

Of course, it goes a bit deeper than that.  Working at Wal-Mart doesn’t just hurt because of the salary or similar tangible issues, but because it seems like a step backwards in my life in general.  There is a tendency to conflate people with their jobs.  We assume that people in particular professions have particular personalities (the boring accountant, the pompous director, etc.).  When we meet new people, one of our first questions is ‘What do you do?’; how they answer determines much about what we think of them.  Heck, I continue to refer to myself as a biochemist, as a short hand for my education and previous careers.

Is it sad that I envy the guy with the overflowing desk?
Is it sad that I envy the guy with the overflowing desk?

In a very real way, it seems that you are what you do.  When you are unemployed, it not only affects your pocket book, it affects how you view yourself and how others view you.  In the same way, your job is you, in a very real and solid way.  This can be a good thing (as when you have a good job that’s well respected and well-paying) or a bad thing (again, when you are unemployed).

All of this gets me to thinking, as you might have guessed.  There are several questions that come to mind when thinking of work and employment.  Here’s hoping I can get a good conversation going.

Question 1: Do you think people’s personalities cause them to gravitate to particular jobs, or that working in a job tends to generate certain personality traits?  Or is there no link between employment and personality?

If you had asked me back in college, I would have said that there was no link, but now that I’m out in the real world, I don’t think that’s the case anymore.  I lean towards the second option; I think that working in the quality control field has helped to boost my attentiveness and made me more meticulous (‘picky’, if you want a more negative word), but perhaps there’s something in my nature that makes such work more attractive to me.  I’d like to hear what other people think on this subject.

Question 2: Why do we put so much emphasis on our jobs, anyway?

Is it a remnant of tribal culture when everyone had a role in ensuring the tribe survives?  Does it date to the middle ages and inherited jobs (leading to such last names as Baker and Chapman (shopkeeper), for instance)? Is it a thoroughly modern invention, coinciding with the rise of the suburbs and the middle class?  I’m curious as to when what you did for a living became, well, your entire life and identity.

Question 3: Is the idea of a career starting to disappear?

With downsizing, mergers, and mid-life crises making the idea of staying with the same company for your entire working life (and that company staying the same, as well) a thing of the past, I have to wonder what the work world of the future will look like.  The number of people who expect to finish their career in the same position where they start (or even at the same company where start their career) is practically non-existent.

Given the massive shifts in the working world in the past several decades, it’s intriguing to imagine what work will look like in the future.  Will the average American’s work schedule in ten or twenty years in the future look like the Four Hour Work Week, short periods of work supplemented by passive income, broken up by frequent mini-retirements?  Or will people be working longer, harder, and more diligently than ever, desperate to generate any sizable amount of income?  It’s kind of fun (and a bit frightening) to think about where the state of work will be in the next few years.

Bonus Question: If you didn’t HAVE to work, would you?

The $64,000 question (or probably twenty times that amount, if you want enough to retire and generate a reasonable income); if you had enough money to never need to work another day in your life, would you anyway?  Would you do the same thing you’re doing now, quit your day job and start your dream career, or stop work entirely and have fun with your life for the rest of your days?  I’m leaning toward the second option, but then, it takes different strokes for different folks, after all; perhaps there are other people out there who love their jobs (after all, there are plenty of senior citizens who continue to work, even though they don’t need the money), and still others who are ready for a lifetime of lounging around the pool with drinks that have umbrellas in them (some of whom reach that point before they even graduate high school).  Where do most of my readers end up going?

So there are some of the things that have been dancing around in my head with my new job currently upcoming.  Thanks for indulging me, and please let me know what you think about jobs and work and people in general; hopefully, it will help me stay sane through hours of training…

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