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…

5 Responses to Some Thoughts on Work and People

  1. Congrats on your new job! Carol Schultz-Weil, author of In the Trenches has an awesome section in her book calculating the difference between working at McDonald’s and working a Career. McDonald’s capped at making a person more money due to the decrease of expenses like commuting, clothing, etc… If you need a good read, I’d be happy to send you my copy. Just let me know.

    A job is a job. And we should be happy to have one. I’d have to think that Walmart would be less stressful than the major work I have to do on my desk.;)

    But I know, never finishing my college degree (despite the fact I have worked my way up quicker in 5 years than most people have), is a constant thought on my brain. I feel like less of a person without it, yet I don’t need it. Maybe this has some aspect to do with Financial Samurai’s recent post on the Happy Loser.

    To answer your questions… I think my personality makes me gravitate towards a certain job. When I was a pathology assistant, I loved being in the lab. I like being focused on lots of different tasks and I love science. Same with my career now. Definitely not a stagnant position with my type A personality.

    I think society causes us to emphasis on our job. We could be living off the grid or traveling the world. But it doesn’t fit in the square.

    Although, I think this view is changing, as people are realizing that being the Joneses is not all that. In fact, it usually makes you really broke.

    I see a paradigm shift with employment. Especially with the financial turmoil and social media. Businesses and people are making their own rules and job are being done via telecommuting. But I think the shift is going to work for the better. And you need to make your own rules in order to survive. But doing so may also show people taking responsibility for their finances so we don’t have all the cool tools with the big red negative line behind it. I think’s it a good thing.

    And yes, even if I didn’t have to work, I would work. Be it my own project or for some nonprofit group. I would keep myself busy. Cuz that’s me.

  2. I have no doubt that there are trends between personality and jobs but obviously there are many exceptions.

    For Xer’s I think the concept of career died in the 70’s.

    When it comes down to it, income is income. But if we don’t like what we are doing we can certainly continue to explore other options.

    I am working hard so that some day I don’t have to. However, when that day comes I believe I will work even harder, but I will work on things that I want without regard to income. I can’t imagine sitting on a couch!
    .-= LeanLifeCoach´s last blog ..Nothing Is Free – Everything Costs =-.

  3. Lots of things depends on an individual. He has to adopt to certain situation and work schedule to succeed. Survival is the key right now. But doing what you love always reaps better rewards than what you are forced to do.

  4. Hey Rog – I admire you greatly for picking up your less-than-ideal-to-you job. Doing whatever it takes is the most honorable thing a man can do and I commend you for that.

    I swear, I would flip burgers for a living if I had to. I wouldn’t “work work” if I had he money. I’d just write, play my guitar, and play tennis.

    I totally top-ticked the markets when I said “the good times are back again.” Boy was I wrong. I’m writing a follow up post tomorrow.

    Hang in there!

    .-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..The Katana: 200th Post And A Thank You To All Readers! =-.

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