In a previous blog post, I described a lot of what I liked about the book The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, particularly his emphasis on not deferring on your dreams and thinking creatively about how to structure your work / life balance. One of my major problems with The 4-Hour Workweek is that Ferriss makes the assumption that work is something that is divorced from what you really want to be doing with your life.
I agree that for the majority of toiling masses on the planet “work” is the thing that you have to do, not that you want to do. An Appalacchian coal miner is probably not achieving deep satisfaction and peak experiences from digging up ore in tunnels every day.
Thus, Ferriss concentrates on how you can restructure your work life so that you are making the most amount of money in the least amount of time, so you can get on with what you actually want to be doing with your life. This orientation does not jibe with my own work history and goals, and it presents a troubling myopia about the larger impact of your work and life on the world.
Save for a couple of exceptions, “work” for me has been the thing I am most excited about in my life, the thing that draws upon my truest and most sincere self. My entire career has been a string of meaning-filled positions that I hope made the world a better place in big and small ways. Since college, I have been driven to find that place where as Frederick Buechner wrote “your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I have been lucky enough to find great places to work where I was paid to do work that I enjoyed doing and that supported some worthwhile social cause. To quickly recap my work history:
- Case worker for a homeless employment agency in LA
- Technical assistant at a political asylum project in El Paso
- Research Fellow for a peace group in DC
- Membership Director of a world peace organization in New York
- Communications Director of a global human rights coalition
- Internship coordinator for the European Commission in Geneva
- Conference organizer for a United Nations world summit in Tunisia
- Communications Director for an international network of nonprofits
- Program Coordinator for media research and advocacy program
- Assistant Director for digital learning programs at an innovative youth development nonprofit
For none of these positions was I thinking about how I could spend less time or make more money at my job. I was thinking, how can I help achieve the worthwhile goals of this organization, how can I be better at what I am doing. I woke up on Monday mornings excited about getting to go to work. I was filled with thanks that I was able to spend 40-50 hours a week doing what I loved to do.
In short, I have always strived to love what I do, and invest as much of myself in what I do as possible. And when that was no longer the case, with few exceptions I quit my job and moved on to something else.
I would wish for every person that they are able to find that place where their own gladness and the world’s hunger meet, whether it is to be a restauranteur, a dentist, a singer or a missionary. I think that as a society we are better for it, as well as individually. Each of us in our work lives and personal lives can contribute to the general welfare or can diminish it.
Or we can simply clock in and clock out. As Tim Ferriss himself writes,
“Does your life have a purpose? Are you contributing anything useful to this world, or just shuffling papers, banging on a keyboard, and coming home to a drunken existence on the weekends?”
If this describes you, Ferriss’s solution is to work less and earn more. His path to success is paved on the backs of others who toil for you, the outsourced life that is managed by Indian “virtual assistants” and work that is done by distant fulfillment centers. While this path might make you personally more happy, I don’t know if I want to live in a world where everyone is focused on simply maximizing their own individual happiness, with no thought to the common good.
My solution is to take the unique gifts and drives that God has given you and find a place where those gifts can best serve others. While this might not likely lead to a 4-hour workweek, it will almost certainly lead to a more meaningful and even joyful workweek.