At one of my previous jobs, my company put me through a profiling test often used by other companies to fire people. That wasn’t their intention here – they were, in all honesty, a very good company – but there were concerns that I wasn’t very passionate about my work. By matching my profile scores on the test to the profiles of other employees who were highly effective in other roles, they were wondering if there might be a different position in the company I would enjoy more.
I had signed on to be a software developer, but I found myself dragging and dropping boxes on a screen most of the time. I felt like a fraud. The test suggested a decent match for my current role, but my profile matched slightly better for Quality Assurance and possibly Project Management. I wasn’t enthused by either of these, though for a time I leaned toward QA. I was good at what I did, but I really wanted to write more code. And I wanted to work with more visuals. That’s what first got me into computers. There just weren’t many opportunities for that sort of work.
“And,” I said to our HR representative, “I tend to get tired around 2:00pm.” She was dumbfounded. “But that’s not even 8 hours….”
This was a company with Christian roots, and a lot of what they believed was that if you weren’t passionate about your job, then you needed to be somewhere else where God was calling you. This was not their official policy, of course, but it was implied. It permeated the atmosphere. And it wasn’t all bad. But in that single statement, “But that’s not even 8 hours,” I realized just how
stupid misguided Christians can be in their veneration of work. There’s nothing in the human genome that codes for 8 hour workdays as some holy standard of “work ethic.”
I was pushed out of that company a year later. Despite 6+ months of non-programming-related work and complete misguidance on the actual usefulness of new technologies on the job, I was given two options: have passion and micromanage yourself, or move on to God’s real plan for you. We parted on good terms. And I suppose maybe they weren’t entirely wrong, because God got me a job paying almost 30% more. It’s too bad more Christian don’t have a “protestant fair pay” ethic.
Some people really get their hard on for work. They read Genesis and immediately see work as the path to life, liberty, and  happiness. They’ll gladly ignore that Adam was called to till the earth (farming), and they’ll gladly forget that it was a curse and not a blessing, but then the Protestant Work Ethic was never really about the Bible at all and has more to do with culture than anything. It was simply christened by an interpretation of the Good Word.
And I don’t disagree with the sentiment. I believe hard work can be a good thing. I just don’t see it as the end-all be-all. I also don’t worship Roosevelt, Truman, and Hoover and the whole era of “we killed the Nazis.” History has somehow settled upon the 40 hour work week and that may or may not be your shtick. I personally would prefer the 30 hour workweek, and even better, I would prefer a 0 hour workweek, where I volunteer for things I care about because I want to.
A lot of people see work as a distraction from sin, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and whatnot, which is probably just the suspicion that not working leads to a whole lot of drugs or a whole lot of porn.
What people fail to realize is that work is one of the greatest stresses a person can face. There’s even the term “paying to work,” which is a way of recognizing the financial cost of work in terms of ROI. If you are making $2,000 dollars a month but your new car is $350 per month, your insurance is $150 per month, and your gas is $150 per month, almost 32% of your income is spent just going to and from work. Don’t count lunches out if you’re into that habit, and forget the stress of commuting five days a week if you have to commute. Work is good for its own sake, right? Right?
We even teach this to our kids. The most academically “successful” join such bull-shit organizations as Nation Honor Society, where, last I checked, they are required to participate in 3, count ’em 3, extracurricular activities, in addition to full time high school and dealing with the shit-storm that is being a teenager. (full disclosure: I was in NHS) We call this “successful,” while really we’re training our kids to be dysfunctional members of society, dysfunction friends, and dysfunctional parents. “You’re value is how busy you stay. How hard you work.”
Works tends to be one argument Christians leverage against Financial Independence, or even Early Retirement. Just search google for reactions. “But work is good for you! How dare you consider investing a lot in order to stop working!” They’d rather be chained to a job that can lay their butts off at the drop of a hat. They’d rather continue the destructive cycle of overproduction that has been destroying our planet. All because their sense of purpose, their sense of being a good Christian, derives from their love…of work. Not sharing that love is threatening to those people.
Love of work betrays an ignorance of economics. You have to realize that as specialization makes the necessities of life cheaper and cheaper, far less “work” is really needed on the global scale. Unemployment was high in the United States during the recession because budgets were tight and, quite frankly, so much of the work being done didn’t significantly contribute to the world. But since everyone needs some way to earn money, we find new and obscure ways to work. And most of this just gets dumped into landfills and the ocean. Now, I’m a big fan of capitalism, do not get me wrong, but work is not necessarily the answer to the world’s problems. There is already so much work that sometimes whole cities are on the verge of unemployment. I just watched a fascinating documentary about ship breakers in India, where there are so few jobs that these men will work in extremely life-threatening conditions just to put food on the table. (aside: nobody’s marching for women to be equally represented in that industry, are they?) They work harder than anybody I’ve ever known, but that still hasn’t worked out so well for them. You can’t honestly see virtue in this!
Sure. Do what you love. But the old scenario still plays out: do you pay the nice, perhaps even Christian surgeon who loves his job and has an 80% success rate, or do you pay the asshole surgeon who hates his job but has a 99% success rate? I think you can guess who I’m going to pick. And what about the pastors who are mortified of public speaking but feel God has called them to be pastors anyway? Passion is not the key to everything. Passion may even have nothing to do with your calling. There is no one-size fits all formula here.
If and when I do hit my Financial Independence goals, it’s definitely not my intention to spend my time sitting around watching Netflix (well, maybe only occasionally). I’d probably pursue archaeology in some form, or volunteer for something that usually can’t be afforded, or I’d working for a small company that cares for it’s employees but can’t necessarily afford a software developer. I’d even like to spend a few years working for the company I’m currently volunteering for. That would be amazing! But not because I have to, or because it’s virtuous, or because ’till the earth’, but simply because I enjoy exercising my skills and making a difference in the world. It’s no good being a slave to your employer or a slave to this bizarre work fetish that dominated our grandparents’ generation and our national and over-glorified bucolic past.