Philosophy of Work

Philosophy of Work

Warning! This is not my normal travelogue kind of post. Read at your own discretion!



Lying around and not working for the first time in a long, long time gives me time to think. Of course, I spend most of that time trying to distract myself via social media, entertainment, and reading, but sometimes I hear something or read something that puts my mind into overdrive and I cannot stop thinking. I deliberate what to do with these thoughts. Sometimes I tweet something or post on Facebook, but isn’t that equivalent to shouting something profound out my window and hoping someone hears? I think that if I write something here, at least it has some permanence (perhaps causing embarrassment at some point in the future) and anyone can read it any time. It doesn’t just disappear in the wilderness of the cacophony of social media.


About Work

I was listening to the author of Why You Should be a Socialist, Nathan J. Robinson in an interview. And despite the title, which will likely immediately trigger some people, he said a lot of things that made sense.

The one that stuck with me as I was drinking coffee and making a sandwich for lunch was this idea that work doesn’t need to be miserable. I have been contemplating this question for a long time. Why are there so many people doing so many jobs that they hate? Why do so many people seem miserable doing the work that they do? But more important, why as a collective society do we find it acceptable and even noble that doing work that sucks is somehow the path to decency?

Robinson points out that we call those who are out of work and getting government benefits lazy and parasites on the system. But wealthy people who have investments who do no real work and just collect capital gains are industrious and admired. That was an interesting parallel. Neither of these groups of people are doing what we would call “work”, but one group is despised while the other is revered. I feel like we have this paradigm that we have accepted for so long that we don’t even bother to question it anymore.

So there I was, drinking my coffee and thinking about work. I thought to myself… I like making coffee in the morning. I don’t mind washing dishes or cooking. I could do these things and there is even some pleasure at the end of the chore in knowing that something has been done. But if I were waking up at 6 a.m. and going to a work place to do these exact same tasks for an 8-hour shift, would I still enjoy the work?

Maybe work has the same stigma as assigned readings in an English classroom. A child would read a book that they choose for pleasure and enjoy it, but as soon as it becomes a chore to be completed for someone else’s benefit, it is no longer pleasurable. Students don’t see that the task is the same, and they can find fulfillment and enjoyment in it. Why is that?

One idea is that we spend a lot of our time thinking “What else could I be doing right now?” And maybe we imagine all the things we could be doing that are more pleasurable or relaxing or liberating than the task we have been assigned to do at our workplace. As we know, in this day and age, distractions abound, and there are virtually limitless things we can do with our free time.

Take it from me, though, I have been to the end of the internet and back lying in bed recovering from surgery… I would rather be working than sitting here left to my own leisure.

I know that I am lucky to have chosen a profession that I legitimately enjoy. Teaching people brings me great pleasure and satisfaction. It can be challenging, and grading papers can be grueling at times. Planning for lessons is time consuming and even invites anxiety as to whether or not you are doing it right. But overall, teaching is a career that offers challenges, growth, and mostly positive socialization. There is also that feeling of autonomy which, I believe, is the key to enjoying any job.


Robinson points out that we still have a basically feudalistic view of the way our economy works. There are the owners who reap the benefits of the workers, and the workers who receive meager rewards for their services without any feeling of autonomy or power within their lives.

As a teacher, I have felt this. Some school districts try to take away the autonomy of the professional, and I have fought against this my whole career. I am trained and educated to do this job, and to be forced, top-down, to perform tasks that I think are harmful or detrimental to learning has always been my trigger to rebel against the powers that be. However, I have been mostly lucky to have good bosses such as one principal who told me, “When you work here, shut the door, and teach the kids.” The idea was that I was allowed to own my classroom and create a curriculum and environment for learning. I had autonomy.

Here in Latvia, I have to say that I feel a total sense of freedom to teach how I want to, and it is exciting and fulfilling. Why can’t every workplace be this way? What is it in our basic understanding of work that makes us create a top-down power structure where people feel like sheep bleating their way through an 8-hour day doing work that provides no positive feelings?

Maybe I am exaggerating. I have seen some modern offices that are really cool and casual and seem to really dig into this new movement that work doesn’t need to be awful. I have no idea how widespread these concepts are. I imagine Silicon Valley to harbor many of these idealized workplace environments. But is this a global movement? Is it true for you where you work?

Final Thoughts

This isn’t a Marxist call to action or anything like that. I am just contemplating and throwing ideas out there to see what sticks. I would appreciate any feedback or comments for discussion. Do you enjoy the work that you do? Is it fulfilling for you?

I was talking with my students about how any job can provide fulfillment. My example was a waiter in a restaurant. Many people think, “What a terrible job… taking orders from rude customers all day.” But I said, think about it, you are bringing people food. You are bringing people joy all day long. Making them happy. What a fulfilling role waiters play in our lives. Maybe we should appreciate them more, but just knowing that when you put a plate of delicious food on a table, someone is going to be happier… that is such a beautiful exchange. Not nearly as complicated at the student-teacher relationship which is sometimes hard to understand, and often I wonder if I have done more harm than good.

Okay, thanks for reading if you read this.

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