“To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We’ve got it down to four words: “Do what you love.” But it’s not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.” – YCombinator Founder Paul Graham,”How To Do What You Love“
Ever wondered about why it’s important to work hard? Whether you should actually go about finding your passion? Then you’ve gone further into the philosophy of work than most people ever will, at least intentionally. After all, we all have our own philosophies of everything we touch, ones that most of us form unconsciously.
Part of the process of personal development is making that philosophy conscious and purposeful. When it comes to work (and everywhere else), this is what the Praxis experience is all about.
Here are some of the questions on work ethic, passion, and lifestyle Praxis participants explore in our curriculum library and every day in the field. Our goal is to help our participants find philosophies of work that work for them, and that starts with reexamining the kinds of beliefs everyone takes for granted.
How do I find work-life balance?
Most people think that having a good balance of career and personal pursuits is a good thing. But what does that look like? How much time should you spend working, playing, resting, learning, etc. to have a good life?
The question most people don’t ask is whether the traditional concept of work-life balance is even helpful for a fulfilling life. Our own business development director Zak Slayback shares his thoughts in “Against the Work/Life Balance.”
“…[W]hat we need is a conception where you don’t even conceive of work and play as being separate things. Your job is your play just as much as your time at home is your play. The job-life and the home-life don’t strive towards different ends as they do in the typical conception. Rather, they both ought to strive towards the same thing: fulfillment. However you define fulfillment, bring your home and work lives into sync with each other as both attempting to form a life that you are happy with.”
What is a good work ethic?
If you come from the United States – or just about anywhere in the western world – you’ve probably learned that hard work is a virtue. Why? In a selection featured in the Praxis philosophy library, the philosopher Bertrand Russell questions the idea of work as virtue and leisure as vice in “In Praise of Idleness:”
“The fact is that moving matter about, while a certain amount of it is necessary to our existence, is emphatically not one of the ends of human life. If it were, we should have to consider every navvy superior to Shakespeare…
Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle. Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.”
So, what’s the argument for working hard? It turns out that plenty of the advocates of work ethic have also thought their position through. In a letter to his son, the famous playwright Eugene O’Neill wrote:
“The best I can do is to try to encourage you to work hard at something you really want to do and have the ability to do. Because any fool knows that to work hard at something you want to accomplish is the only way to be happy. But beyond that it is entirely up to you. You’ve got to do for yourself all the seeking and finding concerned with what you want to do. Anyone but yourself is useless to you there.”
Should I follow my passion?
If you want to talk about a controversy in the philosophy of work, this is the one. While the answer seems to most people to be an obvious “yes,” some successful thinkers and entrepreneurs have challenged the idea, or at least the inspirational-movie-cliche-version.
Consider what former Dirty Jobs producer/star and current skilled trades advocate Mike Rowe has to say:
“Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by. Which is why I’m more inclined to say, ‘Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.'”
What does passionate work look like in practice? Contrary to the common claim that “if you do what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life,” it can sometimes mean working harder. As our founder Isaac Morehouse writes,
“It’s much easier to find and do what you mildly enjoy, what you can tolerate, or even what you hate. Anyone can stop the discovery process short and find what feels comfortable in the short term. Anyone can choose not to chisel away the distractions; not to get to the core of what makes you fulfilled. Anyone can treat what they love as an unattainable object that exists only to torment and tease. Anyone can come up with mediocre, safe, reasonable, sound, and predictable goals and activities…
Some people think work is hard because they’re not doing what they love. In reality, they haven’t been able to do what they love because they’re not willing to work hard enough.”
If this post has left with you with more questions about your work philosophy than answers, that’s probably a good thing. Most popular thinking around work never gets much deeper than Hallmark card sentiments. Wherever you are in life, you can do (and think) better than that.
Want to start defining your philosophy of work in the real world? Take on a sample of one of our 30-day personal development courses to see what it’s like to go through a Praxis year.