Why Work

Actually, this must be a self-writing exercise but after I thought a little bit about the subject, it seems to me that it’s also a good blog post candidate. So let’s get started. I’ve been reading the book “Designing Your Life” by Bill BURNETT and Dave EVANS during the last couple of days. I’m always interested in reading “personal development” genre books. Yes, I know that they are really silly. %99 of them are just bullshit. But that’s kind of a hobby to me. You know, some people watch soap operas, some others have other silly hobbies. Mine is reading personal development books. I have read more than 100 books so far and as many articles. Trust my madness. They are bullshit. There are only 3 or 4 books that worth reading and only one of them is really shining, which is “THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE” by Frank COVEY. “7 Habits” really holds wisdom. I’m not here to discuss or promote this book or other one that I mentioned at the beginning. But if you’re interested in this subject, you must read both of them. “7 Habits” is a bible type of book. Wisdom, knowledge, tales, anecdotes… It changed my perspective and it helped me to see this world from a different perspective. But for my point of view, it lacks practical examples that you can follow. “Designing Your Life” closes that gap. Wisdom part is missing in “Designing Your Life” but it gives you practical items, bullet points that you can apply. And that is exactly what I’m doing at the moment. In “Designing Your Life”, Bill BURNETT and Dave EVANS requested to complete couple of exercises from their readers. There is one in the second chapter which I’m trying to complete now. They requested from readers that they write 250 words or so about their work view. And there are couple of questions in the book that can help reader’s thinking process. The first question was “Why Work”. Why we work, what is work? I started to think a little bit about that question and asked that to myself. But I figured out that I never thought about that subject deeply before and thus I couldn’t answer that properly. Really folks, Why work? What is a job? I think that if we really want to answer that question, we should turn back to ancient ages and try to understand how we started to work.

Let’s turn back to ancient ages, roughly 15000 years ago and imagine a single hunter-gatherer man and assume that he is not part of any tribe “probably not possible but hey we’re imagining”. This healthy, relatively strong and talented man wants to live his life. He isn’t a conqueror, he isn’t an explorer, he isn’t an inventor. An ordinary man who wants to live an ordinary life. Like me, like you. Nothing special. He wants to satisfy his needs. But what are his needs and what’s his main life goal? Please don’t forget, we’re talking about a pre-history man. He even doesn’t have access to basic tools. No tools, no friends, no family, no society, no agriculture, little knowledge… In this situation, we can quickly assume that main life goal of this man is living a healthy life without so much suffering. And if Maslow is right -probably he is- this man must satisfy his basic needs like food, water, warm, rest, safety and security first. Everything he has to do is a challenge based on these needs. He has to satisfy these needs by himself alone. He must find food, he must find a shelter to protect himself. He must find a water source. He spends his time on these subjects. He has nothing other to do and he has no time for other stuff also. Long story short, he works to live. His daily duties are just things to satisfy his basic needs. He don’t have time for any other thing. For this ancient man work is what he must do to live. Can not be another thing. Ok, it seems that we found the very basic answer of “why work” question for this man. He needs to work to satisfy his basic needs. But one second, this can not be that simple for all of us. Actually it can be but let’s say it can’t be and continue to investigate.

This time let’s fast forward the history and think a little bit about another man who lived during the stone age around BC 10000 “or whatever age it’s called. I’m not good at History 😊”. This stone age man is also an ordinary man like you and me. He’s part of a tribe. 40 people are living together in a big cave. They are also hunter-gatherers but somehow they found a place that protects them and they have been living in this cave for a while. They also have to satisfy their basics needs. So, they go to hunting regularly. But after a while they found that this is not efficient. They go to hunting altogether but children and elderly clip their wings. They started to leave them behind at cave therefore. But one day, after they turned back to cave from hunting, they found that the cave was attacked by wild animals, some children have been killed and animals destroyed everything tribe has collected so far. From that point, tribe decided to never leave children and elderly alone at cave. But hunting is also dangerous for children and elderly. And if they go together, they can’t hunt properly and they can’t feed the whole tribe. They must find a solution to that problem and they found it. They decided to leave couple of adults at cave who are not good at hunting but strong enough to defend the cave. These left behinds don’t hunt anymore. They started to satisfy safety needs of the tribe instead of the food. In response to their service, hunters share the food with these adults too. After a while tribe figured out that they are either hunting or gathering berries-fruits. They didn’t do these at the same time. And hunting is really hard. Yes gathering is easier than hunting but come on. Who wants to eat couple of blackberries instead of a good meat everyday? That is the reason why they try their chance on hunting. But they fail most of the time. When they fail, they fail all together. They don’t have any other food to eat on these days. All the tribe members suffer together. They must solve this problem too.

And suddenly they figured out that some of adults are really bad at hunting. They are also not capable of protecting the cave either. They don’t have hunting skills, they are not gross in size, they are not brave etc. But they know where they can find good berries. They have natural talent to find delicious fruit. So they are in the gathering business now. Some are still hunting, some are protecting the cave and some others are berry pickers. They all are trying to satisfy basic needs but from different angles. They share and exchange at the end. I’m good at hunting so here is some meat. I’m big in size and protect the cave. Give me some meat to continue to do that while you’re away. Hey I can’t hunt but here are some delicious fruits that I picked up while there isn’t any animal around that you can hunt. Let’s share. Gatherers are happy because nobody force them to attack a wild animal. They don’t like that. Safety guards are also happy because they hate running behind the wild animals all day. Hunters are also happy. They love what they’re doing, they love the adrenaline.
I’m sure that you already get the idea, what am I trying to say. Basically work is the thing that we do to satisfy our basic needs. But most of us can’t do that neither alone nor together. It isn’t one man show but when we try to do that together, it sucks either for another reason. We can’t hunt or pick berries all together. When we want to live in a tribe, this is not sufficient. When we fail, we fail all together. And we fail a lot. So, it seems that we found the answer. What is work? It’s the thing that we need to do to satisfy or basic needs. Why work? Because there is no other way to satisfy our basic needs. Why do we do different things? Because if we don’t diverse, we fail all together. And we fail a lot.

Ok so far so good but until now I’m just focused on basic needs. It seems problematic to me so let’s imagine that our tribe grew in size and they could satisfy all the basic needs easily. They found a perfect cave, there are lots of easy animals that they can hunt around and they’re living in the middle of a berry heaven. It just takes couple of hours work to handle everything. All the tribe members have plenty of time to do other stuff like satisfying the other needs on Maslow Pyramid. They’re ready to jump to the next steps. Love, relationship, creativity etc. The work that they have been doing so far is enough to satisfy basic needs, the first 2 steps on Maslow Pyramid. But the problem with needs is that it’s like an arcade game. When you finish the chapter and defeat the monster, you immediately start a new chapter and you need to aim your new monster. In our case, our tribe found the ways to satisfy their basic needs easily and defeat the monster. Now they need to aim new needs. For example “love”. Our hunter gatherer man needs to find a mate. He needs to send a strong signal to convince attractive women. He needs to prove that her duties matter and he’ll continue to be a tribe member and access to these basic needs. Or someone invented a new thing, because they have plenty of time on working new things, and this new invention become another need that tribe have to satisfy. New inventions create new possibilities, these new possibilities create new needs and these new needs have to be satisfied. That’s another thing that our stone age man has to deal with. So long story short it’s kind of a balancing game. You need to satisfy your basics needs and for that you have to work hard. Then you find a way to handle these basic needs relatively easily with couple of smart moves and luck and in exchange you have time for other stuff. You start to work to satisfy your higher needs. It brings new responsibilities and creates new developments. This enlarges your basic needs basket. You start to work hard again to satisfy these basic needs. Your free time shrinks. After a while you reach to balancing point again. You start to work on other needs…etc. etc.
Work to satisfy basic needs—>Basic needs have been satisfied and you have time—>Aim new needs—>This new level creates new basic needs—>Work harder to satisfy basic needs

Now it seems to me that it’s very close to what we are doing today. So far I’ve been trying to brainstorm this idea. How did we start to work first? I turned back to ancient days for that and imagined a little bit about a stone age man. First alone, second in a tribe. It was just imagination exercise and I’m sure that there are lots of wrong assumptions in that. But it seems to me that at least root of the idea is accurate. So let me summarize “why work and what is work” based on this story:

  • Basically work is the things that we do to satisfy our basic needs.
  • If we try to satisfy our basic needs alone, we have to handle everything by ourselves and that’s really hard. We fail.
  • We need help and we need to live in a society. That’s much more easier. But in a society, if everybody tries to do same thing, we fail again.
  • We need to diversify. We need to do what we’re capable of and exchange the outcomes. If you try to ride an ox and plow the field with a horse, but animals will fail. You, ox, horse…Everybody dies. But if you plow your field with an ox and ride the horse to carry your corn, you all win.
  • When we start to satisfy our basic needs easily, we would have time and energy to work on our other needs. This is also kind of work but we need to be careful. We need to work hard to achieve these needs and each time when we achieve one of them, our basic need basket grows and we need to work harder to satisfy this bigger basket again.
  • It’s kind of balancing game. We need to find a good place that we work relatively easy enough to satisfy our basic needs and a sweet spot that satisfies our other needs but doesn’t add more and enlarges basic need basket.

In short, work is the things that we do to satisfy our basic needs. It has to be something that we’re capable of and gives us enough time to do other stuff too.

1 Comment

  1. ” …
    Anlamlı bir iş nedir? Yaptığımız işin anlamlı olmasını dilerken istediğimiz şey, başkalarının mutluluğunu arttırma şansından, dünyanın bilgi, verim, sağlık, bilgelik ya da güzellik hazinesine, ne denli sınırlı olursa olsun, bir katkıda bulunmayı başardığımızı hissetmekten başka bir şey değildir ve bu arayış, zenginlik ve statü kazanmak yönündeki, daha çok bilinen ve herkesçe tanımlanan dürtülerin yanı sıra, bizim yapımızın doğuştan gelen ve kolay kolay yok olmayan bir parçasıdır.

    Anlamlı işler yapanlar kategorisinde, fiziksel acıları yatıştıranlar, doktorlar, itfaiyeciler ve Kolkata rahibeleri için geleneksel olarak ayrıcalıklı bir yer vardır ama, kolektif mutluluğa büyük ya da küçük bir katkıda bulunan hiç kimseyi, mesela mutfak dolaplarını temizlemekle, yaz tatili için Selanik’e giden yolculara uçuş sırasında güvenlik demonstrasyonu yapmakla, tarhlara çiçek dikmekle, sigorta formları hazırlamakla ya da merdiven tırabzanları ovarak temizlemekle uğraşanları da göz ardı etmemeliyiz. Bisküvi yapmakla meşgul olanları da tabii; çünkü saat dokuzla öğle arasındaki geçmek bilmez sabah saatlerinde sabırsız bir midenin doldurulmasına yardım eden, mükemmel bir şekilde biçim verilmiş bir çikolata yuvarlağı, insanoğlunun mutluluğunu çoğaltmak için tasarlanmış yenilikler zincirinde, mikroskobik de olsa, garantili yerini hak etmektedir.”

    Alain de Botton, “Çalışmanın Mutluluğu ve Sıkıntısı”, 2008
    Sel Yayıncılık, Çeviri: Süha Sertabiboğlu

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