Matteo Catanzano

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Why do we work ?

We humans, when not unconscious, spend more time working or in education than doing anything else. Why ? Do we work so that we can buy pleasures when we have time off? Do we work so we can achieve money and consequentially status, which makes us more desirable mates ? Do we work because we are brought up with the idea that it is our duty and function as a member of society ? Or do we work in the hope of reaching self-actualisation?

Does it even matter ? Does knowing the reason why we spend years trying to get the best training, to get the best job going to affect our performance and our general well-being ?

I would also like you to consider this quote in light of the conversation.

“All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery. Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or distressing.”
-by Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism

  • Dec 28 2011: Matteo, if you know someone that works at something that they do not love ask them. Every person will give you a different reply.

    I'll give the reasons why some friends of mine do not work at what they love. One case has to do with language. They do not speak english. Therefore, they have to work at something to make a living, they sacrificed their chosen profession for the priviledge to live in the US. They have a good work ethic, and do not mind cleaning houses, as long as they can provide for their family. They keep a simple eye. I have another friend who from an early age loved interior design. Her mother, who was very influential, told her that being an interior designer was for weirdos.....I know, I know......anyways, she worked in the business field for over 20 years. UNTIL, she divorced. Being divorced made her rethink her life, and she started her own design business, which she loves. Her mother often asks her, why didn't you study designing in college instead of business??? Imagine!!! All those years of her life wasted on something she did not love.

    Still others do not work at what they love because they have other priorities. I have friends who absolutely love teaching, but their children are their priority at the present moment. Still others who are passionate about a certain field, are afraid of success. They are scared that their work will take over their life, so they make a conscious choice to just work to live, and not live to work. They are happy and content with little.

    Your question has more than one answer. It is very complex.

    By contrast, many others choose to work in fields that give them wealth.....they want to live a comfortable life and do not care about anything or anyone except themselves. Anyone who has had to deal with a terrible doctor knows what I'm talking about.

    I hope others are able to shed more light to your wonderful question. And I hope you choose to do what you love!!!
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      Dec 29 2011: Thanks for the inspiring reply. In order to explore this topic further I would like to take you up on a few points.

      1) "UNTIL, she divorced. Being divorced made her rethink her life, and she started her own design business, which she loves."

      Cancer, death, divorce, loss these things come as blessings in disguise to some of us. As was the case with your friend they engendered a realigning of priorities and a reawakening of passions not forgotten. What is frustrating about this case and many others is the role of parents and other figures of authority. I have experienced and witnessed cases, whereby there is a lack of trust in the individual, but more importantly of life itself. This contributes to this channeling of individuals into vocational degrees with a "higher chance of employability" and ergo stability. Although, not ill-intentioned there needs to be a realization that sometimes making kids believe that their passion should be kept a hobby and something more worthwile should be pursued, is a much greater risk than that of letting them choosing a path they are passionate about.


      2) "They are scared that their work will take over their life, so they make a conscious choice to just work to live, and not live to work."

      It is very interesting, I'd never looked at work that way. As something you choose over life. But, it makes sense.
      But tell me. Do the two have to be separate? Paraphrasing Ken Robinson, "my work is part of who I am, I could not stop working in the same way that I can't stop being" then why are we so obsessed with this dichotomy?

      3) "By contrast, many others choose to work in fields that give them wealth..." This could lead to a spin-off: Why do you want to make lots of money? And to make it short, my view of the topic so far is that it gives you a certain type of freedom. A good friend of mine once told me that money gives individuals the ability to choose. But, as we've learned, money doesn't buy happiness or fulfillment
      • Dec 29 2011: Thanks for your insight and thoughts. Here are some further reflections:

        1) I agree, many times parents think they know what's best all throughout their adult children's life. And yes, it is a big risk. Because down deep inside we all have that voice that tells us what we should be doing. I know my friend always heard it. It wasn't until she was alone, and felt that she needed to make herself happy that she "risked" the career change. I'd like to share something I read with you about risk:
        To Laugh is to risk appearing the fool
        To weep is to risk appearing sentimental
        To reach out for another is to risk involvement
        To expose your feelings is to risk exposing your true self
        To place your ideas, your dreams, before a crowd is to risk their loss
        To love is to risk not being loved in return
        To live is to risk dying
        To hope is to risk despair
        To try is to risk failure
        BUT, risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. Persons who risk nothing, do nothing, have nothing and are nothing. They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, or live. Chained by their attitudes, they are slaves for they have forfeited their freedom. Only a person who risks is free.

        My friend risked failure by trying out designing...she succeeded...the risk was worth it!!

        2) No, work and life do not have to be separate. People who are passionate about their work, i.e. scientists, make their work, their life. They are passionate with a purpose.. Others, I think, are workaholics without purpose. They might not realize they have choices. This point is something I could write about for a long time.

        3)Money...the root of all evil...."There are people so poor, so poor, so poor, that all they have is money" Isn't it funny that some rich people wished they had someone in their life who they can trust, while poor people are surrounded by true friends, but wish they had more money??

        The rich person is one who lacks nothing.
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      Dec 29 2011: it simply gives us the resources to achieve them.

      I hope so too ! As for me I hope so too. My trouble is that I love many things. For now I have chosen to pursue one of them...
  • Dec 28 2011: "I have come to know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good during one's life; and also that every man should eat and indeed drink and see good for all his hard work. It is the gift of God. " King Solomon

    I personally work to live. I enjoy eating, having a roof over my head, and also dressing. I enjoy extending hospitality to my friends and giving gifts. Much of the work I do is volunteer. This brings me much pleasure.

    There is nothing wrong with work. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I'm working at home cleaning, cooking or washing, or out of the house at my employment . I must admit that I chose to make a living doing what I love. Many in the world cannot work at doing what they love, so they are forced to love what they do.

    I really enjoyed coming across this site after watching the latest TED talk. If you haven't had a chance to yet, look up the site
    www.6billionothers.org
    It will shed lite at many who are forced to like what they do.
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      Dec 28 2011: I don't believe that there is anything wrong with work. As you say, it can be pleasurable and the sense of accomplishment is important in the life of each individual.

      You are right in saying that "many in the world cannot work at doing what they love, so they are forced to love what they do." But, then tell me: Why do people that can work at doing what they love choose not to ?

      I am more concerned with the attitude people nowadays have towards work. Seeing it as a means to an end. As if work in itself has no or little inherent value.

      Thank you for the link I will definitely check it out !
  • Dec 27 2011: I work because I love what I do, I work to help people get better when they are ill.
  • Dec 27 2011: how could we live if we don't work and then if we don't have any money?
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      Dec 27 2011: Are you suggesting that without money we would die ? May I remind you that people lived before money was created...

      That aside, are you saying that the sole function of work is to make money so we can survive ?