Photo by Darcy McCarty
“Work hard, play hard.” – My father’s life motto.
Numerous times during my life I have heard the expression “Protestant Work Ethic” to describe someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty. In a sentence it communicates drive, persistence, and willingness to work. I’ve also heard discussions about why the Protestant Work Ethic is ruining our society. It prevents people from relaxing, keeps them from family, causes ulcers and rocky marriages. It makes life difficult for everyone involved. For The Protestant Work Ethic to be a universally positive trait, we need to re-define what it means to work.
Work is earning value (perhaps cash) by giving value (work/service) to someone else.
The line between work and play should be very blurry. The ideal job feels so intrinsically rewarding that you would do it for free. Most have given up the search, and this constitutes failure. It perpetuates stagnant social systems, and fails to give your fullest gift to the world. Live in accordance with your purpose, driving towards a life that both serves others AND yourself. Serving others while feeling like crap is self deprecation and self-destruction. Serve others because it feels good; because serving others is benefiting you at the highest level.
Work as play: Your approach to your job should be one like a kid in a sandbox. A child kneels, and free to express himself in the moment, picks up a trowel. He explores how it affects the patterns in the sand, notices how the grains fall from its face, feels the grip, and tests the size of the hole it can dig. Be a sandbox child at work. Develop a new marketing plan. Implement it, noting the customer reactions, the changes in revenue, the spirit among the employees. Remember to enjoy the process. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? The last thing the world is needs is another unfulfilled professional. Give up some of the pay and responsibility in exchange for more time to connect with loved ones, and chase dreams.
As a budding entrepreneur, I realize fully that my future lifestyle will be determined by how I shape my career. Is working 12 hour days 6 days per week necessary to be successful? Perhaps. But perhaps by focusing on the high impact tasks of a given business, most of the success (measured in this case by income) can be achieved in much less time. Why not ditch the fast lane for the scenic route? The only thing you could lose is some cash, but you gain a life. You could go skiing on a week day, or take your kids to the zoo dammit! What are going to remember in 10, 20, 30 years? Pushing pencils, or the time you and your daughters saw a llama spit all over a lady in her Sunday best, and laughing until you cried?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the career/business path. It’s a path I’m walking myself. The key to its it success, and I mean that in the most inclusive possible sense, gauging happiness, excitement, contentment, leisure time, and cash flow, is to work with people you love. Work with people who inspire you, who excite you, who intimidate you, who push you to be better and won’t settle for your “I’m not good enough” crap. As you step towards challenge you will come alive. Only then adopt the Protestant Work Play Ethic. Your job will suddenly start to look more like that sandbox, and lets face it, that’s what we all want.
This world is temporary. Things wear out. Statues of long dead great men erode and dissolve until nothing is left. Nature remembers no names. Your legacy, literally whatever work you do, will have to stand up to that test. Ask yourself: In 1000 years when my great grandchildren’s great grandchildren are gone, will anything I’ve done really have mattered? Most people will have to say no. It takes a truly exceptional person to be able to say yes. But, if you change the lives of even a few people in your era you set into effect a chain of positive events that shifts the present state of the world, and therefore transforms its future. Forget about the legacy. Let go of the idea. Embrace the obliteration of anonymous and eternal bodily death. Then go to work now. Change the current circumstances. Work like there’s no tomorrow, because eventually there isn’t. If the work doesn’t feel like play to you, then you’re wasting your precious breath in the face of the void.
I don’t have all the answers, but this I know: The peak you intend to climb determines the mountain face on which the climb will take place. If the face is unbearable, chances are you picked the wrong mountain. Pick a peak who’s very existence is a defiant call to action. One whose whisper your hear in the witching hour: climb me…climb me. The voice is usually rationalized, rejected, then ignored. I speak from personal experience. The risk seems too absurd, the mountain impossibly tall. But that’s why you need to climb it; to conquer the boundary that it places on you, until all that’s left is your own limitless awareness. After all that’s why your thoughts picked it.
What keeps you awake at night? What nags at your mind to be fulfilled? We have thoughts for a reason. They are not random events, caused by collision after collision of elementary particles. They are evidence, designed for us to decipher and pursue. Your true work, and therefore your true play lies within your own mind.
A job is a way to make a living, and in this society that means earning cash. Money is earned by rendering goods or services. Your dream job is therefore giving away your most exciting service. But developing your dream job will require help, service from others. In pursuing you own dream, you enable others to serve you; thus engaging them in the pursuit of their own dream. As others reach for their goals they will enlist your dream service. You get paid to help others live their dreams simply by living your own. That is the life you’re meant to live.
Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am -a reluctant enthusiast… a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space.