[Opinion] Why Work?

Why work? Why do we do what we do? Why do we spend so much time working, to the extent that it occupies most of our waking hours of our entire adult life?

Lately, I’ve been asking myself these questions. Perhaps because I finally got a breather at work and I have more time to think… but then I realised, this is not the first time I’ve questioned myself. I’ve asked myself these questions in the past. In the midst of being so busy at work, I’ve chucked addressing these feelings aside, and time has flown me by (over 3 years).
*A mental note to always make time to think about where you are at life, and what you want to achieve in the future.

So – Why work?

Aristotle once said “We work to have leisure, on which happiness depends.” This is rather ironic yet true, given that we work, in order to not work. We work so that we can go for that vacation. We work almost our entire adult lives so that we can retire and stop working. We are literally swapping time for money.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

But what would I be doing today if I were not working to make a living? If money was of no concern, would I still be in my current line of work or would I be doing something else?

Honestly, I think I would still have walked down the same path, as I think I would not grown to the person I’ve become today. As Steve Jobs once said, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Steve Jobs

At crossroads – Steady income vs Passion

My journey to a working adult begins like no other. Fresh out of university, I started my first job any degree holder in accounting dreams to work at – in one of the Big 4 accounting firm. Studying hard in university has paid off, and thus, I begun my first corporate job as a corporate tax consultant. My main motive at that time was money and experience (though more towards the first one). Now my motive has since changed towards purpose and experience, although money is still important to service the bills.

After working over the years, it’s not to say I hate my job, it’s more of a love-hate relationship. The work can sometimes get repetitive (to be a master of your craft requires practice anyway), but the overall exposure I have gained working here is great. I guess what I hate the most in corporate is the lack of freedom, and the politics that comes with it.

I’m at crossroads currently – whether to take the leap of faith and leave the corporate world for good and be an entrepreneur, or stay in corporate. There’s a lot of think about… finances mostly, will the business idea take off and succeed, etc.

That brings me to the next question – when to take the leap of faith?

When to take the leap of faith?

This is a tough one. There’s no definite answer. I began to dig – reading random articles and watching random videos. One of the videos went something of the following (oh, I recently started sketching on my iPad too!):

Why Work?

The development guru asked the audience to ask him questions on personal development and life, and the audience shot him a barrage of questions.

After taking a few questions without providing an answer to any of them, “Shut up” was the reply by the guru. The next sentence by the guru went something sort of the following:

You already know the answers. You’re just asking me for permission to do what you already know is right. You’re looking for validation. Stop. You don’t need anyone’s permission. When you get an internal sense of what’s right, just do it. Act, and then see what happens.

I was struck by his reply. What the guru said was very true. And with that, I suddenly recalled what Steve Job’s said during the speech he gave at 2005 Stanford Commencement Address:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Steve Jobs

Often, deep down, we already know what is right. We ask around to seek validation. The truth is, we do not need anyone’s permission. We just need courage. When you get an internal sense of what’s right, just do it. Act, and then see what happens. And if does not go as you expect, adjust, to get the desired outcome.

When you stumble onto a problem, think of how to solve it first, and trust in your own judgement. Only after you’ve tried, then only ask around for help. See the world in your own eyes and make your own conclusions first hand. Question and think critically. Listen to others, but think for yourself.

Read also: Book Review: Open to think – Slow down, think creativity, and make better decisions by Dan Pontefract

But often, it is much easier said than done. The courage to take the first step is terrifying. I recalled being inspired after I heard Steve Jobs’ speech. I was encouraged and motivated to follow my dreams, but it never did materialise. Why?

Excuses and Social Conditioning

I blame myself for not making time to think about where I am in life and what I wanted in the near and far future. I also blame myself for letting myself getting lost in the busyness of work, and also allowing to be conditioned by society… losing bits of my identity in the process.

My inner voice has been telling me that corporate life isn’t something I particularly like for quite some time now. That part of me is also asking me to venture out and start something on my own. But why haven’t I done anything about it?

Work has kept me busy most of the time, whilst any free time went to pursing my professional papers and spending time with family. On the other hand, social conditioning has also played a role in constantly reminding me subtly on how I should live my life – Social status dictates that climbing the corporate ladder means success. Fashion trends are defining what beautiful is. The big companies are telling you buying the latest tech is cool. In the end, I’m just a slave with a white collar. Social conditioning has truly messed us up.

However, pursuing my dream isn’t as easy as just quitting my job and following my passion. I’ve got bills to pay, mortgages to service, a mouth to feed… which is why I’m still hanging on to the security of (supposedly) 9-to-5 jobs. Furthermore, there’s always the lure of staying in corporate – it’s a predictable career path with only a ladder to climb, whereas the entrepreneur path can be rather uncertain.

I’ve instead decided to take baby steps fulfil my dream.

Preparation work

Leaving a stable income is scary. I’ve started taking some steps to prepare myself before taking the leap into the unknown:

  • Start a special “entrepreneurial” savings account.
  • List down clear and specific goals for the near and far future.
  • Create an action list on the goals whereby I set myself deadlines to meet.
  • Do a tonne load of reading.

Do let me know if you have any hacks that can help quicken my entrepreneurial dream! And also let me know why do you do what you currently do? Is it because you “have to”? Or what other reasons?

Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world usually do.

Steve Jobs
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