I’ve been thinking about work and livelihood lately, in kind of a lazy, drowsy way. I’ve been working since I was about 15. In the personal finance and “new frugality” classic, Your Money or Your Life, one of the steps is figuring out how much you’ve earned over the course of your lifetime so far. You gather up your Social Security statements, your tax returns over the years, even those babysitting jobs when you were a teenager….and the amount is truly astonishing once you tally it up, especially if you’ve spend over half your life working. I’ve been ticking away at this task slowly since I read the book a few years ago (I am slow at this kind of thing) but as I’ve worked through it, it’s brought back lots of memories of the odd, random jobs I’ve had so far.
When I think of the turning points and important things of my life, jobs don’t rate as high as relationships, creative projects, my education and other more emotionally resonant things. They’re just not as sexy. Jobs are mundane, boring, necessities brought about by an often senseless system. Why do people work? my nephew asked me once when he was little. Beyond the usual platitudes, it was hard for me to explain. Most of us just have to. Most of us have to fork over our time and energy to someone else to do things for them, and a huge part of our life is thus given over to something that isn’t fully of our own making — for most of us, at least. As a result, we compartmentalize that aspect of our life, and put it in an airtight container so it has nothing to do with the rest of our life and self. Jobs are already a huge investment; why invest any more beyond professionalism and pride, perhaps? And yet for something we spend so much time upon, it’s interesting we don’t reflect more on its impact on our lives, whether we like it or not. Maybe we don’t because it’s often depressing; but maybe there’s something worth looking at.