To me, one of the sad truths about the world today is that most people look upon work as something to escape from. To them, this major part of life is a necessary evil, even an obstacle to the life they dream about.
I could add, from plenty of personal conversations, that there are some people who choose simplicity as a means to escape work. I don’t think that’s what the simple life is for.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that some of the discontent we feel about work comes from our faulty thinking on the reason for it. In our desire to get out of work, we are missing the point of it.
Dorothy Sayers, in her famous essay Why Work? begs us to see work anew. She seeks nothing less than “a thoroughgoing revolution in our whole attitude to work.”
Sayers believes we should look upon work, “not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself.”
Work, in this regard, is not something to be avoided. It is something to be pursued and enjoyed.
Your work contributes to the good of society and moves us ahead. We need your talents and abilities. We need you to work hard and do it well. It makes us better as people and it enriches our lives.
I enjoy hard work. I work 50 hours most weeks because I find happiness and joy in it. And I believe that those who feel the most fulfilled at the end of their lives are those who have chosen to work hard on the right things during it.
Now, just to be clear, I am not advocating to be busy just to be busy. And I am not advocating working hard for wrong, selfish reasons (i.e., getting rich). I am advocating for the importance of doing your work (whether paid or unpaid) in a focused and deliberate way and putting your whole self into it.
I am advocating for doing the best you can, to accomplish the most you can, with the one life you have to live.
Reasons for Work in the Simple Life
If one has chosen simplicity as a lifestyle, where do we find the motivation to learn how to work hard? If we are content to own less (even prefer it), what is the point of hard work and striving for success?
Let me offer a few reasons:
1. Work forces personal development.
Work, by its very nature, presents challenges and growth opportunities. It requires us to improve and develop and become better versions of ourselves. The more we grow, the better at work we get… and the greater the challenges become.
We learn important life lessons when we give ourselves over to hard work: determination, attentiveness, responsibility, problem solving, and self-control. These lessons, in turn, serve us in other areas (health, relationships, hobbies, etc.).
2. Our work brings benefit to society.
Like I mentioned earlier, our work contributes to the good of society. It serves others, it enriches people’s lives, and it moves everyone forward. Whether we are bagging groceries, delivering mail, analyzing stocks, curing cancer, or managing other workers, we can view our work as an act of love to the people we serve.
3. Hard work is an example to our kids.
When we strive to do our best work each day, our kids take notice. And among the greatest lessons I hope to pass on to my children is the importance of working hard on things that matter.
4. The hours will pass anyway. It makes sense to try to make the most of them.
Each new day brings with it an important choice: either we fill it with our best or we allow it to slip away. There is no other option—the hours are going to pass anyway. Choosing to work hard makes the most of them. (Please note: I am not discounting the importance of rest or balance. I have written about both extensively.)
5. Work is fulfilling in and of itself.
In my opinion, there are few joys in life more satisfying than lying down at night with tired legs attached to a tired body. To know I gave my full energy to something important is an amazing feeling and fulfilling in itself.
6. Working hard keeps our lives occupied with important matters.
Living an unoccupied life is a recipe for disaster. Choosing to fill our time and energy with things that bring value to others helps keep us from selfish and foolish decisions with idle time.
There is value in hard work—both for ourselves and others.
How to Enjoy Work More
I have known countless people who are happy with their work. They find meaning, significance, and joy in it. Additionally, I have met many people who are unhappy with their work and choose to spend an additional percentage of their life complaining about it.
Changing our attitude toward work isn’t always easy, but it’s possible. And I would argue, important. As I’ve stated above, there is joy and fulfillment to be found in it.
Sometimes, learning to love work can come from a simple change in our thinking—rather than the much more drastic change in jobs, which doesn’t usually solve the problem anyway.
So let me end with a few thoughts on how to think differently about work and find more fulfillment in it:
1. Realize that you were designed to work.
Whether by creation or evolution, humans are designed to work. This is an important part of our nature. It explains our drive to grow as individuals and as a society. It explains the internal satisfaction we experience when completing a task. It makes sense of the positive emotions we experience when resting after a hard day of work.
2. Understand that work always takes place in an imperfect world.
Our world is imperfect because we exist in a universe full of people who often fall short. Though we each have an ingrained desire to accomplish good for the sake of others, in reality, we often function with selfish desires and intentions. These imperfections always lead to less-than-ideal working conditions.
As a result, work includes overbearing bosses, deadlines, stress, under-resourced projects, tasks we do not enjoy, and often anxiety.
The realization that these imperfections are always going to be present in our workplace allows us to accept them and move forward.
3. Notice how your work contributes to the common good.
If the goal of our work is to contribute good to society in exchange for provision, then our work ought to benefit society. We should spend 40 or more hours per week producing a benefit for others—notice how your specific work accomplishes that.
Whether you grow healthy food, produce quality clothing, intentionally parent children, create beautiful art, build strong shelter, develop new life-enhancing technology, do taxes, research medicine to prolong life, educate others, govern society honestly, or operate in any other of countless opportunities, you contribute to the common good of our neighbors and our society.
4. Do your work ethically.
Work done ethically and honestly with proper balance will always result in more enjoyment than the alternative. Your motivation for work is also a part of your ethic.
These same principles of life hold true to every aspect, including the 20% we spent working.
5. Stop trying to get rich.
While fair compensation is always appropriate, the pursuit of riches and wealth as an end goal is a losing battle. Riches will never fully satisfy. We will always be left searching for more.
People who view their work as a means to get rich often fall into temptation, harmful behavior, and foolish desires.
When we replace the desire to get rich with a more life-fulfilling desire to receive honest compensation, we open our hearts to find peace in our paychecks and greater value in our work.
The Value of Work
Please don’t view your work as something only to be endured or avoided. Rethink the value of it—whether you are 18 or 80.
Regain focus and motivation to use your passions and abilities to contribute good to a society in need of them. Utilize your strengths. Develop your talents. Study your craft. And encourage others.
Work hard. Enjoy it. And at the end of the day, we will all be better because of it.