The Importance of Work

I came into the office real early one day a few weeks ago because I decided to catch a pre-sunrise carpool ride to work with a bunch of crazy mid-twenty workaholics. Once I settled in at my desk, I noticed that one of the coop students was already at the office. I’ve been a coop, and I’ve known different coops. But I’ve never seen a coop at the office before 8am on a Friday. This was a mystery I had to get to the bottom of.

I ask the girl what she was doing in so early?

“I asked for extra work.” The coop responded.

And I could only think to myself, “Why?”

This person isn’t even out of school yet and already getting into the habit of working extra long work days.

On the scale of coop jobs, a *good* coop job might consist of learning some new skills, meeting and forming relationships with people, coming away with something you can put on your resume, and maybe even a good perception of the company and a desire to work there again.

I never had or heard of a coop job like that though.

If I look I can find plenty enough reasons not to volunteer to put in more hours at the office: the culture of the 9 to 5, organizations’ vertical power structures, and how the eight hour workday suppresses creative and productive work, the idea of knowledge work.

Certainly when I’ve read about how to do fulfilling work or be satifsied with your work/life balance, “doing more work” has never showed up.

“No is easier to do. Yes is easier to say.” – Jason Fried

Doing more low-level tasks than others is only really good for giving people the impression that you are a “hard worker” or “committed to the job”. They may get you a job eventually, but neither will motivate you. Neither will make you feel good about the work, or about staying with the company.

Once you’ve proven to someone that you are committed to the work, what good is it if by doing so you become unmotivated?

I think the only thing that happens when you start taking on excessive work, especially low-stake work, is that you start getting known as someone who’s great, at doing low level work.

The eight hour workday is broken. And you don’t beat it by working more hours than the other guy.

I was hesitant about writing out this blog post initially. “Malcolm you just can’t accept it because you are fucking lazy.” But then Khoi blogged about the lessons he learned in his early years as a designer and just puts it much better than I,

“Looking back on all of those overtime nights and weekends from my first decade as a designer, I would say that at least a third of that time was unnecessary. For me there was a romantic allure to the idea of toiling away on the work that you so desperately want a chance to prove yourself worthy of. I wanted to be at the office more than I truly needed to be there. This romantic ideal can be consuming; when you’re trying to make a name for yourself, it can dominate a disproportionate amount of your worldview. In my twenties, I clearly overdid it by creating the expectation among my peers and superiors — and within myself — that I would stay at the office as long as it took to create the impression of enormous sacrifice for my ‘art.’

Meanwhile, I missed out on so much. I had no meaningful equity stake in most of those employment situations, so all that overtime was true foolishness, was tantamount to throwing money down a well. More importantly, I was oblivious to a lot of what was going on around me — friends, family, relationships. Working late nights and weekends made me an unpleasant person. I spent years like that, and in retrospect it held me back more than it propelled me forward. That is, whatever success I have today, I feel like I have it in spite of the unhealthily skewed perspective on the importance of work that I held so tightly. I’d have gotten much further — not just personally but professionally — if I’d taken a bit more time out of the office.” – Khoi Vinh

Students, Don’t Do As I Have Done: http://www.subtraction.com/2010/11/16/students-dont-do-as-i-have-done

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2 Comments

  1. I was just working on a blog post on how the 9-5 work day seems to be dead…great read and awesome reference to Khoi.

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