We all have a different relationship to work. This relationship evolves all along our life and is shaped by many different things: ethics, habits, social norms, family history… After my stay in Costa Rica, I completely changed my lifestyle and my work style. Today I try to build my career around a lifestyle I have chosen. Whereas before, my lifestyle was dictated by the job I had. In an ideal world, I wish we can all design our own job around a lifestyle that benefits both us and the environment.
Work, but how ?
My daily activities as a volunteer (in projects or farms) made me reflect very differently about the idea of working and having a job. Instead of trying to find which job I wanted to do, I focused on HOW I wanted to work.
Try this « how instead of what » exercise, and see which criteria you end up with ! Here are mine :
-Work together : This doesn’t mean that I don’t like to work alone, on the contrary! But I don’t want to work in climate of competition or depreciation anymore. I want my work force to be at the service of a collective impulse and a good energy where everyone can feel safe and valued.
-Work slowly : Or at least at your pace… I had never thought about the idea of working slowly because I tend to be a pretty speed person. This new horizon opened in me the very first day I worked as volunteer at the Butterfly Conservatory. My boss just asked me to rake the leaves from the path. It seemed important that he specified that I do it « despaciooo. » This stayed with me and resonated. Work s.l.o.w.l.y? Why not! I could never work fast enough in my previous jobs anyway, so that seemed like a wise idea 🙂 And I discovered that working slowly doesn’t mean working less or less efficiently, it just means working calmly.
-Work outside : This is a very important criteria for me! It means that I cannot have a job that is about staying inside all day. Everyday I need to spend parts of the day outside, to be active in contact with the natural elements, to feel alive and balanced. I noticed that I’m more productive on the computer after those times. Spending entire days indoors made me feel like almost suffocating. This feeling varies among people, but we all need to air out a few times a day to stay sane.
-Work to be generous : The idea is to work to give, this is different than counting its work. When you « worktrade », you exchange hours of your work against rent in a community for example. It’s a system based on trust and goodwill. You can dedicate your time and efforts to the conduct of personal or collective project. This type of work is not about accumulating things or money for oneself, it’s about growing a better life for yourself and the people around. My worktrade is to take care of the garden and the animals. In return, they provide me with abudance of veggies, fruits, plants and food. I can give for free, feed people, share the harvest with my neighbors, and even trade what I have for what I don’t have.
« Growing your own food is like printing your own money. » – Ron Finley (you have to watch this Ted Talk, this guy is my hero!)
-Work with, and for, the living world : I want my work to be a way to take care of everything that’s alive : plants, animals, soil, humans, microbes, fungi … Working with this goal is literally « vital ». I want to aim my actions towards being aware of what’s already there, growing and protecting in all kind of ways. The idea is to produce without destroying : regenerate, amplify and care for the living. Whether it is butterflies towards flowers, or cycles of organic matter. Because we just cannot imagine working on a planet where we cannot even live.
Knowing how one wants to work boils down to knowing how one wants to live : with oneself and with the others. The future of all living organisms is greatly linked to the way we are going to decide to work and live. That’s why we need to organize our work around a lighter, slower and more sustainable way of life. A life that generates less negative impacts and more positive connections. We need to invent a way to live « better with less ».
Work less, live better
For many of us, personal and cultural mindsets make this hard to imagine. Here are some blocking points I have identified. Overcoming them seems crucial to think differently about the importance of work in our lives.
-Our family projections : All parents project dreams upon their kids, and wish certain things for their children’s path and career. Most of us don’t want to disappoint those dreams, or scare our parents by giving the impression that we are lost, or worse, that we don’t want to do anything. This projection works on both side though: we also project ourselves into a family destiny, either in opposition or in mirror. We define ourselves in relationship with others, and we are often unaware of the influences that shape us (the ones that help us and the ones that limitate us).
-Our collective idea of a career : Our occidental capitalistic society, shares a vision of what « succeeding in life » means. It usually means climbing up the scale, earn more money, endors more responsabilities. In the US, the cost of studying is a huge load on the families and the young adults, who need to contract mortgages to invest in their education. In this sense, working to earn money is a prerequisite to be able to reimburse their debt. And if their parents paid for that, it’s even more likely that they’d want to see « results » as in an investment (which brings us back to the previous point).
« Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor » – Mark Twain
-An endless desire designed by consumer society : What the philosopher Guy Debord was stating in the 1960’s when he wrote La Société du Spectacle is that our current economic system is based on consuming a maximum of goods that are sold to us by story-telling and advertising. The desire MUST be endless to fuel the infinite production of things we buy. We realize today that accumulating material things is a threat for our planet and its resources. We know that we already have all we need, bit we still want more. Social media feed on those irrational desires and the sense of self to trigger our lacks and needs.
« Poverty, measured at the end of nature, is great wealth; wealth without limit is great poverty. » – Epicure
-Valuing the effort : For the German economist Max Weber, capitalism evolved when the Protestant ethic influenced large numbers of people to engage in work in the secular world, developing their own enterprises and engaging in trade and the accumulation of wealth for investment. This Spirit of Capitalism has made work an absolute end in itself, a « calling ». We also assume that pushing ourselves is good, that force can impose its laws. Eastern philosophy, however, offers a very different view of things. The concept of « Wu Wei » in Taoism: which means « non-doing » or « doing nothing » . The idea of « effortless action » means that you can work smarter not harder when you let things happen.
-Relationship between money, time and needs : As a volunteer, you trade time against material goods. Food and rent, which are often the higher expenses each month, can be covered by a work-trade deal. It is then possible to live with (almost) no money, but way more time. The time we have is what we are rich of, our currency for trade. Having less money but more time brings a way better lifestyle! Usually, people have either a lot of time and little money or the opposite. What I discovered is that with less money but more time we actually need less money to satisfy our needs.
-Material comfort and quality of life : This time « regained » gives us the opportunity to question our priorities and needs. One of our society’s paradox is we have more and more objects, but less and less time. It seems like we are unable to recognize our own limits, as if extending comfort infinitely will make it grow exponentially. And we have never lived with that level of material comfort yet. But the quality of life promised by this dream of comfort has also generated an incredible amount of stress, pollution, social isolation, illnesses and digital harassment…
We need to very soon realize that decreasing our lifestyles is actually going to increase our quality of life and our well-being!
- My article « Work differently 1/3 »
- My article « Work differently 3/3 »
- TED Talk by Ron Finley : Guerillero gardener in Los Angeles
- Utopian novel by Ernest Callenbach, « Ecotopia »
- Book by Razmig Keucheyan, « Les besoins artificiels » – Avis Critique
- A video from environmental activist Rob Greene about his relationship with money
- TED Talk by Benjamin Lesage : « Et si nous vivions sans argent? »
- My article: « Pura Vida »