Chapter 4: Why We Work (W3)

Chapter 4: Why We Work (W3)

Life 101

A recently-aired National Public Radio interview of a well-known and accomplished jazz musician covered his entire life. He talked about his passionate feelings for music, even when he was a preteen. His hunger for knowledge and for the understanding of everything that went into all aspects of music were like a fire in him. It continues today, and he is in his 60s. He became accomplished in the many different kinds of music, from the classics to jazz, blues, be bop, etc. He was passionate about his “life’s work” from the beginning. Throughout his life, he used his love of music to make a living, a good living, although it was a struggle in the beginning.

How many of us earn our livelihood, “our life’s work,” doing that which we love most to do?

We spend about 75 percent of our adult years and about 50 percent of our awake hours during those years working for a livelihood. We will use the majority of the energy that we will expend in our lifetime. The point is, of course, that we had better like, love, have spirit about or even be passionate about what we choose to do for that livelihood, our life’s work, as the jazz musician obviously did.

Little is more important in our lives. It is the sixth priority of our lives, only behind the sanctity of the lives of our loved ones and our other human relationship values. It is not altogether clear to many that the choice is really ours as individuals. It is our choice as members of a free and democratic society. Preparation for that choice should be more seriously taught, beginning in our homes and very early in grade school, and again and again, imbedded in school curriculums. The knowledge and understanding of the great value of our life’s work, for the individual and for its part in human progress, is as important as any subject taught today. It is truly “Life 101” and a subject taught throughout life, if we are paying attention.

“Work does more than get us our living. It gets us our life.” --Henry Ford

A Common Riddle:

Count the F’s in the following sentences:


Done? Don’t go on reading until you got them all!

How many?

3, 4, or 6? Try again.

A count of three is normal, four and five are not very common, and six is rare but is the answer. Our paradigms virtually blind us to the word “of” as it is not seen as a word but just a connecting device.

Paradigm: An example that serves as a model or pattern for following efforts.

This classic definition of paradigm does not convey the deeper meaning that is implied in its common usage today. The pattern or example that may be referred to can be so compelling that we are virtually blinded to real and altogether practical alternatives. In some instances, we actually cannot see very obvious competing and practical alternatives to long held beliefs and “that’s the way things are done” rules. That blindness can and does seriously limit our horizons. It can be true for an individual, an enterprise, an entire industry, or even a country. The retrospective “what might have been,” improves our vision, but usually when it is too late.

The 50,000 laborers making nails in England were blinded by their own paradigms, while Jeremiah Wilkinson had 20/20 vision since he likely had no idea how nails were “supposed to be made.” In Eli Whitney’s day, the idea of interchangeable parts just didn’t register with most, as it was counterintuitive to their paradigms of the fitter or craftsman having to custom make such devices as firearms one at a time.

Our paradigms lead the career naval officer’s son to a naval career, the coal miner’s son to be a coal miner, and the farmer’s son will likely become a farmer. These examples are not problems and may be less likely today than in earlier times. A paradigm problem can exist for those who are or perceive themselves to be disadvantaged. Some in environments that are distressed virtually cannot see outside their paradigms. They may believe that their lot in life is cast to follow their parents, no matter how loving or how disjointed they might be, or the pattern or model of their present environment no matter how harsh. Many seem to accept their present circumstance as their fate. A perverse comfort in knowing what to expect regardless of the severity, as opposed to the unknowns of change, no matter how optimistic, is part of the paradigm effect. They may be blinded to their real opportunities.

On a larger scale, some non-democratic societies have paradigms, probably defended by their leaders, that limit their opportunities for better lives. They may not enjoy the personal liberty that Americans do or the freedom to satisfy “the reasons we work” limiting their vision of a better future for themselves and their families.

Our default internal software (paradigms) has been programmed to resist change. Avoiding the risk of any loss of present perceived comfort, thus blinding us to alternatives, is part of that resistance. An important characteristic of those who have exploited Yankee ingenuity and of successful individuals in general, is their ability to reprogram themselves. They enable their vision. They can see clearly the existence of alternatives and their possibilities in all that they do. They have awakened and exercised their imaginations.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein

Maybe we should find a different term for our “life’s work,” since work can imply unpleasantness, drudgery, or flat-out labor. During our childhood, some of us who observed our parents and relatives struggling to realize some measure of prosperity may have come to regard our life’s work only as labor. That expected unpleasantness was to be avoided whenever possible in favor of something that was fun to do. If life is to be truly meaningful, they must be one and the same.

Labor: Exertion, toil, drudgery - little or no connection in spirit to the outcome.

Work: To put forth physical and/or mental effort, to act effectively, - to accomplish the end desired, sometimes considered a work.


The difference may only be in the attitude, spirit, passion or paradigms of the individuals involved.

A Work: Something accomplished through the effort. A creation, things that matter.

“Why don’t TGIF (thank goodness it’s Friday) and TGIM (thank goodness it’s Monday) have equal importance?” The paradigms of many of us do not allow TGIM to even be comprehended, let alone be used in the same sentence as TGIF. It must be sacrilegious.

“According to Aristotle, ‘Every human seeks happiness.’ Morris said, “There are three fundamental views of happiness; Pleasure, personal peace, and participation in something that brings fulfillment.”[11 ]

A significant amount of space could be devoted to discussion about the certainty that there must be balance with quality family time. The top six priorities of life, human relationships, and our life’s work must complement each other and be woven together into the exquisite fabric that is our life.

[11 ]Tom Morris, “’Know thyself,’ philosopher tells Matrix audience”,(Midland Daily News, May 22, 1999).