I quote Ron Livingston, in his iconic role as office cog-cum-construction-worker Peter Gibbons: “We don’t have a lot of time on this earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way! Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.” You know you’re in trouble when “Office Space” stops making you laugh and starts pissing you off. And, in his prestigious think tank job and despite the PhD in philosophy under his belt, Matthew Crawford, the author of a new book called “Shop Class as Soulcraft” was most definitely in trouble. So, after several months of doing suprisingly little thinking at said think tank, he left, and opened up a motorcycle repair shop. His book is about the satisfaction of an honest day’s work–and how our society places too little value on such work (witness the extinction of shop class). In a recent NPR interview, he said:
Anyone with halfway decent test scores is getting hustled into a certain track, where you work in an office.
He argues that we’ve created an “educational monoculture,” with “only one respectable course” (those words made me think of the creepy meat-grinder scene in Pink Floyd’s The Wall–check the video at the end of this post), and goes on to say:
It takes a real contrarian streak to live more deliberately and make these calls for yourself…
That reminded me of this comment from Tamara, in response to my post about The Uniform Project, and whether less choice leads to more creativity: “I think it really comes down to an individual’s ingenuity and courage to be themselves.” And it does take courage–and a bit of a contrarian streak–to be yourself. Assuming we can find that courage and tap it, Crawford describes the point of work, as he sees it:
The point is to find some work where you can make yourself useful to people in a straightforward way that engages your own judgment and thinking so that your actions feel like they’re genuinely your own.
Seems like a lot to ask for from a job–and yet it also seems so profoundly simple, there’s no way it can’t be true. Leave it to a philosopher. But really. Do you feel like you were steered away from your passions, your soulcraft, in pursuit of…. a job? And, again back to the choices thing, I wonder if, as overwhelmingly inclusive as the whole “you can be whatever you want!” mantra is, it’s all too easy to just get on the conveyer belt, and hope to make some decent… hamburger? Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot to be said for hamburger. Security. Benefits (dare to dream). But what about fulfillment? What about passion? Is it possible to have any pudding, if we don’t eat our meat?