The importance of work

What role does your job or career play in your life? Obviously it’s first and foremost (for most people) their main source of income. But how important is your career to your sense of self?
I would say that if you asked most middle and upper class teenagers in America what they envision for their future, the career they see themselves having would probably be one of the first things they talked about. And I think many professional Americans do see their career as one of the main things which define themselves. But why is that? Simply because we spend so much of our time there?
When professionals lose their job, they often go through a sense of deep depression, which is in part related to the loss of income, but also because they often lose a sense of who they are and what their purpose is. Retirees sometimes face this angst as well.
Is it healthy that our career is so central to who we are (if, indeed, it is?) Has it always been this way? I assume back when essentially everyone was a hunter-gatherer, people didn’t really consider this job to be essential to their self identity. But what if this “job” was taken away from early man? What if you gave a tribe of hunter-gatherers literally all the food/water/shelter they could need, and protected it all from theft? Would they be incredibly joyful for the rest of their days and enjoy their bounty? Or would they also languish after a period of idleness? What about people in developing countries? If you basically gave an Indian street-vendor a million bucks, would he still work?
And what about blue-collar Americans today? These are often individuals who don’t necessarily train for a long period for their jobs, and perhaps may switch more between fields than people in career tracks. How important is their job to their to sense of identity for this group of people?
Finally, what would you do if you won the lottery? Would you continue in your current job? Would you live a life of total leisure? I think many people would be bored with the latter, and often people with means seek out other venues (like philanthropy) in which to engage their time in order to feel useful. Is that need to do something “meaningful” with your time also a flavor of this need to have a career as part of your identity?

I would love to hear you thoughts. Please let me know if you want me to clarify/expand upon anything I talked about.

I have never let work define me as a man or as a person for the most part but their have been times in my life when I had nothing to fall back on to validate my self as a person and during those times work did serve to carry me through some tough spots. For reasons I could never explain I always resented people who tried to tie my identity to my profession.

   I used work as a test bench and sounding board to see how my ideas and thoughts would stack up against others. I like to think that work was no more than an extension of who I was and that I could easily apply that same extension in any number of other ways.

As a research mathematician with nearly 100 published papers, my work was supremely important. I can at least dream that some 22nd century mathematician might make some use of it.

That said, my family is also supremely important. My wife, three kids, and six grandchildren. At my age it’s all about my legacy.

I work to live, I do not live to work. Additionally, I do not define myself by anything that could be taken from me - job, health, wealth or even family. While it would be hard to lose any of them (an order of magnitude harder should I lose my family) and radically change WHAT I DO, it would not change WHO I AM.

That said, while I have to work to support my family, I will strive to do an excellent job, no matter what that job is.

From a practical POV it is obviously enormous, since as you say it is the driver of my economic engine. Not to mention a gigantic time sink.

From any other perspective it plays next to no role in my life. I don’t think about work outside work and I actively try to spend as little time there as I possibly can ( thankfully I get fairly generous and flexible vacation hours ). My family are a bit outside the norm - mostly well-educated but not “careerists.” Work you love is nice, but ultimately jobs ( in my family ) are just to support your life outside them.

Absolutely zero. I don’t dislike my job at all, I’m reasonably competent at it and I am a reasonably conscientious employee. But if I could I’d quit today and I have absolutely no ego invested in it at all. Nor do I think I will feel any pangs at all when I retire or want to seek some new second job somewhere.

I want to have nothing I need to go to everyday and no, I do not think work is its own reward ;). I’d be far more happy idly wasting my life away taking little day trips and the occasional longer vacations out of town, going out for lunch, reading, hanging out with friends, playing games, watching TV, perusing message boards and just generally loafing about. I’m a functional adult, but if I had my druthers I’d reduce that functionality to the bare minimum :p.

**What role does your job or career play in your life? **
Pretty central. I spend a lot of time with career development and education, as well as the actual job.

I also hope that my job can help bring healthcare coverage to everyone, as we disseminate more and more data that demonstrates that treating illness is much cheaper in the short and long term than our current system of uninsured/underinsured people having to ignore illnesses until they’re emergencies, then treating the emergency and fallout conditions.

**…I think many professional Americans do see their career as one of the main things which define themselves. But why is that? Simply because we spend so much of our time there? **
I think also because for a lot of professional jobs, we have to learn a lot of very job-specific stuff. Makes you feel like part of an in-group if you make a joke involving a term of art and others get it.

(I say this as ICD10 memes are flooding my workplace’s email.)

Also, for the higher-level professional jobs, such as physician/surgeon, attorney, or minister, there is felt to be a calling as well as the huge amounts of study needed to join those professions.
Is it healthy that our career is so central to who we are (if, indeed, it is?) **
Maybe. Maybe not. I think that depends on the individual. If you can’t “unplug” when it’s family or vacation time, that’s a problem. I have no such issues. :smiley:
**Finally, what would you do if you won the lottery? Would you continue in your current job? Would you live a life of total leisure? **
I would be able to do total leisure for a little while, but I’d need to get back to some kind of work, in part for meaning, but also for structure and interaction with others. I’m naturally an introvert, so I have to be slightly pushed to go out and interact with other human beings. Work is healthy for me. Also, I’ve worked my entire life; I can’t imagine not working at all.

I’d type more, but I have a meeting. :wink:

I would not say I live to work, but it is the most important thing in my life. I’m single, childless, and I invested a lot in my education. And I like what I do. So why wouldn’t I value my work? It was seriously bum me out if I lost my job, and I know my ego would take a hit too.

It helps that while I work hard, but I never feel like I have to sacrifice my leisure time for my job, and leisure time is important to me. Government work can suck sometimes, but at least I rarely have to pull in a long day unless I want to.

From what I can tell, everything in hunter-gatherer society pretty much revolved around their work of hunting and gathering. Largely because that’s where they derived pretty much everything they owned and being good at their “job” was critical for their survival.
Here in modern civilization, the main difference is that most of us are largely removed from the output of our labor.

I think the big difference was in the hg society was that at the end of the day they would sit likely around and share about their discoveries and accomplishments. The roll each played was important to the group. In most cases we lack that today.

It pays the bills.
I mean I like it (so far), and eventually I might actually have an influence on stuff and things, which I would feel very good about ; but at the same time if that check came without any involvement on my part whatsoever that would be just swell :).

Work is what you do to enable your *real *life.

I love what I do and it totally defines my life. I mean, if I had to quit for the sake of my family, I would, but not for anything else, and if I lost my job I am sure I’d fall into a terrible depression. I always wanted to be a teacher, its a pretty fundamental part of who I am, and I love the school I’m in. It feels like a calling. What does one do if a calling goes away?

I was lucky.
I got a well-paid job teaching chess, roleplaying and computer games. :cool:

I came to my current career in human resources after working in back-to-back workplaces with HR people so abyssmal it was shocking. One morning I woke up and thought I could do this so much better than they did and the more I said it to myself, the more sense it made until I found myself signing up for some coursework to do a career change.

It’s still a profession that attracts lot of sucky people, but I like to think I’m one of the lights at the end of the tunnel. As such, I’m on a bit of a crusade. And crusades generally take an extra level of devotion. I supply that in spades.

I’m a widow, my kids are grown and long gone, and after ten years of trying to find my way in the world of modern dating and eventually realizing I couldn’t and bagging it, I both want and need to eat, sleep and breathe my work. Had things turned out differently, this might not have become the case. But at present, I definitely live to work.

^ This.

One becomes a cubicle-dwelling corporate drone.

I guess I am getting old and grouchy - maybe been working for long enough - I used to feel a sense of purpose for the work I was doing when I was younger. That feeling has fled thru a series of unpleasant work experiences. That pretty much dashed my enthusiasm for work and career, and I now I consider careers over-rated. The job is important to me for the income, security, and stability if provides me and my family. I will always do my best for my work, but I easily leave it behind when I leave for the day.

But I don’t do that. I teach kids, many of whom think I am way, way smarter and funnier and more talented and with it than I am.

My work is a means to money, which, it seems, one must have to live.

I do not consider my work my identity, in that when meeting people, and being asked what I do, it is not something that others find meaningful, or even understandable.

My work does not provide a social environment for me, either.

However, again, having money is necessarily important to me, so tangentially my work is “important” to me.

My work is intellectually engaging, socially fulfilling, and important to my community. By the time I retire, I will have touched the lives of thousands of people in a positive way. It’s pretty important to my sense of self.

My job is merely a way to pay the bills. I loved being a student more than anything else, as it provided intellectual stimulation I just don’t get at my job. If money was not a factor, I would spend my time traveling and taking classes.

You spend at least 40 hours a week at work. I think it’s important to at least try to find some sense of identity and accomplishment in what you do. Saying “I work to make money” is bullshit. There are lots of jobs. They all pay money. If money was all you cared about, why not go be a stockbroker?

We have that today. It’s call “the bar”.

Have you ever tried being a stockbroker? Where I worked (for 3 days) only 1 out of every 10 stockbroker trainee hires made it to being a broker. You need someone to bankroll you - your pay as a trainee is about $300 week - you can’t live off that in NYC.

I work to make money; I say that and it isn’t bullshit. In a sense, however, you are right maybe. I like doing low class blue collar work to some extent. It’s low paying, people look down upon you, it’s bad for your joints - but their are things that have drawn me to it, ever sense I was a kid. I grew up fairly middle class; I didn’t really like it much though - none of it appealed to me.

I’m pretty sure some of the people I work with are there for the money; they have no other options. Then again, I’m not sure; it does seem to seep into everyone’s identity in one way or another - but it’s definitely different than being a professional. I mean, we all know on some level we are low class.