Can work be work if we didn’t suffer through it?

Dear Friend,
I recently started a sabbatical! This is my first break after working long and hard for decades. While I am in this journey through sabbatical, I am doing some reassessment and redesign of my life, and my world view, so that I can start new phase of life with clarity, energy and vigor.

One of the very first activity I am doing is contemplating important, yet unexamined concepts like work and play.

So, I have been asking myself these questions:

What is work? What makes work worthwhile? How does it relate to money? What is play Can work and play be the one and the same or they are inherently different in nature? If they are different, how so and why?

I quickly distilled out definition of work that resonated well with me. Which is as follows:

Work is making things better, improving quality of life for self and for others.

I liked this definition as it covers all kind of working contributions, regardless of whether it is paid for or not. But something was missing in this definition. I could feel it but couldn’t put my finger on it for quiet a while. I then realized that definition captures how I think about work but it doesn’t capture how I feel about work.

I mean, we can make a positive difference in quality of life by simple, joyful, and almost effortless acts. For example, having conversation with a friend, having picnic with family or as simple as smiling to a stranger. These are effortless and enjoyable acts, which also make a positive difference in the world. So by my rational definition of work, they should feel like work right? But they don’t. Word “work” does not resonate with joyful and fun activities.

Why? There is one critical ingredient for an activity to feel like work and that is – suffering!! Doing does not feel like work if there is not a dash of suffering in it. May we call it effort, hard work, endurance, it does have a flavor of suffering it in. It is putting up with undesirable circumstances or tasks that you use lot of will power to go through before you feel like you have “worked”. Once you have done that, then you can say to yourself “Oh, I have worked so hard, put up with so many obstacles. Endured through it all to the completion. I have now paid my dues and totally worthy of receiving the reward of this work”.

When we are having lot of fun while making a difference in the world, we tend to call it play, not work.

So when did the word “work” get such a negative feel to it? I believe it starts early in life. As a child we are full of play. Play is truly how children learn. Do you remember? Playing pretend games, building something with your hands, inventing new games, mimicking adults, experimenting in nature and playing with other kids. How much do we learn just by playing? 

But then we are sent to school to learn. We are required to follow the schedules, methods and rules which are set by the school and that is when the act of learning starts becoming work rather than play. I remember sitting in classroom being totally bored but was required to sit still and pay attention. That, is THE moment when I started working !

Of course, education is important and learning vast amount of knowledge our civilization has produced, needs to be accessible to every child so that we can be fully ready to live their lives when we reach adulthood. Learning is the work of the child.

However may it be the way we teach our kids in school or the way we reward them, following subconscious beliefs and associations are planted in the mind for word “work”. 

I believe I soaked up following ideas and beliefs over the school years about “work”:

1. To work, you need to endure hardship. The hardship could be physical, mental and or emotional.
2. Work is a serious business, you need to restrain yourself of your natural impulses of fun and play when you are working.
3. You are rewarded for for your endurance during work. The reward could be money, recognition, degree, freedom to play etc.
4. If you have not endured enough, you haven’t worked hard enough.
5. You deserve the reward only after you have worked hard.

Then there are totally different associations for word “play”:

1. You play for enjoyment and fun.
2. You can be your most natural self to get most out of your play.
3. The act of the play is the reward in itself. If your play produced some tangible outcomes, that’s a bonus.
4. As play does not necessarily produce results, it is a luxury, and recreational activity.
5. Don’t expect rewards after playing, instead expect to get back to work, you have had too much fun.

With these set of subconscious beliefs, the rhetoric that our mind learns to generate and repeat to us continuously, goes something like this

“You must work to make living. Work will be hard, boring, mundane but you need to endure through it if you want to earn the reward. You wont get or deserve the reward if you haven’t endured enough”

This is our inner dialog so deeply ingrained that we are no longer conscious of it. But it is there and it plays a huge part in our “gut feel” when we take decisions about what we choose to do.

It is this rhetoric that alienates us to our true passions. It blinds us so much that we can not even see opportunities which can let us play and make living. It is this rhetoric that keeps people stuck in the jobs they dislike for their lifetime.

This belief about enduring suffering before getting reward, runs so deep that it starts operating even in our relationships and spiritual quests.
“You have to make relationship work, you need to put some effort in it. Make some compromises..” Sounds familiar? Or “It takes years of sitting cross legged, meditating, dissolving your ego, before you can start feeling the joyous spirit you were born as!”. Sounds familiar?

We have so much embraced the idea that one needs to endure to get a reward that we have closed ourselves to possibilities of effortless results.
Joyful play is called “fooling around”. If someone is achieving results while being joyful and happy, people believe that he or she is either cheating or is incredibly lucky.

What if there are abundant possibilities of making difference in the world while you are enjoying and having fun? What if there are jobs and professions out there which are so much fun for you that they feel like play and you still make money? Have we even looked for them? Can we create such opportunities for ourselves? Or we don’t even look because we feel that is not possible?

Wise people say that what you believe deep down, is what manifests in your life. Our beliefs starts shaping our reality. If that is so, what if we can change beliefs related to work and replace them with more effective ones? What if our mind’s rhetoric is changed to something like this:

“Your most joyous and creative acts make life worthwhile for yourself and others. There is lot you can offer to this world through your creative playfulness. There are abundant opportunities for making living through play.”

Imagine! If that was our cultural subconscious belief, we would have been living in much more joyful and prosperous society today.

Why not try out these new sets of beliefs and see where they take us. 

Let’s work play to make difference in the world !

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