Many of us spend our work weeks thinking about the weekend. And spend our weekends dreading Mondays. And if that’s your experience, then you have likely had the thought that you simply don’t want to work at all.
In this article, I unpack possible reasons why you may feel like you don’t want to work at all and make the argument that you likely do want to work in some capacity. It’s just about finding the right context to enable you to contribute in a way that’s right for you.
Let’s dive in.
- 1 What is Work?
- 2 Is It Normal Not to Want to Work?
- 3 Why Do I Not Want To Work?
- 4 Other Common Reasons People Don’t Want to Work
- 5 Why You Actually Do Want to Work
- 6 How Do I Find My Best Fit Work?
- 7 A Word on Money and Work
- 8 Conclusion
What is Work?
The place I’d like to start is defining what work is. And I believe that it’s broader than the way most people think of it, which is a traditional 9 – 5 job.
My favorite definition is from author and philosopher Dallas Willard, who defined work as the following:
The expending of energy to produce good
Others define work simply as the way in which you add value, or how you contribute, to the world.
Regardless of your specific preferred definition, my point is that your work is your way of producing good and adding value. And that could take many forms.
Here are some example:
- A parent
- A writer
- A landscaper
- A software engineer
- A roofer
- An online creator
- An entrepreneur
Notice that each of those roles manifest themselves in different contexts, but each of them involve some level of contribution.
If you don’t want to work, then it may simply be that you haven’t found the right context to make your contribution and/or that you’re thinking about what work is too narrowly (most commonly, simply a traditional 9-5 job).
Is It Normal Not to Want to Work?
Yes, it is normal not to want to work. In fact a 2014 study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor stated that 85.9 millions adults, or 93.3% of all adults not in the labor force, didn’t want a job.
Additionally, a record 47.4 million people voluntarily quit their jobs during the Great Resignation in 2021, showing that millions of people were not satisfied with their current work situation.
Again, that looks at work through the context of a traditional job. But what we’re seeing is that many people are rejecting the restraints of a traditional job and work structure in favor of something that better fits their overall life and the contribution that they want to make.
Why Do I Not Want To Work?
So why is work not working for so many of us? I would argue that it’s because many of us have not found the right work context for us.
The book What Color is Your Parachute offers a great lens through which to evaluate your work context.
Basically, the book argues that there are seven different aspects to a job, which make up the “anatomy of a job” and that all of them impact the likelihood that you would enjoy your work. The book calls those aspects of the job the seven pedals of a flower and encourages you to evaluate them as a part of what they call the flower exercise.
I recommend that you evaluate your current work context through the flower exercise to understand why you may not want to work.
Here is a list of the seven pedals of the flower and how they may contribute to you feeling like you don’t want to work:
- Pedal #1: Compatibility With People
If you don’t like your boss or the people that you work with, you’re not going to enjoy your work and won’t have a desire to keep doing it.
- Pedal #2: Workplace Conditions
If you find a traditional 8 hour day schedule to be too much, and you feel like you can’t live the life that you’d like, then you may feel like you simply don’t want to work at all.
- Pedal #3: Skills
If you’re not using your best skills, then you may not feel like you’re truly able to excel and achieve mastery in your work. It may feel too hard and you may come to feel like you suck at your job.
- Pedal #4: Purpose
A common thing that people struggle with is a lack of feeling of purpose or meaning in their work. If your work doesn’t have some type of significance to you, then you may find yourself wondering what’s the point.
- Pedal #5: Knowledges
If you’re not working in a field that you’re interested or knowledgeable about, your work may feel boring and you may feel like work is not for you more generally.
- Pedal #6: Money
Are you making enough money to live the type of life that you want for yourself? Or are you finding that you’re struggling to make ends meet and can’t do the things that you’d like to do in life?
- Pedal #7: Location
An abnormally long commute can make it feel like you have excessive dead time in your day where you can’t contribute in a way that you’d like.
Other Common Reasons People Don’t Want to Work
Outside of the wrong work context that I discussed above, here are some other common reasons that people say they don’t want want to work:
I Don’t Want a Job I Want a Life
Traditionally, many Americans have built their lives around their work. Their schedule and routines are built around their work rhythms and everything is organized around their work commitments.
Increasingly, people are rejecting the “live to work” approach and looking for more freedom and flexibility in their lives. That is leading some folks to say that they don’t want to work at all. However, the gig and creator economy is increasingly giving people more freedom to work on their own terms, which means that work does not need to be rejected completely.
I Don’t Want to Work for Anyone
Lots of us have had experience with toxic bosses. And, unfortunately, the stress that a bad boss can cascade into other areas of your life and make you feel like you simply don’t want to work.
However, it’s important to remember that many bosses are good willed people that do in fact care about their employees and want the best for their employees. It’s about being selective and intentionally in finding a boss and colleagues that fit well with what you want.
I Don’t Want to Work a 9-5
Many people find traditional working hours to be limiting and that it prevents them from having the freedom that they want in their lives.
While a 9-5 schedule is the most common working schedule, it’s important to know that as we move to a remote environment, there are increasingly flexible work schedules to fit the life that you want to build and live.
Why You Actually Do Want to Work
So we unpacked some of the common reasons why you may not want to work. And I’ve argued that it’s likely because you’ve been working in the wrong context.
I believe that we as people are wired to want to work in some way. And by work, I don’t mean have a traditional job, I mean striving to produce good in some capacity.
Here are a few key reasons why I believe that to be the case:
Work Has Been Important to Our Survival Since Our Earliest Days
Work has been critical to our survival since our earliest days, including when we operated in hunter-gatherer societies. Within those societies, there were clearly defined roles and responsibilities within a group, from hunting for meat, to gathering berries, to taking care of children.
Individual contribution to the group was essential for survival and a desire for contribution is a trait that has been evolved and optimized within us as humans over time. If early groups didn’t work, they didn’t survive.
We Need Something to Strive For
Dr. Jordan Peterson, the controversial professor from the University of Toronto, found that many of his students had never been asked to contemplate the question “What do you hope to achieve in your life and what kind of person do you want to be?”
So, he asked his students to sit down and write about their ideal future (you can follow the format in his Future Authoring program). The outcome was that his students ultimately found themselves feeling like they had more direction in life, were less anxious about the future, and ultimately had better outcomes.
The point of that story is that we as people need something to strive for. We need a sense of direction and a sense of control over our lives, and finding the good to which we want to give our energy (our work) is often the best way to achieve eudaimonic wellbeing which, coupled with hedonic pleasures, help make drive a feeling of happiness.
Work Is An Important Part of Our Wellbeing
Whether we like it or not, our work plays a role in our feeling of wellbeing, which could be loosely described as the way we feel about ourselves and our lives.
Better Health Channel lists a variety of factors that influence wellbeing, with an enjoyable and fulfilling career being third on the list. That is consistent with the findings of a variety of other studies, which indicate that the right work is important to how we feel about ourselves.
Additionally, if we don’t have a means of producing positive work in some capacity, it can often lead to unhappiness and negative emotions, as mentioned here and here.
The point being, work is an extremely important aspect of our overall wellbeing.
How Do I Find My Best Fit Work?
After you’ve assessed possible reasons that you may not want to work, the next step is to figure out what to do about it. My best advice — find or create a work environment that works for you.
The first thing you need to do is to figure out what you want to do with your life. That means that you need to break out of the cycle of what you’ve been doing to this point, and potentially what society expects of you, and think deeply around the type of life that you want to live. And you’ll want to start by looking at your life from the 30,000 foot view.
As the article that I linked to discussed, that involves:
- Establishing a vision for your life by:
- Identifying your personal values
- Translating those values into a personal mission statement
- Finding work that works within that vision
- Using that the Ikigai exercise discussed within the article to help find your best fit work and/or
- Complete the Flower Exercise in What Color is Your Parachute
Once you’ve gone through that process, you will then have thought deeply about the type of life that you want to live and the context that work (the expanding of energy to produce good) fits into that.
Based upon that, you can find a work context that works for you. You can take your completed exercises and go use job boards to find work that leverages your best skills, in a field that you would enjoy, and serving people that you can enjoy.
If a job doesn’t exist that fits the type of life that you want to live, you can create it by starting a side hustle and working towards building your full-time ideal work environment. In the digital age we live in, it is more possible than ever to easily and affordably build something on your own, whether it is a digital property, or even a services business that you want to run that is promoted online.
A Word on Money and Work
A key aspect for work that has to be considered is the financial aspect. Now, I believe that too many people focus exclusively on finances of work, and do so in an unhealthy way. By that I mean, they measure their success by their finances, or focus on growing their wealth at the expense of the other aspects of a healthy wellbeing, like relationships, personal health, etc.
That said, if you have outstanding financial obligations like a mortgage or student loans, or you have a family to provide for, you do have a responsibility to meet those obligations. And while you ultimately should be working towards finding a work context that works for you, it may take a while to meet your financial requirements.
So here is some advice for how to approach that:
Meet Your Financial Obligations First
Before potentially leaving a 9-5 or going down a non traditional work path, you need to meet your financial obligations first. That means that you’ll need to understand your expenses and make enough income to cover those. The best way to do that is via a zero-based budget, which Dave Ramsey talks about here.
Once you understand your financial picture, where your money is going, and the income you need to cover it, you can start to plan for how you’ll approach making a move towards your best fit work.
Find Meaning in What You’re Doing Now
If you find that your finances are in such a position that you can’t immediately do your best fit work, then, you’ll need to get your financial picture in order way before you make the leap.
You may not like what you’re doing now, but as you’re working towards your goals, the best thing you can do is try to find meaning in your current work.
A simple way to help is to start thinking of your current work as funding the future that you want to build, and focus on being absolutely excellent at what you’re doing until you can make the move.
Find Meaning on the Side
Another way to feel better about your work as you’re working to get your financial situation in a place you need it to be is to find meaning on the side. So if your current work doesn’t feel like your best fit work, find a way to expand energy towards good on the side and use that to generate income that can help expedite getting your finances to a place where you can focus on your best fit work full time.
If you feel like you simply don’t want to work, then it’s likely that you haven’t found the right work context for you. I believe that it’s wired in all of us to work, and it’s a matter of finding our best fit work (means of producing good) to enable us to contribute to our fullest potential and experience wellbeing.
There are more ways than ever to find the best way for you to produce that good, and with some work and reflection, you can make it happen.