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. But you feel stuck. You feel like the only thing you can do is continue to work in your chosen field and in your traditional 9 – 5 job because that’s just what people do…and you have bills to pay after all.
In this article, I’d like to walk you through why I think you probably actually do want to work. But that how you’re thinking about what work is may be too limiting. And how finding the right work context, may be the key to finding your best way to contribute. Let’s dive in.
- 1 What is Work
- 2 We Are Wired to Work
- 3 Why Is Work Not Working For You?
- 4 What To Do About It?
- 5 A Word on Finances
- 6 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 simply as the way in which you add value, or how you contribute, to the world.
Author and Pastor John Mark Comer I think summarizes work in the form of a vocation well in this short clip.
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’s likely that you haven’t found the right context for your contribution.
We Are Wired to Work
I believe that we as people are wired to work, and by that I mean produce good. And that if we don’t have a means of doing so, it can often lead to unhappiness and negative emotions, as mentioned here and here.
A few arguments as to why:
The Importance of Work Was Written About in The Earliest Religious Documents
Whether or not you’re a Christian, the Bible serves as a fascinating collection of human thought and wisdom. And one of the very first reasons given in the original creation story in Genesis is this:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
So one of the first purposes of humans, according to one of the earliest and most prominent wisdom literature of all time, is to work in a garden and take care of it.
That would indicate that work has long played an important role in our lives if you ask me.
Work Has Been Important to Our Survival Since Our Earliest Days
Outside of the importance of work communicated in the earliest religious documents, work was also crucial to the survival of the earliest human 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, a professor at 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 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.
If you look at Better Health Channel’s list, and variety of other studies, you can generally bucket the elements that contribute a person’s wellbeing into the following groups:
- Good relationships
- Good health
- Meaningful work
- Enough money to meet your needs
In my view, work is an incredibly important part of that mix because the wrong work, or the wrong view towards work, can have a cascading impact on the other aspects of wellbeing.
If you’re a careerist, you may not have time to dedicate to fostering good relationships. If you’re stressed with work all of the time, that may impact your health. And if you haven’t found work that you can be paid for, then you’ll always be stressed about meeting your needs.
So work is simply an extremely important aspect of our overall wellbeing.
Why Is Work Not Working For You?
So if we as people are wired to work, then why is work not working for so many of us? Why are there many out there that have given up and just settled on the decision that they don’t want to work at all (which is what brought you to this article in the first place)? I would argue it’s because you are not currently working, or have not worked up to this point, in the right context for you.
There are a variety of reasons why that could be the case, but I’ll unpack what I believe to be the top five. The list below is largely influenced by the idea of Ikigai, which I discuss in the don’t know what to do you with your life post, and the pedal exercise in the What Color is Your Parachute book.
You’re Not Using Your Best Skills at Work
If you’re doing work that is not using your best skills, there’s a good chance that you’re not working in the right context.
In his book Drive, author Daniel Pink discussed that an important aspect of the intrinsic motivation that we have as humans is that we want to work towards mastery in a particular field. In order to achieve mastery, we need to have some skill in that area in the first place. And we need to feel as if the work is challenging, but not so challenging that we don’t have a chance to achieve it.
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’re never be successful at it.
So finding work that leverages your best skills is an important element to feeling like you’re doing the most good that you can in your work.
You’re Not Doing Work You Enjoy
This one is pretty simple, if you don’t enjoy the work itself, you’re likely not working in the right context. Now, I recognize you have to generate an income in some capacity, and in order to do that, the market has to be willing to pay for the work that you do. However, what the market is willing to pay for may not align with what you enjoy doing most.
That said, you have to have some baseline level of enjoyment for what you’re doing. If your favorite type of work is working with your hands, and you’re stuck at a computer working on spreadsheets all day, there goes a chance that at some point you’re going to throw up your hands and say “this work thing isn’t for me!”
You Don’t Feel Any Sense of Meaning in Your Work
Lacking a feeling of meaning or purpose in work is one of the most common frustrations around work for my generation (millennials).
I have a variety of friends who feel like a cog in the wheel and that are frustrated that they’re in a corporate work environment to make money for themselves when they don’t feel like they’re doing any real tangible good.
Going back to Daniel Pink, an important part of our internal drive is a feeling of purpose, so feeling like your work is meaningful is an important part of working in the right context.
One note here is that even if you are working for a big company, doesn’t mean you’re not doing meaningful work. For example, if you’re a manager, you have a direct impact on other people’s lives. So being a good manager, does a lot of good for the people you work with.
That said, if the good you want to do is creating beauty in the form of art, sitting in front of a spreadsheet is probably not going to make you feel like you’re doing the type of good that you would like in your work.
You’re In a Bad Work Environment
If you have a boss who is arrogant, a micro-manager, or just a plain jerk then of course you’re going to feel like you don’t want to work…especially in that environment. That feeling will be similar to if you work on a team with colleagues that are like that. Or if your CEO sets a negative culture.
The thing to keep in mind here is that just because you work in a bad work environment, or have been in bad work environments in the past, it does not mean that context applies to work in general or to all jobs.
You’re Not Making Enough Money
If you’re not making enough money in your work, you may wonder what’s the point? If you’re not making money to fund the lifestyle that you’d like to live, then at a certain point you may just say, why am I working in the first place, and try to see if you can get by in living with family, government support, or other means.
A couple of points here:
- You can find a context that will make you more money
- Bear in mind that money has a diminishing contribution to your happiness after a certain point. In 2010, that figure was $75,000 per year. Beyond that, income didn’t seem to have an impact on emotional well-being (as of the time of this writing, that would be roughly the same as $91,000 in 2021 dollars). If you’re making around of money, then more salary may not change how you’re feeling about work.
What To Do About It?
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:
- Finding work that works within that vision
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 Finances
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 financial obligations to a place where you can move to a job or create work that is going to be aligned with the good you want to do.
If you feel like you simply don’t want to work, then it’s likely that you haven’t found your own best fit work. 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.