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What Is Work For?

What Is Work For?

Last week, I starting thinking about why so many people devote so much of their lives to work, and seem to get so little enjoyment or reward in return. It doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense. Surveys show that many people, perhaps a majority, feel dissatisfied with some major aspect of their working lives. It may be lack of satisfaction, too little free time, too little reward, or work that bores and frustrates them.

Life isn’t always (or often) fair and few people get all that they want, but to have so many people who feel dissatisfied with a major aspect of their life raises an important question. What is the problem? Why are so many people so unhappy? What is work for?

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There is an obvious and superficial answer to the last question: you work to make enough money to support yourself and any family you may have. But that doesn’t seem a good enough answer. If work had no more than this utilitarian purpose, no one would do a single hour of work past the point where they had enough money to sustain life. You could argue that what people see as “enough” varies hugely. Some are content with modest lives; others want the best of everything. But the general point would still hold good.

Well, yes. But that doesn’t explain why ultra-rich people go on working and amassing money far past the point where they are even able to spend it in their lifetime. Nor does it address the phenomenon I tried to think about in my posting Leisure Is the Meaning of Work. It seems for many people today work is no longer a means to an end (whatever that end may be). The reward for work success has become the requirement to work still more . . . and so on, for ever and ever. Amen. A means to a means to a means. Maybe that’s why so many are feeling frustrated and miserable: the end for which work is the means never comes into view. It’s just more work ahead, like in the old Buddhist tale about the guru who told his disciples that the world sits in space on the back of four elephants. The youngest and cheekiest disciple asked what the elephants stood on. “More elephants,” replied the guru. “And what do those elephants stand on?” asked the disciple, trying to show how clever he could be. “Look,” replied the exasperated guru. “It’s elephants all the way down. Get it?”

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One aspect of this endless cycle of work for work’s sake seems to be a loss of any great interest in seeking The Common Good. In the past, a willingness to work together for the common good was seen as the natural basis of democracy and the foundation of any society. Today, individualism is rampant, and each person seems to be out for him or herself, regardless of others’ needs. Despite much pious cant about “customer-centric organizations,” the reality is that the managers of an enterprise gain the lion’s share of the rewards. With “ownership” spread between huge financial institutions, many corporations no longer face any effective external control. So long as they make profits for these institutional shareholders, thereby meeting their self-interest, the executives in charge are free to do pretty much as they wish. Maybe it’s all tied up with the epidemic of short-term thinking; the “grab-and-go” style of corporate management. Whatever the reason, it’s making for some miserable working conditions.

Looking to the past brought me to Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who observed and commented on the fledgling American republic in the early 1800s. His argued that true freedom is compromised as soon as people are limited in all the small, daily decisions of life. That struck a chord for me. In The Freedom to Choose . . . and the Time to Do It, I suggested that unless people have the freedom to choose the small things in their lives, any larger freedoms have little meaning. You may have freedom to vote, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech, but if you aren’t free to take some time off occasionally, or decide how you want to balance work with the rest of your life, you will still feel like a slave. Petty tyrannies are rampant in most organizations, breeding mistrust and frustration. Tyranny—be it religious, political, economic, or military—always begins with oppression in the small, seemingly insignificant things of life, before growing to envelope everything else. We should slow down and stop this insidious growth, before it stifles our lives with poisonous tentacles.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his posts at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to business life.

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Last Updated on October 15, 2019

How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

Where do you want to be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, or even this time next year? These places are your goal destinations and although you might know that you don’t want to be standing still in the same place as you are now, it’s not always easy to identify what your real goals are.

Many people think that setting a goal destination is having a dream that is there in the far distant future but will never be attained. This proves to be a self-fulfilling prophesy because of two things:

Firstly, that the goal isn’t specifically defined enough in the first place; and secondly, it remains a remote dream waiting for action which is never taken.

Defining your goal destination is something that you need to take some time to think carefully about. The following steps on how to plan your life goals should get you started on a journey to your destination:

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1. Make a list of your goal destinations

Goal destinations are the things that are important to you. Another word for them would be ambitions, but ambitions sound like something which outside of your grasp, whereas goal destinations are certainly achievable if you are willing to put in the effort working towards them.

So what do you really want to do with your life? What are the main things that you would like to accomplish with your life? What is it that you would really regret not doing if you suddenly found you had a limited amount of time left on the earth?

Each of these things is a goal. Define each goal destination in one sentence.

If any of these goals is a stepping stone to another one of the goals, take it off this list as it isn’t a goal destination.

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2. Think about the time frame to have the goal accomplished

This is where the 5 year, 10 year, next year plan comes into it.

Some goals will have a “shelf life” because of age, health, finance, etc, whereas others will be up to you as to when you would like to achieve them by.

3. Write down your goals clearly

Write each goal destination at the top of a new piece of paper.

For each goal, write down what is it that you need and don’t have now that will allow you achieve that goal. This could be some kind of education, career change, finance, a new skill, etc. Any “stepping stone” goals you removed will fit into this exercise. If any of these smaller “goals” have sub-goals, go through the same process with these so that you have precise action points to work with.

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4. Write down what you need to do for each goal

Under each item listed, write down the things that you will need to do in order to complete each of the steps required to complete the goal. 

These items will become a check-list. They are a tangible way of checking how you are progressing towards reaching your goal destinations. A record of your success!

5. Write down your timeframe with specific and realistic dates

Using the time frames you created, on each goal destination sheet write down the year in which you will complete the goal by.

For any goal which has no fixed completion date, think about when you would like to have accomplished it by and use that as your destination date.

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Work within the time frames for each goal destination, make a note of realistic dates by which you will complete each of the small steps.

6. Schedule your to-dos

Now take an overview of all your goal destinations and make a schedule of what you need to do this week, this month, this year – in order to progress along the road towards your goal destinations.

Write these action points on a schedule so that you have definite dates on which to do things.

7. Review your progress

At the end of the year, review what you have done this year, mark things off the check-lists for each goal destination and write up the schedule with the action points you need for the next year.

Although it may take you several years to, for example, get the promotion you desire because you first need to get the MBA which means getting a job with more money to allow you to finance a part-time degree course, you will ultimately be successful in achieving your goal destination because you have planned out not only what you want, but how to get it, and have been pro-active towards achieving it.

Featured photo credit: Debby Hudson via unsplash.com

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