Loverboy’s most famous song, and one of my favourites, is “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend.”
For years, I dreamed about, planned and basically lived all week for the weekend. Monday was spent pining for the fun I’d just had, Wednesday was hump day – downhill to the weekend! Friday was spent anticipating how much fun I was going to have in a few short hours. Work was a necessary evil to pay for weekends and holidays.
I didn’t realize that I was missing out.
We all know people who work hard to play hard. They only work to pay for the fifth wheel trailer and fancy truck and quads they take on vacation while they long to retire early so they can do whatever they want. Or we know people who work hard to buy hard: shoes, fancy SUV and European sports cars, a bigger house (with a man cave for the bar and home theatre), etc. Work is simply a means to a fancier end.
They’re missing out too.
If we only work for the future (e.g. , the big holiday or early retirement), we miss out on today. I believe that work is where we find much of our day-to-day worth in life because it is one place (like our family, volunteer organizations, or church) where we can make a real and significant difference.
Some philosophers believe that work is only a means to something else (the technical term is “instrumental good”). In this sense, we either work for money or to climb the social/hierarchical ladder. Working for a wage is essential in our society. Most of us have to get paid each month to put food on the table and a roof over our heads, and in this sense work is an instrumental good. However, if that’s all it is, we miss out on what other philosophers believe: work has intrinsic value. It is important in an of itself and it has innate power to shape us. In fact, it is an integral part of our life. My work at Trinity Western University (and in academia in general) shapes me, just as it shapes the students, parents, staff and faculty I serve. It’s not meaningless or simply just a pay cheque for the weekend. It is an intrinsic good. In this sense, work is a gift. I think this is what Confucius referred to when he said, ”Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
In Ecclesiastes chapter two, Solomon talks about his life experiment of trying to find pleasure. Reading it I get the sense that he was perhaps like our modern society: desperate to find pleasure in his equivalent of a vacation and stuff. Money and power were no objects for King Solomon and so he could pursue these pleasures to the Nth degree. But in the end he says they are just a vapor, a shadow (the King James Version used the term “vanity”) and ultimately meaningless. After searching all his life for pleasure and coming up only with a fistful* of cloud, he came around to finding pleasure in simple, daily life: there is nothing better than to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in work. “Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24).
What makes the good life? Aristotle believed that the pursuit of leisure – activities that are enjoyable for their own sake is what makes a good life, and I generally agree. While I like a lot of Aristotle’s philosophies, we differ on the point of work. I am with Solomon: work is a good gift, something that is enjoyable for its own sake and, let’s be honest, for the money.
On Labour Day (yes, in Canada, there’s a “u” in there), I hope you take some time to reflect on your work. I look forward to my work almost every day. Work has been good to me, and I don’t take that for granted. It is something I pursue. This is also why I believe that having enough jobs for people is so important. Finding the good in work is predicated on having work! Like Solomon, I hope you find satisfaction (perhaps the true gift) in your work.
* Thanks to editor Mark Allen for the clarity on whether to use “fistful”, “fist full”, or “fist-full”. You can follow him on Twitter @EditorMark and I highly recommend reviewing his website Mark Allen Editorial.