Do you need to get a job?

There isn’t time in the day to question every little thing we do, or think, or say. But the difference between questioning nothing, and questioning just a little bit, is profound. Life-changing.


“Get a job, you fairy…”

I grew up with the sense that – whether I wanted to or not – in order to be a real person, one day I’d have to get a job. Sure, I could dream about being a famous musician, or maybe a writer, but unless I “got lucky,” and “made it,” I’d need a job.

I didn’t want a job. Getting a job seemed like something that would really eat into my playing guitar and reading books time. But as I looked around, I saw that almost everyone over a certain age had one. Most of them didn’t seem too taken with what they were doing, but they turned up every day anyway. Perhaps they knew something I didn’t…

Still, the more I thought about it, the more it all seemed like a dumb idea. Trade my time for money, at a rate not of my choosing? Do something I might not like – or be any good at – that might not pay well at first – if ever – and that might not provide any benefit to society, maybe even actively worsening it?

What confused me the most was that at school I was always being preached at that intelligence, creativity, contributing to society, these were the best things, the things to value above all else. And yet all I saw around me was people violating that – doing things they didn’t want to do, that didn’t make the world a better place, in exchange for just enough money not to starve. Oh, sure, there were people who liked their jobs, there were people who were making the world a better place, and there were people making a lot of money. But they were a distinct minority.

I wish I could say that I ran with this line of questioning, and never got a job, finding a way round the system, becoming an icon for free-thinkers everywhere… alas, the truth is much less heroic.

I’ve had good jobs, I’ve had shitty jobs, I’ve had no job for long stretches of time. I don’t have it all figured out.

But the one thing I am 100% certain about is that nobody needs a job.

Everything a job gives, you can get some other way

I don’t think most people ever question the logic of getting a job – it’s so baked into our culture that to question it feels like raping a sacred cow.

Jobs do serve several functions, and I explore three of the biggest ones below – making money, a sense of purpose, and contribution to society – but these things can be had other ways.

Both a deep-fried mars bar and a tuna steak with three-bean salad will fill your belly for a while, but only one of them will provide real nourishment and nutrition to your cells. Similarly, whilst a job might give you certain things, it’s generally a fairly weak and ineffectual way to go about getting them.

Making money

Everybody needs money. To buy food, drink, shelter, and everything that makes life groovier above and beyond the bare necessities. But are there not other ways to make money than with a job – ways that are completely legal and ethical?

Money is nothing more than a form of social exchange. Essentially, you make money when you provide a service to the world and get paid for it. The amount of money you make depends on how valuable society thinks your service is at the moment, and how much you of it you give.

A job is one way to do that, sure. But the only way? Not by a long shot. Nor is it even a remotely good way. In most jobs, you don’t have much, if any, control over how much money you make, you don’t get rewarded for doing a better job, you stop making money if you stop turning up to work every day, and if you put a foot wrong and piss off the wrong person, you might find your job (and your income) drying up pretty quickly.

There are literally millions of ways to make money – all you have to do is provide a service, find somebody who wants it, and charge them. A job is merely one way to do that, and if money is the only reason you’re staying in your job, sit with a pen and paper for a bit, and see if there isn’t some other way you might make some money.

A sense of purpose

Many people, sadly, die not long after they retire. I suppose it’s because they suddenly don’t feel needed any more. Either way, there is no denying that getting up in the morning and doing a day’s work gives you a sense of purpose. But who says that has to come from your job?

I’d say that unless you have a really wonderful job, you are playing with fire if you allow your sense of purpose to come solely from your job. You don’t control the world – what if you get let go, or fall ill for a while? You can’t afford to put all you purpose eggs in one job basket.

The more regular activities you can cultivate outside of work that give you a sense of purpose – raising your children, pouring yourself into your music or writing or painting, picking up the litter in your neighbourhood, belonging to a community or society of some kind – the less you will require from your job.

Contribution to society

This is a very interesting one, because you hear it a lot, usually as a soundbite on the news: “Get a job! Contribute to society!” It’s as though one equals the other.

On the surface, especially if you think back to when most people’s jobs involved growing food or working in factories making stuff, this checks out – your job is a way for you to actively give something to society.

Except it’s now 2019, and I would argue that unless you are working specifically for a company you know to be ethical in their practices, that your job is most likely taking from society, and contributing instead to your company’s bottom line, and to the bank accounts of the shareholders. Remember, publicly-traded companies operate out of an obligation to increase shareholder profits at any cost they can get away with. Whilst there might be some accidental, side-effect benefit to society, that is certainly not their priority, whatever their spin might suggest.

Now, you might instead work in the public sector, or for a genuinely ethical private company. Fantastic. In your job you are indeed contributing to society, making the world a better place. It’s just that… again, a job is just one way to do this.

Why not get involved in local politics, adopt a child, start your own company that is specifically trying to contribute to society?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Mahatma Ghandi

Jobs are not bad. They’re just misunderstood.

There are good jobs. And I am not saying you are stupid if you have a job. I have a job.

I’m just saying that we should think twice before we act as though “GETTING A JOB IS UNQUESTIONABLY THE RIGHT THING FOR EVERYONE TO DO.”

We should intead look at the many benefits that jobs do provide us, and instead of blindly assuming a job is the only route to those things, see if there aren’t other routes.

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