283: Reclaiming the Joy of Work

This is the Monday Medley, a newsletter that goes out, you guessed it, every Monday. I republish it here for sharing and referencing, but if you'd like to sign up you can do so right here:

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Happy Monday!

On Friday I published an in-depth post on OlympusDAO, one of the more impressive DeFi projects to launch this year that aims to create the reserve currency of DeFi.

And if you're interested in working together, we're hiring for a couple roles at Crypto Raiders!

On to the Medley...

Work and the Meaning of Life

Building on last week's theme of "working in seasons" I feel like we've lost some of the nuance around work, busy-ness, and productivity.

An idea I occasionally hear some form of is "you need to learn to slow down," or "you can't let yourself be defined by your work" or "if you removed your job, who would you be?"

It's often said and accepted as some sort of obvious tautology: work is bad, relaxing is good, and we should all meditate for 20 minutes a day to become at peace doing nothing productive for long periods of time.

I'm not sure I buy it. I think we've confused the term "work," and need to find a clearer way to reclaim it. Because the right kind of work is among the most meaningful things you can possibly spend time on.

When I think about "work," I think about making progress towards a meaningful goal. Raising a child is work. Practicing soccer is work. Growing a business is work. I'm not sure anyone would say you should try to spend less time raising your child or practicing your hobbies. So why do we say you shouldn't define yourself by your work or should spend less time working?

It's partially because many people's work is not making progress towards a meaningful goal. And in those cases, it is a shame to spend an unnecessary amount of time on your job at the expense of other more meaningful things.

One of my favorite essays on this topic is "Half-Assing it with Everything You've Got." As Nate says in the post:

"real world problems are not about producing the highest-quality products. In all walks of life, the goal is to hit a quality target with minimum effort."

Work essentially comes in two forms. Work that is not meaningful to you, and thus should be completed to the minimum acceptable threshold with the least energy possible. And work that is very meaningful to you, in which case you should pour your heart and soul into it. Though still with the caveat: "Even if you write for the love of writing, you eventually have to stop editing and call it finished."

Where an obsession with work becomes sad or undesirable is when you see someone who is clearly not intrinsically motivated by the work, but pulls insane hours to complete it at a high level for some strange reason. Usually, so they can get a promotion so they can do even more work they don't like, so they can get promoted to do more work they don't like... This is the kind of work we want to avoid.

Unfortunately the whole school system, and parental obsession with it, often conditions people with an unhealthy gold-star-chasing attitude towards work. Where it's good if you are slaving away at a job or class you hate, because one day it will qualify you to take on a new job or class you hate (but with higher pay and accolades!) This is where the "you need to learn to slow down" ethos comes from, and if this were all that work was, the ethos would be true.

But thinking of hard work as always driven by some unhealthy obsession with gold-star-chasing misses the beautiful side of work. Work that is driven by an intense, intrinsic desire to achieve some goal. If you're a parent who is driven by creating the best upbringing possible for your children, and that results in working all day on feeding, clothing, caring, educating, whatever they need, no one would say you have unhealthy workaholism. But put that kind of energy into a startup, and suddenly it's looked at quite differently.

My big goal for this year with my career sampling was to search for a good infinite game. Something I loved doing as an end in itself, and which was self-rewarding without having to be purely money or status driven.

"A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play."

We're all fortunate to live in a time where almost any passion can fund your lifestyle. And when we see someone obsessed with the infinite game they've managed to find themselves in, to the point where it's all they want to do in their free time, we shouldn't admonish them for being too "work-obsessed." We should be jealous of them. We should want to find that for ourselves. Because what more could we want out of life than to wake up every day excited to throw ourselves at the problems in front of us?

If your work isn't providing progress towards some meaningful goal, then by all means, half-ass it with everything you've got. Don't get trapped chasing the next  rung in a ladder to nowhere. Don't let your work define you.

But if you can find that incredibly meaningful work, the infinite game you can't stop playing, don't feel bad for playing it.


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