As I get older I have realized that a lot of my ways of working, my ways of motivating myself, are tied to the culture around me. Specifically these motivations are tied to the culture of my geography; the culture of America. In this case, when I speak of culture I am talking about the work ethic that “made America great” and the moral value tied to that work ethic.
A read a book that opened my eyes to how many of us have been manipulated by this intentional culture creation. Things like the protestant work ethic were latched on to by capitalists in order to tie morality to work. In the first half of the 20th century literal war-time propagandists were enlisted by the business world to conflate workers’ senses of self worth with their ability to achieve results in the workplace.
(I’m 90% sure the book was Do Nothing. I don’t know if I recommend it. Parts were “Woah?!” and parts were “Wha?”)
I have been trying to learn how to separate my daily motivations from this engrained morality code. It is very difficult to unlearn these things. Actually, applying the word “learn” to my efforts is a bit high-minded as I haven’t been doing any intentional, directed training. If I discover any tools or courses out there I would be happy to do some targeted re-education. For the time being I am focusing on being aware of the existence of these engrained motivations and practicing considering what other motivations I might draw on for the activities I wish to pursue.
This summer our oldest had a difficult decision to make relating to her final season of high school soccer. The soccer program had gotten strong enough in our city that not all senior athletes would be on the varsity team as in years past. She needed to decide if she was going to quit playing soccer or if she was going to continue on a junior varsity team. At first this seemed like a straightforward choice. Why waste your time at an activity that is ending soon; an activity where your progression is halted? While it wasn’t her highest priority activity, she gave countless hours to getting better at the sport. She had hit a wall of natural athletic talent as well as hours in her day that she was willing to push her training further. Perhaps it was time to move on.
Before making her final decision, we as parents offered her a different perspective. She had expressed a disappointment with the attitudes and teamwork within the soccer program. Instead of focusing her efforts in this final season on the athletic and competitive aspects of sport, what if she focused on modeling the behavior she wished she saw in the team? Perhaps she could use this opportunity to compliment younger players, focus on being a good teammate rather than a competitor against her teammates, and help build her team up into one that she would enjoy being a part of? If that sounded like a good use of time, perhaps continuing to play would make sense.
To her credit she took that ball and ran with it. We used some words to offer a new perspective, but she went out and did the thing. It was a great example to me and others on how you can willfully adjust your motivations through careful consideration. As with many things, I think this is harder to do the older we are. Or maybe I’m just making up excuses?
What is it that motivates you to do the things you do each day? A certain amount of work is required in this life to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. Perhaps that’s where the moral purpose of work should end? I talk a big game above, but I’m not sure what the best thing is for each of us as individuals or for the society as a whole. It does seem useful from time to time to think deeply through how we relate to work. Thinking about work from a vastly different perspective is a valuable way to disrupt your default tendencies. Give it a shot!