Jan 9, 2014

Live to Work or Work to Live? (Or, It's All About Labels)

A few years ago my co-writer moved to France and after about, oh, maybe a year there, I asked her what the biggest difference was between France and America and she said it was how they lived and viewed life and pleasure versus work - they worked to live, whereas Americans lived to work. Well, that got me thinking...

At the time I had been struggling with this concept of "work." I was writing and designing but I wasn't "working" and as a result I felt devalued. Like the only measure of my worth was my title and my salary, yet I knew so many people who made truly decent money but were living quietly sad and desperate lives. Now, in retrospect, I can look back and realize that, in general, I am far happier (despite miscellaneous personal losses) now that I am no longer traditionally employed nor looking for a "regular job" than I ever was while gainfully employed.

Yet, in school, all I was ever really taught was how to get a job, or the necessary skills to obtain a job, never how to invent my own job or, more importantly, how to be happy in life. No teacher or course curriculum taught me how to accept loss, live with determination, take the time to just stop and appreciate it all, or not only to chase my dreams, but also manifest them into reality. No one. I learned all that the long, hard way. I learned to grin and bear every bit of unsolicited advice from every well meaning acquaintance. I listened to how there must be some job out there to which I was uniquely suited. But why? Why must we all fit inside boxes to be labeled, piled on a shelf, and forgotten? Why must we each work so hard to make money and never live or achieve real happiness or contentment? (Unless of course you think happiness is a myth and I know of some who do finding it all very overrated and to those I simply say that when I speak or write of happiness I purely mean just being happy enough to want to get up out of bed every day and do whatever it is you do, I don't mean constantly bouncing off the walls like a lunatic on crazy pills. For example, I'm mostly happy. Yes, some days I might break down in tears because my hormones have me in their evil grip or I think of something I'd like to say to a friend who is no longer here, or I might even just be in a generally mopey mood one day or bitchy the next, but I'm still happier now doing what I do than I was in the past when I was spending my days unsuccessfully job hunting or laboring away in an office. *shudder*) I think of all the days of their lives people work jobs they hate, living only for the weekend and vacations when they can (maybe) finally be their true selves building train sets or going for long drives or planting flowers or whatever and I wonder why they can't be their true selves everyday. Why must we live in suits and shadows? Can you imagine if every single day of your life you could wake up whenever you want and do whatever you want with the entirety of your day? Maybe you'd get bored and eventually want a job, but then it would be by choice not by default or, worse, by force.

Sometimes I think America got it all wrong somewhere along the way. All this focus on "jobs," yet so many people statistically unhappy with their jobs. It doesn't make any sense. We weren't meant to get up at a certain hour every day to commute to a cubicle to push buttons on a machine for 8+ hours and commute home to mindlessly watch TV all night, were we? Were we? We were meant for greater things: art, music, dance... science, medicine, philosophy... discovery and entertainment. Life is so rich, has so much more to offer, seems a shame to waste it on a "job," when you could spend every precious moment doing something you love.

Now, I know that some might argue that if we were all left to our own devices that we might spend the day stoned playing video games instead of, y'know, curing cancer or writing the next Great American Novel, and we have to have someone do the shittier work, I suppose, but here's the thing, I don't know the answers or how to solve the broken riddle that is America, but I do know that there's definitely something to working to live rather than living to work. I know that from personal experience I'm far happier making it up as I go along than I was "working." But how do we get there? How do we make a change as a nation? How do we fix what's broken when half (or some) of the country don't even realize it's broken, or if they do, think so for all the wrong reasons? How do we get to a point where we are not defined by our jobs, but rather by our souls?

I remember once when I was out to dinner with a group, many of whom I had never met before, when someone at the table announced we should all go around and say what we did for a living so we could all better acquaint ourselves. Not like, what's your passion or your dream, but your day job. I was just coming out of a particularly bad time in my life where my only goal for each day was getting out of bed so I wasn't too excited at the prospect of labeling myself. When it got to my turn, I simply said, "I'm between labels," and left it at that. That guy spent the rest of the night completely ignoring me while pouring all his attention on the writers and filmmakers in the room. Eventually at one point in the evening, he mentioned one particular director that he'd love to meet and maybe work with one day but he'd only ever exchanged Facebook messages with him. I chuckled to myself. I knew that director. I had his personal number in my phone. I could have called him at that instant and handed the phone over. But I didn't. I didn't even mention that I knew him. I just sat there silently sipping my margarita thinking he'll never know how close he came to making his dream come true if he had only not ignored me for my lack of label. But that's the America we live in. It's all about your status or how much you're worth, but I've had more fun at Hollywood parties talking to the maid than any celebrity. Meanwhile noticing how much she goes unnoticed by everyone else. Just because of her job. Like it somehow makes her less than as a person. We are all people. We are all equal. And we are all going to die. Speaking of... I noticed a couple tweets this morning from Anonymous about a 91 year old woman dying because of some shenanigans pulled by Gov. Christie, wherein Anon called for an apology for her death and some jackass replied, "...Stop acting like it was a child or someone of more value," and Anon replied, "We're all of value..." And we are. All of us. Old, young, rich, poor, famous, unknown, female, male, boss, maid - we are all equally valuable yet our stupid society has tricked us into mistakenly thinking that if you're a certain thing - even if you're born into it and didn't even earn it - you are somehow more or less worthy. It's all about labels. That's where we screwed up. So how do we fix it??

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