Yesterday I went to the RSA to hear Alain de Botton talk about his new book the Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. I have read all of Alain’s previous books and so somehow felt that I already knew him. He is also someone I’d also choose if there was ever a programme called Desert Island Lunch dates!
His talk was as engaging and humorous as I imagined it would be and I will read the book – when it comes out in paperback. He made many interesting observations and I found the fact that he had identified a gap in the market for a book about what people actually do at work particularly thought provoking. (If you search on Amazon you certainly won’t find many titles there). Also, his comment, that we so rarely consider who produced the things that surround us – our food, our clothes, our gadgets.
As part of his research he shadowed a career counsellor and seemed to feel some sympathy for the enormity of his task. Also for the people working in human resources in a large accountancy firm he visited who were (amongst other things), charged with the task of motivating thousands of staff.
He also stated that most people are still working in a job that their 16 year old self decided upon. Do you think that this matters? Would your 26 or 36 or even 46 year old self make better decisions? It is only recently that people have expected that they should enjoy what they do at work and for many people work is just a means to an end. The end being that they will earn enough to live and hopefully enjoy their life outside of work.
As I haven’t read the book I’m not entirely sure what final conclusions Alain finally reached about the pleasures and sorrows of work. He did say that people needed to work to help to order their lives. He also found that those people who enjoyed their work felt that they were contributing to making other people feel better, For example, through nursing them, making biscuits for them or even helping them save tax. In fact he found that, of all the people he interviewed and all the jobs he researched, accountants were the happiest in their work!
I feel blessed that for the majority of my working life I have enjoyed it and it’s definitely true that I feel most satisfied when I feel that I am helping someone else to achieve or enjoy something. However, I am also aware that life is about much more than work and really enjoy the fact that I can combine my working life with spending time with close family and good friends and participating in leisure activities where I can become totally absorbed and relaxed, like watercolour painting and gardening.
Having experienced redundancy and a year off from paid employment – over ten years ago now – I also know the dangers of thinking oneself indispensable and how important it is not to define yourself or other people by a job title.
How about you? What are the pleasures and sorrows of your particular work?