A lot of people are unhappy with their jobs. A lot. Many articles are written about how to make a life you love, one that goes beyond the apparent slavery of our commercial world. But why is it so difficult to make that escape?
ECONOMIES ARE DESIGNED TO ROPE YOU IN
The main trend, over the centuries, has been a move from the self-reliant community to the interactive market. In a self-reliant community, you are born into a family, and that family is aware of its position in the local tribe. As long as you play a role that is expected of you, in terms of food gathering or other maintenance, then you are rewarded with a sense of stability and food on your plate. In contrast, in an interactive market, you are born into a family, but you are expected to leave that family and make your own way in a bigger society. That society is composed of millions of individuals, and you are expected to find a role for yourself using your own initiative and creativity.
FROM COPYING TO CREATING
Essentially, the old way simply involved copying. You did what you were born into, and you learned your habits from your immediate family. You can see this behaviour in animal communities. Habits and rituals are enforced by default. There is very little reason to misbehave, as quiet compliance rewards you with your meals and a support system. The new way is more difficult. To live, you have to be proactive. And there are so many choices. Instead of just being a person, you have to try to define yourself as a lawyer, an accountant, a secretary, a teacher, a driver... society will not let you settle until you have told it your function.
KNOWING YOUR FUNCTION
The trouble is that these functions we all have to name are specialised. And performing each function involves sacrificing or suppressing all the natural activity that is not contained within that function. Thus, for example, a politician is generally required to be secretive and evasive, suppressing their natural desire to communicate freely. Part of the attraction of Donald Trump, America's outspoken president, to his support base, is his unwillingness to perform in accordance with these expectations. Doctors are required to suppress expressions of discontent; they have to be friendly to every patient. Models are often required to suppress their desire to eat normally. And so on. Sportsmen, coal miners, taxi drivers, therapists... all have to suppress their whole selves, and only express a part.
THE ILLNESS THAT RESULTS
Much mental illness is borne of attempts to fit oneself into these stereotypes of specialists. A politician may become depressed when forced to remain secretive about the government's ethical misdemeanours. A sports person may break down when required to ignore their home and domestic life. Think of the jobs you have had... you will, I'm sure, be able to point to ways in which each job forced you to suppress your natural responses.
Stress, as well as depression, happens when we force ourselves into wrong-shaped holes. Stress, in a way, is the short-term response to pressure in reaction to the environment... depression can evolve when our bodies get fed up with constantly mounting the short-term stress response, and slump away from confrontation.
MODERN JOBS CAUSE ILLNESS
I guess you could say that modern jobs cause illness. They tend to be specialised, and those specialisms force us to narrow ourselves and our personalties into prescribed behaviours, and away from proscribed behaviours. Some are lucky enough to find jobs that somehow suit them, that don't affront their nature. But many find themselves playing the dangerous game of square-peg-in-round-hole.
WHAT'S THE ALTERNATIVE?
In a world where economies are pushing us into narrow, specialised roles and behaviours, what's the answer? How can we regain our mental equilibrium? Here are a few suggestions:
1. If you are an employer, ask yourself: 'Am I creating an environment in which my employees can be themselves?' Are your employees forced to hide their true feelings in order to toe the line? Are they forced to compromise their eating and sleeping patterns to ensure their work is done?
2. If you are an employee, ask yourself: 'Where and when do I feel my most natural self? How can I best recreate that during a typical week?' You may be able to create small wins, such as getting the right to eat when and how you want; creating forums at work where colleagues can be themselves for a while; giving yourself balancing activities to blow off steam. If not, you may be able to move to a job where you feel less stressed, and more your natural self.
3. If you are not traditionally employed, you may be able to create a daily structure which matches what your body wants to do. If you feel unnaturally lonely, then you may want to join support or activity groups; if you feel dominated by customers, or by the benefits office, then you may want to create 'safe havens' for yourself away from those pressures.
TREATING TIME, NOT MONEY, AS THE KEY
Let me ask you something. I'm going to offer you two extreme scenarios, and I'd like you to imagine them:
Scenario 1: A life with no minutes at all in it, but with plenty of money.
Scenario 2: A life with no money at all in it, but with plenty of time.
Which would you choose? Scenario 1, you may have noticed, is non-viable. Quite literally. You can't exist at all unless you are around for a period of time. If you choose that option, you are like an Egyptian Pharaoh in a pyramid, dead already! Scenario 2, you were built for. In case you didn't know it, for millions of years, animals like you have been living lives with no money. It's actually your naural state! All this money stuff is a recent invention, a creator and a product of the economic age.
So try treating time as your currency. What are you going to do today? What wealth of experience are you going to discover in this waking time? Never mind what you earn. Just for a while, treat your time as the most important thing you have, and spend it in a way that feels natural to you, and that does kindness, not harm, to your body.
BREAKING THE RULES
In order to live more freely, you may have to say goodbye to promotions, pay rises, awards, that kind of thing. But remember, these are the things your society has invented to trap you in the circle of wealth. I am encouraging you to break the rules, and see what happens. You will find that many of the rules are things you've absorbed and never questioned. Here are a few rules I'd like you to think about breaking:
Rule 1: You have to start and finish your work at specific times.
Rule 2: You have to aim for advancement and promotion.
Rule 3: You have to use traditional job names to describe what you do in life.
Rule 4: You have to wait for orders in order to do your next thing.
Rule 5: You have to subordinate your natural self to the weird demands of your regulated environment.
RULES FOR A FEW DAYS
Put the other way round, and phrased positively, I am encouraging you to:
Invitation 1: Pay more attention to your natural rhythms, and take care of your body and mind.
Invitation 2: Pay more attention to your priorities, and let others own theirs.
Invitation 3: Be a whole person, rather than a narrow job description.
Invitation 4: Do some things because you feel moved to - follow your inner promptings rather than others' orders or requirements.
Invitation 5: Respect your natural self. Nature's spent millions of years evolving you. Use that inner wisdom. See what it says.
A WARNING ABOUT GUILT
You will sometimes feel guilty. That's how modern society works - it is designed to make you feel guilty if you depart from the behavioural norms it has created. As soon as you drop a quest for status, you will be flooded with feature films in which the hero says 'never give up'. That's partly because Hollywood and other film communities are encouraged to be thought-leaders: they are sometimes funded to produce stories which make you behave. At other times they produce escapist stories to give you a second life on screen; so that you don't live that second life in reality. But try abandoning the need to look to films for messages. Try just listening to what your own body and mind are saying. You may be surprised at how coherent, helpful and inspiring your own self is. You just have to let yourself have enough space, so that your oppressive environment can't drown you out any more. Nothing annoys supporters of social norms more than people who refuse to behave. But I am asking you to give it a go. So let the loud voice fall away. And let your own quiet voice grow.
A NOTE ABOUT REGULATION
In paying attention to your own rhythms and priorities, it is often a mistake to ignore other people. Many of your natural rhythms and behaviours are social ones, so experiment with what works for you. Try to find communities which feel comfortable for you. That kind of external regulation is a great comfort. So when you find an environment in which you are happy to follow wise instructions, healthy timetables, good routines... then great. This article is an encouragement to question whether your existing environment is right for you. I'm not inviting you to leave all regulation; but I am encouraging you to look again at any blind obedience of regulations that are not in harmony with your natural self.
A FINAL NOTE ABOUT NATURE
I use the word natural quite loosely in this article. Just to clarify a bit: I am offering encouragement to pay respect to our own being, and to the millions of years of past experiences which have gone into the formation of that evolved being. If you feel an urge to do something different, then I wouldn't stand in your way. But sooner or later, I suggest, your long-term, evolved being will have something wise to say; and when it speaks, maybe we can be polite enough to listen, to comprehend, to take it into account!