Published: The Good Men Project (October 6, 2015)
Despite my fear of sounding self-pitying, I want to tell you about my strange relationship with work. It will make me feel better and might help a few of my readers.
I’m a chronic workaholic. As I write this, I am a freelance columnist for several online publications, an elected official for my local Democratic Party, and a full-time PhD student preparing for his comprehensive exams (more on that in a moment). Even when I have “free time, ” I rarely spend it just lounging about and relaxing. If I can’t find something productive to do, my restlessness usually sucks the fun out of whatever leisure activity I’m trying to enjoy.
At the same time, there is a certain type of work that I simply cannot do. For lack of a better word, I’m going to call this work “drudgery.”
When I say that I can’t do drudgery, I don’t mean that I simply dislike it (although the difficulty I encounter with it has certainly made this the case). I literally lack the ability to perform it at all. To explain what I mean, let me provide you with three examples:
– Taking notes is the bane of my existence. This may be hard to believe, but I managed to obtain my Masters Degree (3.9 GPA) without taking a single note. I’ve already completed my PhD coursework using the same method. The reason is simple: When I read a book, my mind processes the information in a way that makes note-taking physically painful. Ditto when listening to a class lecture. The best analogy that comes to mind is listening to a piece of music only to have it interrupted every few seconds so that you can analyze the lyrics and notes. Some people can probably accomplish this, but I find it maddening. Of course, now that my comprehensive exams are looming ahead – and these are tests that require you to regurgitate and analyze more than two hundred books, many of which I’ve already read (but have no notes for) – I live in a constant state of suppressed panic.
– I am terrible at customer service jobs. Before I explain why, I want to open by saying that I have an enormous amount of respect for people who work in customer service. Fast food, retail, you name it… As someone who has been fired from several customer service positions, I know first-hand that these jobs are incredibly tough. When you aren’t interacting with some bonehead who think you’re beneath him because of what you do (even though our free market society couldn’t function without you), you’re forced to burn hours off the clock doing repetitive, mind-numbingly boring tasks. I’m sure that some people enjoy this kind of labor, and more power to them, but as I already mentioned I get fired from these jobs on the regular because I simply suck at them. I’m awkward around people (see: Asperger’s Syndrome) and terrible at menial work of all kinds.
– I can’t drive. Since I discussed this in a previous article, I won’t repeat too much here. Suffice to say that I have a hand-eye coordination disability which has thus far made it impossible for me to learn how to drive. Until you have this problem, you can’t comprehend just how crippling it truly is. Because I don’t live in a big city, I am constantly finding out about job opportunities that aren’t available for me because I can’t operate a motor vehicle (the public transportation in the Lehigh Valley is woefully inadequate). What’s more, not being able to drive has significantly crimped my social life… and that’s not even touching on the social expectation that men own a car and are losers if they don’t have one. And before you say that driving isn’t a form of drudgery, trust me, it is… Ask anyone who can’t do it and they will tell you that trying to master the numerous dull skills necessary for this feat is very much a slog.
Where am I going with this? Once again, I have three points to make:
1. We need to understand that not everyone is cut out for every type of work. As a teenager, my inability to hold down customer service jobs convinced my parents and many other adults that I was going to struggle enormously to fit into the workplace after college. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, but the complex that I developed as a result of being told that it would has endured to this day. It wasn’t necessary for me to feel that way about myself, but whenever I pointed out that perhaps I simply was suited more toward intellectual and creative tasks than menial ones, the assertion would be laughed off. This brings me to my next observation…
2. We need to respect all the kinds of work that exist. Part of the reason adults wouldn’t take my position seriously is because, consciously or otherwise, they subscribed to the mistaken notion that work exists on some kind of spectrum: If you’re a lawyer or doctor, obviously that means you have the skills to succeed in a cubicle, and the officer workers could obviously succeed as a retail clerk… that sort of reasoning. First off, this logic is absolute bunk – Some of the brightest lawyers I know are so clumsy and terrible with people that I can’t imagine them holding down a job behind a counter. More importantly, though, it creates a cultural climate in which we believe that certain types of work are inherently superior to others. In reality, people are born with an assorted jumble of skill sets that will allow them to flourish in certain work environments, tread water in others, and have no prayer in the rest. This has absolutely nothing to do with better or worse types of work and everything to do with how we’re built.
3. I want to know if there is anyone else out there who feels the way I do. This article is meant to be a conversation-starter, partly self-serving (as indicated by the traumas I endured as a child, and still undergo today, because of my own makeup) and partly to see if there are others who might benefit from my experiences. As we learn more about the human animal, we discover more and more ways in which our existing paradigms for understanding each other are terribly flawed. I don’t know whether this will happen now or in a hundred years, but I strongly suspect that someday we will drastically reevaluate how we view work and possessing a work ethic. When that happens, minimum wages will rise (and the notion that they should be kept down will be dismissed for the repugnant class bigotry that it is), our education system will drastically improve (I’ve already made suggestions on how we can do this), and people will be much, much happier in general.
Until then, I’ll just be one of those people who always likes being productive but – because he can’t take notes or flourish with menial labor or drive a car – will remain an oddly work-averse workaholic.