People today are drawn to creating work by their own design rather than waiting for it to be created for them in terms of a job, role, product, or service. The impact of this on society forces us to rethink the idea of “ Rethinking Success ” Gone are the days when being successful was something we just fell into by keeping up with a 9-to-5 job that promised economic stability and security. Now, being successful is measured by our autonomy, mastery, and “doing what we love.”
Work can either be a commodity or a calling. When we sell our time, labor, and skills for money but no personal reward, our work is commoditized. Our jobs are another “thing” to own and discard when no longer useful. But when our work provides fulfillment, we call it our career, vocation, or profession. When our work is our passion, we give it our all and, in return, we find satisfaction and meaning.
We can understand the concept of “work” in three ways.
- Job work: Regular work routinely done in exchange for money, including work for oneself.
- Marginal work: Supplemental work, including “side hustles” or gigs performed sporadically.
- Gift work: All the work we do for free that goes unreported, such as volunteer work and “under the table” agreements between friends and family, which are part of the informal “gray” economy.
Different people need different bits of work to satisfy their different needs. Job work may provide the money, but gift work or marginal work provides the interest. Work, in one form or another, is the foundation of self-worth. Everybody needs to feel like they matter, have something to contribute, and will be missed when they are gone. If job work can no longer provide us with this sense of purpose, our humanity will find other ways to get it.
Staying in the comfort zone of paying others to do or make all we need is unsatisfying and renders us dependent on shopping and managing rather than creating and performing. In our democratic society, materialist wealth has meant that while some could become rich and powerful by controlling the means of production and capital, many are bound to be poor and powerless by comparison. In a system where some are raised to unimaginable riches on the backs of others, many argue that a reevaluation of where and how we create value is overdue.
Humankind needs to express itself through work. However, without the creation of enough new jobs to meet the supply of the increasing number of humans on our planet, we are bound to witness nothing less than the mass shortening of working life. New shift agreements in the services may well be paid for in time rather than money, with one person working Monday through Wednesday and another from Thursday to Saturday. This job-sharing of the future will be celebrated as more flexible and individualized. We might call it “flextime,” but in reality, it will be personalized part-time work. So it’s only sensible that we acknowledge the ability to define our own story of Rethinking Success through other types of work, whether domestic, charitable, or creative.
There are many possibilities for the direction our society and economy will go in the coming decades. Below are two potential scenarios for the future of work.
In the pessimistic scenario, we see a sudden, widespread move into a non-manufacturing society in which industrial collapse is so fast and prevalent that the entire social fabric breaks down. Our worlds become smaller and more isolated, with all knowledge and information guarded by those at the top. The powerful will hole up in technological enclaves run by knowledge experts, while the vast majority of humanity exists on the outskirts in the informal economy. There will be no job market. Unemployment will be the standard, and we will define work as what we do to survive: crafts, bartering and scams, to name just a few. The notion of social status will devolve into class hierarchies reminiscent of feudalism. If left unchecked, a free-market economy can turn into a free-for-all, leading us straight down this unfortunate path.
In the optimistic scenario of the future, we see the working year shorten to about half of the previous standard 100,000-hour career job. What will people do with all the extra time? Watch TV, party, travel? Perhaps, but human nature dictates that would never be enough. Work is the measure of a man — good work promotes self-expression and allows us to interact with others; good work is under our control, not in control of us. If we can no longer find this sort of good work in the job market, we will have to create it ourselves. While some will continue to work long hours, using jobs as both commodity and calling, many more will develop “portfolios” of work, combining job work, marginal work and gift work. Thus, our understandings of what qualifies as work will evolve. The job will no longer be our only goalpost for achieving satisfaction, fulfillment and respect. The purpose of a job will be to earn money, not status, while our gift work will be what defines us and gives our lives meaning.