Have you ever given everything you had, vast numbers of hours, to heck with lunch and breaks and going for a soda, only to have someone shrug and say it’s no big deal, because you’re getting paid? It’s the mercenary view of work, otherwise known as wage prostitution. Sure, you’re being paid because you work, but is that all it is, really? I mean, is that enough? One certainly hopes not.
Frankly, I would feel sorry for anyone who finds work to be a simple matter of math. I want to work at things that possess me with intriguing problems and enticing challenges. If it was just about getting paid, I’d cave to the highest bidder, right? But when it’s everything I have, when I’ve spent all the sweat I can muster, the last thing on my mind is “Oh well I was adequately compensated.”
Adequately compensated? Nothing can compensate for the most productive hours of the best years of your life. They can’t be purchased with anything of like value – they’re invaluable – rather they are meant to purchase something else – meaning. If all that expenditure means is that transitory little check in the bank, well ho hum, I might as well sell my tail on some sidewalk in Vegas, because it sure would be less hassle, not to mention more lucrative. Payroll is the basic expense reimbursement for living in such a way that you’re available to dedicate your mind at all. It’s not the point, any more than gasoline is the point of an automobile.
Work is about meaning, and people that talk about the check being everything don’t really believe that anything means anything. It’s mercenary nihilism. Devoid of heroism, genius, and value that can’t be traded at Walmart. At times, I work for the passion of it, and at times I work for my family, but I’d be damned if I work like I work for just a few extra digits. I want the digits, but I want everything else, too. And it’s not just putting in extra hours – I’m talking about putting heart and soul in it – like an athlete.
I want the awe, the applause, the sympathy, and what things go to heroes – not for its own sake, but because it’s appropriate whenever one is that freaking amazing. When I do in a few days what would normally take three people a week, and I can barely feel my brain as I fall down to sleep, and I’m a freaking monster at it, I don’t necessarily need everyone else to realize it all the time, but I’d like the general aplomb, and then I’d like some time to reset.
“You got a check – that’s all that matters” is just the flipside of “You got my time, that’s all that matters”. Saying it’s just about cash is the same as me saying it’s just about punching the clock. If we listen to the rhetoric, it either exposes a falsehood, or a one-sided top-down relationship that isn’t part of my ethical schema.