Reflecting on my past few entries, I wonder if looking for work over the years might have been less frustrating if I had just done work for the money instead of hoping it would be satisfying and fulfilling in itself. According to this thinking, I could have taken any number of jobs requiring workers with programming skills, taken the money, and got on with I wanted to do in my spare time.
From this point of view, those students who come to university in the hope of ending up in a job might be wiser than I in at least one sense: they know the system they’re in and they don’t have any illusions that said system has the purpose of giving them fulfilling work or engaging them as citizens of a nation or anything else that academics like to say university will set them up for.
Against this view, maybe the only time that I did work according to this philosophy is when I took my first job out of university, giving me forty or so unhappy hours each week writing software that I didn’t much care about. Despite having time at home to work on software or writing that I did care about, I wasn’t enjoying life very much, and after a while I resigned in order to do some travel and pursue a research career.
Also against this view, I’ve had little success in applying for straight programming jobs anyway, so maybe I would have ended up with neither the money nor the satisfaction.
On the other hand, when I’ve taken on administrative roles in the Society for Creative Anachronism, I’ve largely done so because I perceived that said role needed to be done, and that I had the ability to fill it, rather than any sense that the role might advance my career or be fulfilling in and of itself. I have nonetheless found them fulfilling in that they enabled a hobby I enjoy and that I have learned a lot about how organisations, people and systems work.
Perhaps it’s a matter of degree: I’m happy enough to spend a few hours a week in my SCA roles, or a few hours a month at bush regeneration, but would I be so happy doing the same thing forty hours a week for the money? The worst aspect of my first job might have been the simple fact that there was forty hours of it every week and, however much I liked programming, forty hours is a long time to spend in the same activity.
Perhaps this tension will exist for as long as boring but necessary work that needs to be done, or at least work that people are willing to pay for. Given that work exists, it seems rational to prefer the sort that one finds more satisfying and meaningful. Maybe if we’re ever able to get it down to a few hours a day we’ll be happy enough to do the boring chores necessary to keep the world turning. But right now paid work is a big part of our lives so why wouldn’t we want it to be good?