Ben Stein has written a very thought-provoking article that for Yahoo! Finance called “All Play and No Work Makes for a Poor Life.”
I realized while reading it that Ben might as well be talking to me. And I think his points are pertinant to the goals and attitudes of millions in my generation.
New Cultural Phenomenon: Aversion to Work
Ben’s basic message is that “while almost everyone I know went to college, very few learned how to actually work — i.e., how to give an honest day’s labor for a paycheck.” He mentions various friends of his who have never held a steady job, “creative” types who live one paycheck away from homelessness because they can’t IMAGINE working a 9 – 5 job, women who spend their attractive youths “working” for various rich boyfriends, and other examples.
I have observed this reality quite a bit, now that I think about it. Many people quit working (or never start) at the first opportunity. Females upon marraige or pregnancy; males upon inheriting or accumulating a modest sum. More than a few of my peers chose one of the following alternatives to work shortly after graduation or after only a year or two in the work force:
- “I got married and/or got pregnant!”
- “I’ve decided to start my own businesses!”
- “I volunteer” or “I work for X foundation/museum/non-profit”
- “I am traveling abroad to experience the world and find myself”
- “I’m going to work for my family’s company”
Oh, and lets not forget the ubiquitous
- “I’m going back to school.”
All of these are theoretically wonderful choices, but they are all to often code for “I don’t know how to and/or I refuse to actually work.”
The Benefit of a Hard Day’s Work:
The problem with this is that people who never experience working hard to earn a paycheck also never develop the pride, empowerment, and work ethic that comes along with it. “Work elevates the spirit, disciplines the mind, conveys self worth — redeems life itself.” Ben points out that people who develop the habit of hard work don’t become bums, criminals, or drug addicts, and they don’t wind up in middle age with suicidal self-loathing.
Even those who “work” can fall prey to work-aversion techniques and end up tempted towards addictions and the self-loathing Ben warns against. There’s a difference between earning good money and hard work. Lots of people earn great livings, and many would insist that they “work hard”–movie stars come to mind. But literally working hard for hours on end in order to earn your dinner money–without the option to leave for an appointment, surf the internet, or make a phone call–is a very different thing than what many of us experience at work.
Studies show that most Americans only contribue 2 solid hours of productivity to their employers during a typical 8-9 hour workday. Email, internet, computer games, phone calls, chatting, work-gossip, and meals are what we really spend our time, attention, and energy on.
The Ruining of Our Generation?
Like many of you, I have a steady job, I get up every morning and work 9 hours a day, I am moving up in my company and developing a career. But…I’m not actually working very hard. The truth is I’ve never had to work that hard to earn my grades, resume, and promotions at work. And the truth is, if I didn’t happen to have a well-paying job that I like, I’d probably quit and choose one of the other alternatives to work I mentioned above.
I, like most in my generation, grew up being told “You’re Special!” and “You Can Do Anything You Dream!” Every student got a gold star and every athlete got a trophy. My generation spent its childhood learning how to be totally self-indulgent–travel, music lessons, sports, camps, shopping, TV, study abroad, eating out, allowances, etc. Those things all have their place, but perhaps good old-fashioned hard work should be added to the list as well.
More from Meg at The World of Wealth