Defining what work is it very difficult. Tim Ferris of the 4 hour work week made a big name of himself (or maybe it was his publisher) by thinking of work as things he does not enjoy doing. Others would say that he is working 100 hours a week. On a similar vein you can have 0 hour work weeks simply by changing your understanding of when you’re working and when you’re simply “doing stuff you love”, eh?

This is all nice but not a particularly new insight. After all, ten, twenty, forty, sixty,… years ago there were people who were passionate about their jobs and changed them if they didn’t like them, even while never reading a self-help book or attending personal development seminars.

I have been thinking of whether there is an objective way to define work (beyond the physical definition of force times distance) but I keep running into definitions(*) that would simply suit the way I see things, like the examples above. In conclusion, I can’t define work but I know it when I see it.

(*) Maybe it’s not work if it is done with the objective of learning, interest, social welfare, … but this is a cop out that would allow any definition of work and allow one to make the claim that one is not working. For instance, “volunteer work” certainly is work, right?

Yesterday, I made a comment about the guardian type enjoying work for its own sake. What this means specifically is that some people specifically enjoy that work (typically a job) brings structure to their life. They like fitting in. They like having a job title. They like advancing their career. They like the social status of “doing something for a living”. And so on. So what guardians actually enjoy is “job structure”.

When I was trying to define work, the best definition I came up with involved money. Since our culture is so “lucky” so as to define all kinds of value with money, a good definition of work would be something you would not do if you did not get paid. I think this would remove a substantial percentage of those who love their jobs.

Welcome to Costco. I love you.

An even better definition would be something your would do if you have to pay for it (presumably by working somewhere else—-which just makes the definition self-referential, see how difficult this is šŸ˜› ). I mean, I could essentially define physical exercise as work as it is structured, it comes with friends or “colleagues”, there is a form of advancement, etc. Paying for it definitely shows I value it for these qualities rather than the money it pays me. Introducing this requirement also removes internships, volunteering, etc. from the equation.

Then there’s this idea of loving your job. A job has many aspects. It usually involves doing something, but it usually also involves a combination of meetings, annual reviews, motivational courses, productivity courses, “team play”, office politics, career networking, branding yourself, having your work quantified instead of qualified, polishing your resume and appearance, water cooler small talk, annoying colleagues which you don’t get to choose, overtime, having to dress up, commuting, not being able to come and go as you please, etc. Now it may be that some are fortunate enough to love these things as well although I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around that.

This may simply be a personality issue (I also hate talking about the weather, sports results, and other people’s children). For some, these things may feel pretty natural or even partially desirable (I know a few people who looove meetings, mainly because they get to talk incessantly and literally have a captive audience who would otherwise prefer a more painless death). For others these things take time away from things they would like to do. Thus I think “loving” your work depends on the balance between the aspects you like and the aspects you don’t like. If you are only annoyed by your work 5% of the time (the 30 minute morning meeting), I think that could qualify as love.

Originally posted 2010-01-07 10:40:07.