Fuck. I don’t know why this word comes to mind as I stare into the blank screen thinking about what I am about to write. Fuck. Why fuck? Maybe fuck is the word that comes to mind when I think about my work ethic. Fuck. See, right when I think the term work ethic the next word that comes into my mind is fuck. Fuck. I need to think this one through a bit more.
The other day I was listening to the writer, musician and monologist talk about his work ethic. He was discussing how he came from a working class background and always needed to be gainfully employed. Ever since he was young he said that he has had this drive to work for a living. The idea of waking up in the morning and not having at least ten things that he has to do mortifies him. His worst fear is waking up in the morning and having nothing to do. Maybe this is why he has written over thirty books, made more than a dozen albums and still to this day travels around the world, performing his one man show more than 300 hundred days out of the year. The guy is terrified to stop. He would not know how to live without a hard days work.
I on the other hand am that guy who is happiest when he wakes up in the morning and has nothing to do. I am not driven by what Henry Rollins calls, “a deep need to pull your weight in the world.” Instead I seem to want to shed this weight, to be weightless. Henry Rollins seems to love being in fifth gear whereas I often feel stuck in first gear. Recently I have been thinking a lot about this feeling of being stuck in first gear. I have been wondering if it is a choice or just a bad habit. Am I lazy or enlightened? Have I chosen to not work my life away or do I just lack a work ethic?
Henry Rollins said something that really got my attention. He said that he thrives off of obligation. Obligation is the wind that moves him forward. He lives for obligation. I don’t know why but when I heard this the hair on my arms stood up. Obligation? He loves being obligated? I he kidding? Is this the link in my non-working chain that I have been missing? I can’t stand obligation. When I feel obligated to do something I feel pushed into a corner. I don’t want to do it. Obligation creates immense resistance in me. I seem to do everything that I can to avoid obligation. It is as if I have been hiding from obligation for as long as I know. Well maybe this is not true. I do not mind a small amount of obligation but I do know that in the course of a week I need much more time that is not obligated to anything or anyone than I do time that is obligated. Hmmm.
My wife said something to me the other day that made a lot of sense. She said that I love having money, I just don’t like having to work for it. It is true- I do love having money so that I can buy good food, records, clothes, books, treats for my dog, furniture, supplements and whatever else I may want. I enjoy the security that money brings to me. When I have money I no longer live in chronic fear of having to wait tables, bartend or ask my parents for money. I feel at ease. The problem is that I do not like to work for money. I do not enjoy working, never have. I prefer to spend my days floating around. Having the freedom to do what I want to do. The problem with this is that I know that money is not going to just randomly show up in my mailbox. I need to work for a living.
So I ask myself what is my work ethic? Fuck. But when I go deeper I realize that I do not really have a work ethic in the traditional sense. My work ethic is that I do not like work. I avoid work because work has never been pleasurable. Somehow I have managed to spend considerable time in my adult life in what some workaholics might refer to as retirement. Being free from the terrible and dehumanizing world of managers, bosses, fellow employees and obligations is one of the greatest victories of my life. I intend to keep it this way.
I really do not think that it is fair of me to think that I do not work. As much as it may sound absurd to say, to live the way that I do within a culture that is obsessed with work- is no easy undertaking. It is a kind of work to not get caught up in the proverbial rat race. To maintain a life that is based in being as opposed to doing. When I meditate, read, write, draw and paint it is fair to say that I am working, but the work that I am doing is pleasurable. It does not feel like work. I am doing what I am doing because it is fun and freeing as opposed to motivated by any ambition to make my work about turning a profit. I am as uninterested in making money off of the work that I enjoy doing as I am in watching whatever sports team is playing on television tonight. But I also recognize that this may be a lie that I tell myself so that I can avoid working. So that I can spend more time living.
I suppose I am envious of people like Henry Rollins. He has found a way to do the work he loves and turn a profit from it. His work does not feel to him like work at all- it is just what he does. His strong work ethic pushes him to remain obligated, to get his work out into the world, to pull his weight in the world so to speak. But on the other hand Rollins discussed how he realizes that his need to work all the time is a way that he runs from having to deal with him self. He talks about how sitting still and doing nothing terrifies him because, then what? Then he would have to be with himself.
So maybe this is my work ethic. Fuck. It is a kind of non-work ethic. It is an ethic of being with myself, learning about myself and a desire to experience my life as it unfolds. It is an ethic of learning and growing as opposed to earning and working. I don’t know, this explanation of my work ethic does not fully satisfy me. A part of me feels that I am just rationalizing the fact that I am lazy, that I do what I can to avoid work. It is true- I love being. I love sitting still. I love being free enough to be able to watch the day unfold. I love how I have learned to spend my time. There is a quiet kind of satisfaction that I live with. It is this satisfaction that is my greatest wealth. But there is also this itch to do something more, to live a life that is relevant and accomplished. An itch to pull my weight in the world. A desire to help others. To work with my fellow human beings in a way that helps them to struggle a little bit less. Without this component of helping and interacting with other human beings (as opposed to the desire to make money off of them) something feels incomplete in my life.
In a sense my non-work ethic is a work ethic, it is just not a work ethic that is based in turning a profit and needing to stay busy everyday. I am more than comfortable with not being busy, with having nothing to do, with sitting still (and I am also aware that that in my society these ways of being can land a person in the poor house). And maybe this is ok. Maybe I can stay this way and things will continue to work out. I was in a bookstore the other day and the title of a self-help book caught my eye. It was called “Stay the Course and Keep Doing What You Do.” I liked the title so much that I took a picture of the cover so I could have it as a reminder. Stay the course and keep doing what you do. Things are working out even though I am far from being the hardest worker in the world. Some may say that my non-work ethic is working for me. A part of me agrees and feels that I need to keep riding this thing out and see where it takes me. But I also need to work. I just need a little help getting into second gear.