The notion of work troubles me. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the idea of waking (at least at a reasonable time) and then finding something to do to fill the day. That sounds perfectly sensible, but I wonder why commuters drive down crowded roads, allow themselves to be pushed into trains and buses and all to do a job which few love. What joy is there in that?
I must be a little careful because economic history was the one exam in failed in my first year at university, but I do have some understanding. Work as an ethic was driven by the need to grow food and kill the odd T Rex, and as community developed so there was sharing of the effort. The industrial revolution saw the formation of industrial enterprises, and with an understanding of competitive advantage, factories were built. Work moved off the land and into factories. We bartered our effort of making a car for food and home. We started commuting. Well, I think that was what my professor said but as I failed maybe I wasn’t listening properly.
So, now we serve coffee in Starbucks, get paid for the effort so that we can buy a Starbuck’s coffee on the way home.
As I have written earlier (https://www.brovary.co.uk/2017/12/08/abacus-calculator-ipotty-and-bertie/) we have managed to maintain employment through all the changes technology has thrown at us. I hope that this trend continues as move into the AI era. However, there is a larger problem which I haven’t touched on before.
While there may be employment will there be any satisfaction in work?
In the early days of my career it was real fun going to work. I was able to use all my problem-solving abilities in an environment that encouraged and promoted the individual to explore their skills. But the firm grew, we added more processes, constrained behaviour, we specialised, and work lost its fun.
I don’t know enough ‘young’ people to fully understand their motivation for working but I have met many top executives and there is a thread of common thought. Many are questioning just why they work. Where is the trade-off between work and happiness?
It is maybe rather grand to think of myself as a writer but as every day I spend at least five hours, and sometimes more, writing then maybe I should change my passport description.
There are many reasons to write. First, it gives me enormous satisfaction expressing my thoughts in either novels or these small pieces, to share with a wider audience. Secondly, it may one day pay my way. I have fallen asleep imagining the red carpet as one of my books is premiered as the latest block buster film. Finally, I write to show Sasha and my family, that I am worthy of all they do for me.
As I sit at my computer and try to find words I don’t think of all my readers but just one, Sasha. Of course, I want everyone to be impressed when they read. In particular I always listen to my family and their views, but I imagine telling Sasha my latest stories and I want to do more than impress her. I want her to be proud of me.
I find great fulfilment in writing, and in the artist jargon, I have a muse.
The quote, which is the title of this piece is from Laura Esquivel, the Mexican, one-time teacher, now writer. In full:
“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves; we need oxygen and a candle to help.
In this case, the oxygen for example, would come from the breath of the person you love; the candle would be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches.
For a moment we are dazzled by an intense emotion. A pleasant warmth grows within us, fading slowly as time goes by, until a new explosion comes along to revive it.
Each person has to discover what will set off those explosions in order to live, since the combustion that occurs when one of them is ignited is what nourishes the soul.
That fire, in short, is its food. If one doesn’t find out in time what will set off these explosions, the box of matches dampens, and not a single match will ever be lighted.”
I am fortunate because writing and my love for Sasha gives me both the oxygen and candle to allow me to write. I know just how fortunate I am. She is my muse. She is my audience of one.
Sasha may be my muse, but she is not just the source of my inspiration. She is also the purpose and that is the conflict. It was Stephen King who said that all good writers are selfish and there is the rub for anyone who really does enjoy their work. Their work can become all consuming and if the ‘purpose’ takes a secondary role to the work there is conflict.
The purpose cannot be just improving from moderately competent to a good writer. The purpose must become supporting, sustaining, housing, feeding, and clothing Sasha.
And so it is for everyone else. The commute is the measure of the conflict that faces everyone, every day. It is the conflict that I face as I mentor Chief Executives. Are the twelve-hour days, short holidays, and an impending coronary worth finally worth it? is the purpose of work to succeed or to give your muse the reward they deserve?
Until the day when I am in the best seller lists and writing gives me a living wage I balance that conflict with interim consulting work. It is an uneasy balance, but I am happy that I have my muse because without Sasha everything would be black and white and in Laura Esquivel’s words my candle will never be lit. Sasha has put the oxygen into my life allowing me to express it to the full.
And in her own words this morning to me in a letter: you are my motivation, and you are my sense to be happy each morning.
Thank you, Sasha, for your tolerance and forbearing. One day we will walk that red carpet.