Sometimes, when I’m helping groups to think differently, we play the Superhero game. Everyone takes on a character and its superpowers to solve a problem in a unique way, before relating the solution back to the real world. It’s fun and productive, it’s also liberating to think that even for those few minutes, anything is possible.
Why shouldn’t that be the case all the time?
When they hear about The Work Project, people still ask me how it’s different to freelancing. It’s different because the parameters I’ve set myself are that anything is possible. Every day I wake up and it’s up to me to find a way to make a living in a way I choose, not just stick to a defined or recognized route.
I had to rethink my relationship with work to make this a viable option – really understand my priorities in life and map out what is financially essential and what could be re-thought. Once I understood what I really want from my life and where work fits into that (not the other way round), I could start to reconstruct my work to fit around that. I’m an experimental workaholic who likes to spend a lot of time at home, while at the same time seeing the world and creating an impact. Not the most straightforward combination, but now I’m aware of it, I’m starting to build from that premise.
If the British Anthropologist David Graeber is right, most people hate their jobs. It was an assertion along those lines that set me off on this adventure in the first place, but why is that so? If we don’t like what we do every day, what is stopping us from just changing it and doing anything we want?
From our school years, we’re taught to fear – compromise adventure for security and safety and, once we have those needs met, many of us become too scared to rock the boat. Stepping out of the comfort zone on such a major aspect our lives –earning a living- is not socially acceptable and not many of us are pre-disposed to want to be anomalies. For many of working age, the phrases what if and if only are commonplace in conversation, but something stops us breaking the cycle and actually making if happen.
Many of us just don’t seem to believe that we could actually do what we want to do every single day of our lives. We’re denying ourselves the choice.
Many articles on the future of work (like this one Medium.com recommended to me today) assume that we’re being universally unlocked from permanent, full time jobs, that machines are coming to replace us in the workplace and that work is becoming independent of location and organization. It’s a huge generalization. Things like these are unlocking the way we work and allowing us to consider it in new ways, but they are no more compulsory than the contracted ‘job’ itself.
Recently, during an early evening beer on London’s South Bank, I outlined The Work Project to my drinking buddy. As a direct contrast to my removing myself from all of the conventional rules and structures of work, she needs to work within an organizational structure – it gives her the discipline, camaraderie, continuity and parameters she needs to do good work and it’s where she performs best as a person. Neither of us is more ‘right’ than the other, we just work in the ways that suit us.
All of the options we now have around the way we work -enabled by connectivity and technology- are opportunities, not rules. What we each have is the chance to create the working environment that suits us all as individuals. We no longer have to work the 9-5, 40 hour contracted job for a single employer, but equally if we want to we can. Rather than base our lives and work around what we think is expected of us, we should be taking responsibility for ourselves.
I thrive on adrenaline and uncertainty, so I’m happy to be experimental and adventurous. As long as I find a way to pay my bills, happiness and excitement take precedence over savings, progression, property and a pension. Many of my friends find this alien, but no more than I find their resignation to their own ‘bullshit jobs’. It’s all good.
Read the articles, about how productive other people are, the secrets of success at work and life, but don’t assume that’s the only way. Take the themes and apply them to your own life and your own personality in a way that fits. Interpret everything in your own way.
Yesterday, I read this article on James Altucher by Tessa Miller. It’s an impressive account of a super-structured approach to life and work. As impressive as it is, there’s no way I could superimpose James’ routine onto my own life and I’m not sure it would work for me – I can’t sleep for more than seven hours a night and my body and brain are just getting started at 8pm.
Even so, there’s so much I can gain from his insight – consciously cutting down the time I spend mindlessly exploring the internet, structuring my time more effectively, reading more of the right things more often. I can’t be James Altucher, I can only be me, but I can appreciate his example and adopt the bits that help me charge my superpowers and work the way I want to.
Information and technology are giving us all superpowers – we’re now increasingly in a position as workers and employers where anything is possible. As work superheroes, our overriding responsibility is to use those powers correctly and harness them to create an approach to work that we can successfully relate back to the real world and put into context – our own individual context. If you want to work seventy hours a week in a cubicle for someone else, or commute four hours a day, that’s absolutely fine, as long as you’ve consciously made the decision and know you have the power to make that choice.
When it comes to earning a living, anything is possible – what are you going to do?