This one little word is what drives over 90% of the developed world to get out of bed in the morning. But why do we do it?
Chances are we go to work not because we want to leave our family, not to be removed from our friends, and certainly not (for the most part) because we actually love what we do. So why do we work?
Programming a generation of hungry consumers
Like me, you probably assumed that the 40 hour workweek (and the 9-5 job) have been around forever. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the traditional working week as it stands today hasn’t been around for as long as you might think.
It was Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, who developed the concept of having set hours in the 5 day, 40 hour, 9-5 workweek during the Industrial Revolution of the 1920’s. The previous standard was a 6 day, 48 hour week, which frequently turned into 10-16 hour days to keep up with production.
Productivity was high and demand was ever increasing, as the great nation of the USA uncovered a hunger for man-made machines. So if demand was increasing, why then would Ford actively reduce the number of working man-hours?
Ford was smart. He foresaw a change in the needs of the workforce. His ‘tribe’ were facing burnout, disgruntlement, and finding their reason for tending to their work had changed. No longer did they show up day in, day out to earn money for ‘survival’, they now wanted money to purchase pleasurable items, such as a Ford motor vehicle. The problem was, they didn’t have the leisure time to use them. So why would they bother to buy one?
To address this, Ford decided to implement a 40 hour workweek to give his employees the leisure time they needed to justify buying his cars. Not only did Ford succeed with this, he encouraged follow-on spending on accessories, and further fuel the hungry consumer economy.
In an interview published in World’s Work magazine in 1926, Ford explains why he switched his workers from a 6-day, 48-hour workweek to a 5-day, 40-hour workweek but still paid employees the same wages:
"Leisure is an indispensable ingredient in a growing consumer market because working people need to have enough free time to find uses for consumer products, including automobiles." ~ Henry Ford
It’s been said that there’s a grey area between brilliance and madness, and it’s quite possible that this brilliant man created a modern day meaning for our work that is nothing short of mad.
The origins of work - why we trade time for money
In generations gone by, money was a means to an end. Ask your parents, and grandparents (if you still have them) and they will likely tell you that their 40 hour workweek provided money which gave security, pleasure, social status, and a way to keep up with everyone else in their social circles.
Such a promise that the idea working for money provided, that the concept of the 9-5 job spread globally and enticed people with the lure of lavish lifestyles and exclusive riches. All in exchange for a petty 8 hours of time, 5 days a week.
The idea of money as a means of security, and fearing recurrence of the great depression, helped create a psychological shift in the way people viewed their time, and what they figured made life a ‘success' or ‘failure'.
The definition for ’success’ in life rapidly turned away from satisfying our primal human needs (shelter, food, companionship, and contribution) and a mindset of ‘providing for the family’, instead turning to the manufactured belief that what you needed was oodles of money, flashy cars, a big house, and lots of wealthy friends with whom you could generate envy.
Then, once you got all that, you needed to keep working long and hard until you reached the golden era of retirement, where you could leisurely spend the years of labour resulting in your hard-earned dollars, sipping margaritas on a secluded island beach somewhere in the Pacific…
An new era dawns - working for love and purpose
A cultural change is afoot, and people are able to earn money in many new and exciting ways that will shape the reason why we work for future generations.
We now live in a modern world where our most basic of needs are met largely without the need of work. Let’s be honest. If you were to find yourself out of work tomorrow, with no other options, the government would still provide you with welfare assistance until you got back on your feet.
The ‘worst case scenario’ of the 21st Century doesn’t compare to times gone by, and that’s a good thing for the most part. We truly live in a time of good fortune. So if our survival needs are met (shelter, food, water, security), why would you choose to work at all?
I was fortunate enough to travel around Europe a few years ago and spend time with wonderful people who were less fortunate than I. They lived modest lives with their survival needs covered, and worked modest jobs with enough money to spend on a holiday once a year with their family.
Then along came me, travelling for 9 months on my savings, without the need for an income, across 14 countries around the world. A young, lucky guy from Australia, doing something that most of them had only ever dreamed of. Needless to say I became grateful for my good fortune, and decided to see things in this different light upon my return to Australia, and resume my comfortable existence.
I returned from this journey back to my miserable job with the hope that my new mindset of gratefulness would have me see things differently. It didn’t work. Within the following six months I was depressed and left the job altogether.
What was I missing? Despite experiencing the lifestyle of a backpacker, and of those less fortunate than I, why could I not be satisfied with the luxuries of my cushy corporate 9-5 job?
Evolution. We in the western world have progressed to higher needs - a need to address a higher potential that goes beyond survival alone. We no longer use work as a means of survival, we use our occupations to improve our quality of life, to achieve personal success, and to make ourselves happier.
While there are many amongst us that still work to pay for the most basic of necessities, an increasing proportion of people in the world today are realising what I did after returning from my crusade in Europe years ago - working for money isn’t a fulfilling reason to work.
So if money is no longer sufficient, then what was I looking for? What is the population turning to now in order to find satisfaction in their work?
This video by Oprah Winfrey and her interview with Caroline Myss, sums it up perfectly. We’re looking for purpose, passion, and fulfilment - something that enhances our spirit, and a cause that doesn’t betray our ultimate reason for why we are here on this earth.
Sure, money is nice, and it ensures our security and level of comfort, but it doesn’t provide us with a real sense of value or self worth.
The lure of working hard to reach the golden age of retirement is fast disappearing, as younger generations look at their mothers and fathers and see the fallacy of their investment in this ‘promised land’. Wait until you are old and no longer of optimal health to get out and enjoy life? It’s a sad milestone that many in the past have aspired to, and equally as many have failed to reach.
People are now turning to what makes them happy and fulfilled, and are even embracing fundamentals of a minimalist lifestyle. Yes, evolution is turning full circle. The reign of the 40 hour workweek is fast coming to a close.
Take back your time
Does this sound like you? Are you working for the next paycheck, and paying the price of an unfulfilled, miserable life? Are you spending your precious years doing something you don’t love, only to reward yourself 60 years later with a well deserved break? There is a better way.
With the help of the internet and concepts like the 4 Hour Workweek, $100 Startup and more, there are more ways than ever for you to make money doing what you love. It all starts with your courage to take action, become a self-master, and break free from your 9-5 corporate job. Only then will you have the opportunity to be aptly rewarded for the unique contribution you can make to the world, and leave a lasting legacy for future generations to come.
Maybe you need a passport, something to kickstart your journey. Could this be it?
Here’s to an exciting road ahead...
Over to you: Would you agree the days of trading your valuable time for a measly salary are quickly falling behind? Have you mustered the courage to kickstart your own cause? Tell us your story in the comments below.
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About the Author
Hi, I'm Jason, founder of Kickstart a Cause, teaching you to unlock your true potential and create a life you were born to live. When I'm not inspiring greatness in others, I can be found travelling the world exploring the beauty of nature.
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