This week I will mainly be arguing against working hard. Not as a political act against the ignorant branding of the word Hardworking ™ by people with trust funds. Nope, I’m arguing against it on the basis that it’s a fast-track to becoming a wronger.
Let me explain.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been gigging about how to survive work, spreading the good word that it’s not our fault that many of us hardworking folk are broke and struggling to survive. Facts is facts, that the gaffers of globalization are to blame, but less easy to peddle is the idea that there’s still a job of work to be done to tackle the internal gaffer. This is the internal voice that propels you out of bed like a good exorcism on a Saturday morning and questions your need for weekends and lunch breaks, trips to the dentist and your god given right to fall asleep on the sofa on bank holidays.
This insight is particularly hard to sell to the ‘good guys’, the thousands of activists, volunteers and people that genuinely want to change the world that are surfing the new wave of Social Enterprise. So, what I am about to say is about me, based on a lifetime of taking the moral high ground and ignoring the reality that doing good work doesn’t make you a good person. I leave it to your judgement whether this has any bearing on your life.
The massive growth in social enterprises reflects some major work trends, from the outsourcing of health and social care, the small green shoots of alternative energy, to the lack of graduate jobs. The term Social Enterprise is essentially a not-for-profit that does some social good. 50% of undergraduates in Business Schools define themselves as social entrepreneurs and with £80 to companies house to call yourself El Director thus doubling your sexual currency, who wouldn’t?
Much of the work done by social enterprises is not very enterprising. The foundation and ethical start-up money is running out and many social entrepreneurs are unwaged or rely on unwaged labour. The sector is proof that just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean it’s a good business idea.
It’s also possible that you don’t always need to take it at face value that when someone says they are doing it for the kids, that they actually are. The world can sometimes be 180 degrees; corrupt lawyers, broke financiers and therapists motivated to ‘cure’ patients is an attempt to disown and deal with their own mental health problems. With this in mind a degree of cynicism is probably wise in this heroic terrain.
Probably the defining characteristic of a social entrepreneur is that they are really busy. Busy busy bees. Oh sorry, can’t make for Christmas, on a flight to a diamond mine in DRC. Seriously you can’t expect me to buy milk and feed the dogs because I’m helping POOR PEOPLE. An unquestionable unavailability. Voila, the safety of the moral high ground.
Heroes are in fact often propelled out of bed to help the disadvantaged by a deep and unconscious sense of guilt. They have superegos the size of tanks. The future of the planet in our superhero hands, somehow psychically charged with the power to save the world. Yup, pants on the outside.
When someone is this busy it’s hard to ask whether it might also be an attempt to maintain a fiction of omnipotence through manic defences. There, I’ve said it now, doing a George Clooney might be a sign of mental illness. A deep sense of inadequacy packed away under a tonne weight of guilt and good deeds. While it might be gratifying to think that Angelina feels like a loser, who is going to pop this fantastic balloon and risk looking like a total witch?
A Superhero’s Story
Like a lot of people working in the international aid world I was full of it. The cause and myself. I was really busy, holidays were meaningless and breaks were for pussies. The only person to challenge my righteous behaviour was Kurt, a German bloke that worked for me.
I was a really bad boss. I thought I was an inspiration, all liberal and empowering, like the pony-tailed teacher hanging out with the kids. Kurt and I managed to work together on an HIV/AIDS project in the mining sector. It was a cracking project, involving negotiating with multinational companies for treatment, a real first of its kind. With the obvious difficulties of a woman in her 30s travelling around mines with an old German bloke talking about sex to hostile groups of miners, we overcame a car crash of gender dynamics with little fuss. Fact is though he hated me and I could never work out why.
On my last day he told me, along with a disclosure that he was a foot fetishist and had 200 pictures of my feet for his own personal use. He explained that the reason why he hated me was that I made him feel like a loser. Despite working 6 days a week 12 hours a day he never reached the literally dizzying heights of my moral high ground. Although my compulsion to be busy-busy-busy was mainly driven by a chronic taste in men and a profound sense of loneliness, turns out it had also made me a bully.
The world of work does not follow Daily Mirror rules, neatly dividing good people from bad people, hard workers from slackers, righters from wrongers. All of us have the potential to be destructive and unkind to the people we work with, even when we have the best of intentions. This is particularly the case when we’re too busy to notice how we affect other people. For those of us on the social side of things probably the best we can do is get of our high moral horse and cut our superegos down to size.
Save yourself before you attempt to save the world and just don’t work so hard.