Chapter 11

Are you competitive?

We are the only ones who can decide what consti­tutes work and what value it has to us. Work is our very own expression of our perso­nality. It is only possible to assess what work is via a wage rate or a fee by simpli­fying what work is. Breaking down work into activities that are remune­rated propa­gates the myth that paid routine perfor­mance is all you need. However, techno­lo­gical advances – parti­cu­larly robots – relent­lessly show us that work has to be more than something machines can perform.

Our physical consti­tution and state of mind, our talents and short­co­mings, our intellectual abilities as well as our character strengths and weaknesses dictate the direction of where we will find our field of work. Indivi­duals who have disco­vered their talent for learning languages but have trouble doing the waltz should not try to open a dance school and should focus on becoming an inter­preter instead.

What’s more: the society we are born into only gives us work oppor­tu­nities within its own framework. Indivi­duals who do not want to accept this have to revolt or escape. In fact, it’s only in developed Western societies that most people are relatively free to choose their occupation

Only those who are masters of their work can be their own masters

People in every generation try to organize their life according to their own ideas, create or maintain wealth, provide for their old age, and gain influence and prestige. We grow into this process as children and adole­s­cents. And since working involves making an effort and overcoming your inhibi­tions, the following question soon arises: What am I actually working for? For myself, my family, my fellow human beings, my company, my boss, for imple­menting an idea for my people and my nation, or for a better world?

When during job inter­views, people are asked about their dream job, you often hear that it is supposed to be interesting and offer a variety of tasks. In other words: Work is supposed to be an experience, stimu­lating, enriching, and help you develop as a person. These are all requi­re­ments addressed to your employer. However, very few of us think about setting up our work in such a way that it is interesting and help us advance. The prevailing opinion is that you do not create work yourself, it’s given to you. But if it is an expression of our indivi­duality, then we have to take ownership of our work.

The ultimate personal catastrophe – unemployment – arises from an incorrect attitude towards work. I will wait for others to give me work via the unemployment office. This is an approach that borders on one being incapable of earning a livelihood, since you have let your oppor­tu­nities to work become someone else’s business. This is being grossly negligent towards yourself. It corre­sponds to an attitude not unlike assuming that doctors are respon­sible for your health, teachers are respon­sible for raising your children and the government is respon­sible for your pension. With this kind of an attitude, work becomes a service that you lay claim to. And you waste away when nobody offers you work.

Here’s a more realistic approach to work: I’m my own employer – even if I am working for a company. This means identi­fying with your work and seeing it as an expression of your perso­nality. Admit­tedly, this is not possible in every job. But work should not just be what you do for a living, but in fact it should be every­thing you do for your own life and the life of others.

What allegedly consti­tutes decent work

Since many people have their interests repre­sented as employees for remune­rated work instead of realizing them themselves, the notions of those who see themselves as employee repre­sen­ta­tives are important. As explained in a publi­cation of the Federation of German Trade Unions, work is “decent when it does not cause a risk to health and when the maximum level of well-being is achieved.”

What is health? The World Health Organization offers the following definition: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So who really is healthy then? Well-being becomes the key term here.

What is well-being? This question remains unans­wered. Back when jobs were still relatively secure, you would come across post-its in some offices that showed what the inverse of the “highest degree of well-being” does to you: “The way to ruin your entire life by working.” These kinds of state­ments really show: You really cannot get much farther away from what working really means.

The keyword being “well-being”. There are many ways to define what work means to you and is experi­enced so differ­ently by everyone that, for example, one and the same job may be the definition of well-being to one person and a complete nightmare to others. Working involves exertion, ease, concen­tration, and also relaxation, solitude, and socia­bility. Working has to do with your life goals and your personal attitude towards life.

People go through major hardship and risk to achieve what they once set out to do. These are often resolu­tions made as a child or teenager: Never being poor again; showing everyone that you’ve “made it”; getting power over something that oppresses you; shaming those who laughed at you. These kinds of motiva­tions to work are like a thorn in your side. But this has nothing to do with well-being.

The job market reflects the misun­derstanding of what work is

Work is all about highs and lows, sweat and ingenuity, error and virtuosity and failure and triumph. It is at work where people experience their highs and lows of their existence. So it is just pure mockery and ignorance to define decent work based on the term of well-being, which is a term based on health. What about people who find their meaning of life in their work despite illness, despite their ailments, despite their handicaps? What about people who also take on risks and suffering precisely because of their work? Is all of that not decent work?

No matter whether the job market is charac­te­rized by unemployed people or whether there is an enormous shortage of urgently needed employees with certain quali­fi­ca­tions, you always see a misguided under­standing and an incorrect assessment of work. All demonization and forcible suppression of market processes has not been able to perma­nently shut down markets as the only realistic balancing and valuation proce­dures. For this reason, we can’t prevent illicit work – despite its propa­gated ostracism, and despite all of the controls and all of the tough penalties. Of course markets are events that need to be organized. But the event as such is rendered unusable time and time again – the baby is thrown out with the bath water.

The labor market cannot be disabled in the long run. Those who nevert­heless do this, with the power of demons­tra­tions that attract so much media attention, and political asser­ti­veness, may prevent market forces from taking hold for the moment, but these forces will eventually return, and when they do, they will come back with a vengeance.

Therefore, the following should be noted:

  1. The markets will assess work, and this is inevitable.
  2. Markets evaluate work according to its contri­bution to prosperity – and not well-being.

All of the laments regarding “social injustice” will not be able to change this. People who do not want to acknow­ledge this fact confuse the world as it is with a paradise that it unfort­u­nately is not – and that no political power in the world can give us.

Enjoying compe­tition

There is compe­tition in markets. Markets are not meant to make you feel warm and fuzzy but constitute an exchange of services and expec­ta­tions for future services. Teachers who want to spare adole­s­cents the truth of the markets are not allowing them to recognize and accept reality. Instead, they deprive the young people of the important experience that life is a compe­tition. When there is a shortage of suitable young people for appren­ti­ce­ships, trainers have to take on the challenge of finding appren­tices who are willing and able to be trained.

It would be the respon­si­bility of the parents, school, and society to convey how to learn that work can be fun. Sports clubs can provide excellent assis­tance to do just that, parti­cu­larly when they help people practice behaving fairly. But every compe­tition is also about morals. Without morals, compe­tition morphs into violence, brutality, and mutual annihilation.

Therefore, conflict behavior formed by morality must be the norm in a society. Opposing interests must be negotiated fairly. For this reason, exchanging services of the markets is always a balancing act and you agree to a fair compromise. It’s like in politics: It’s not politics that ruins your character but bad characters that ruin politics.

Since we are market parti­ci­pants in many different ways and since markets in their function depend on us behaving fairly we must make sure in our imminent interest that the morals are right – and not only for others, but mainly for ourselves. For this reason, working on yourself also means improving your character.

Overcome the conve­nience of being someone else’s ward!

People who do not want others to determine their lives must start by working on themselves. This is the only way to become an adult. And this is a process that you have to start in your childhood home. In the end, we cut the proverbial cord when we free ourselves from our home and become independent. This may not be an escape or simply switching out who tells us what to do – such as an environment of autho­ri­tarian associa­tions defined by ideology. Finding yourself is the task that must be solved for the first time in your life when you leave your home.

And this is not just seeking refuge with guardians who guide the way and take on the uncom­for­table parts of life for you. In fact, these guardians typically think more about themselves and their own well-being. You should be skeptical when someone claims to be able to solve problems that you could solve yourself if you tried or – such as for work – we can only solve ourselves. In fact, someone may abuse us as their power base for their ideology.

In the early years of being an adult, we have to learn how to be alone, that is being independent. This becomes more difficult later on. The ability of being on your own can be balanced out best during the phase of becoming independent with the youthful skills of making new friends with ease. This combi­nation is important for finding and stabi­lizing the balance between “alone” and “social”. Otherwise, being alone could become lonely when being lonely cannot be endured and results in fleeing into commu­nities that you subject yourself to for fear of being alone.

A lack of indepen­dence results in living your life as a ward, a lemming, a subject, a servant, and someone whose life is directed by others. Some people may then find their well-being as a complacent “slave”. Most people actually feel uncom­for­table in their own lack of indepen­dence. But they shirk away from the realization that they are the only ones that can change themselves and that they have to undertake the painful process of change as a withdrawal treatment from conve­nience, laziness, lack of disci­pline, urge for pleasure, lack of respon­si­bility, etc. They do not have the slightest notion of the feeling of happiness that awaits those who have managed the withdrawal treatment and achieved the freedom of independence.

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