For those of us who work in an office, work has been largely sanitized. Except for the enterprising rodent who roams the floors at midnight for overlooked lunch crumbs, there are none of Upton Sinclair’s meatpacking rats. And the primary physical toll of work is sitting too long. Perhaps our back hurts after a day hunched over a computer, but our complaints could not compete with those of Jurgis Rudkus. We may have disputes with colleagues, but there are none of Mike Scully’s henchmen.
If we are earning enough money so that we are comfortable and our work relationships don’t consume our life outside of work, we go home, and our second life, the one that work permits us, begins. Because we do not encounter rats save for the ones on subway tracks, and because we are not so physically exhausted we can’t go play tennis, it becomes easy to forget that it is work that provides us the take-out we picked up on the way home and the tennis club membership. And when we are chatting with our friends after tennis it can become easy to evaluate our work using measures outside work’s main purpose – survival.
It can become easy to think about fulfillment. How happy are we in our jobs? Do we feel like we’re making a difference? Are we being challenged intellectually? Are we doing everything we can to fully develop ourselves? Fulfillment becomes abstract – a construct we create. Restlessness for it consumes our thoughts and we begin to pretend we don’t work to survive.
Even when we lose our job we may remain consumed with the idea of finding fulfillment. We view the loss as an opportunity to find a job where we can express ourselves more fully. Yet we still don’t learn that work is about work.
It is our blessing we don’t. For if we did, there would be no risk taking leading to our achievement. Even Rudkus, though they did not work in his favor, took his risks. And we will never know if he’d been better off if he hadn’t. We should remember that work provides for our physical survival and consider ourselves lucky if it does so sufficiently, but if we abandon the hope of fulfillment, however we define it, there’s not left much to live for.