Why do people work?


As I am awake as six o’clock in the morning preparing to drive pedicab for the Saint Paul, St. Patrick’s Day Parade this question is on my mind. I’ve received Social Security for my multiple disabilities for fifteen years now. There is no expectation that I have a job and for the first six years of being sick there was no way that I could work. My job was figuring out how to live but as soon as I could do anything I started working. One benefit to this is that I qualify for a Medicaid program in Minnesota designed for employed people with disabilities. Having medical coverage is essential to me and Medicare doesn’t really cover it but that’s another story.

Obviously the need for money is why many people work. It’s the driving assumption behind efforts to raise the minimum wage. People with a job should be able to survive in this modern world. For most people their job is their primary source of income but it’s hardly the only way to get money and perhaps not even the most efficient. You certainly can make more money panhandling than you can working at McDonald’s. The idea that if you work hard you will be financially rewarded for your efforts is a myth. In this modern age, for most people, working hard is essential for survival but it is no guarantee of great wealth.

Since money is essential for survival, if money is the only reason people work then the modern job is only one step removed from slavery. If money alone will get someone to do something that they wouldn’t do for any other reason, I don’t see how that is any different than bribery. That’s how I felt the other night when I had four stippers climb into the back of my cab all waving twenty dollar bills in my face. Believe me, I really wanted to help but as I explained to them, the law only permits me to transport three adults and even more important to me than the law was that I could lose my job. They were very disappointed that no amount of money could get me to give all four of them a ride. They also didn’t want to wait for another cab to arrive. They wanted what they wanted when they wanted it and thought that money was all they needed.

It is my belief that meaningful work, far more than money, is essential for human happiness. The work we do helps us form connections with other people and gives us an opportunity to make a difference in the world. Work is what gives us purpose.  Most of the work I do I don’t get paid for at all. Writing this blog is work for which I don’t get paid. Being a parent is work for which I don’t get paid. Being a friend is work for which I don’t get paid. I get paid for performing music but not any more than it costs me to be a working musician. Driving pedicab is the only work I do which makes money but if money was my only motivation, I wouldn’t do it.

So what do you think? Would you do the work you do if you didn’t get paid? If you didn’t need the money?

About lefreakshow
A walking contradiction attempting to make sense of this crazy world though the power of creation, exploration and communication.

2 Responses to Why do people work?

  1. RV says:

    I cannot speak as to why anyone else chooses to work. There are many different reasons, and I can only speak for myself and say that I work because I enjoy the sense of independence and structure it provides. Do I love my work? No. But I also don’t feel stifled by it. I think it allows me to utilize my best skills, and I feel that it is beneficial tofor my own intellectual and mental growth.

    I’ve worked ever since I could, starting at age 14. I moved out when I was 15, and independence in all areas has been a major theme and priority in my life. I have over 15 years of experience in my field. Though I am willing to bet that I could probably be making a lot more money than I do, I’ve always gotten by well enough and that satisfies me.

    Anyone who knows me may be surprised to hear this, as I lament about having to go to work pretty often. I think having to work 40 hours a week in order to make full time/get benefits/get the most money, is a lot. In the ideal world, we’d all be able to work 20-30 hour work weeks, and have more time and energy to devote to our families/friends/hobbies/pets. ‘

    So I’m not sure if I would do this work without getting paid! But I imagine I’d do something that requires similar skills.

    Thanks for letting me express myself here. 🙂

    Love ~ Ruby

    • lefreakshow says:

      I think 40 hours a week is a lot; at least it’s a lot when working for someone else. I work far more than that some weeks but I am my own boss. I work when I want to. I wish that the workers felt like they had more security and more choices. It’s better than it has been at other times in history but it could be a lot better.

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