The Four Hour Workweek (or four hours of my life I’m not getting back)

Over the holiday weekend, I took my equivalent of a Think Week or in my case, a Think Week-end. I packed  several books, articles and papers and headed off and stayed disconnected all weekend. Among the books I read were Guy Kawasaki’s the Art of the Start, , Fumbling the Future, The Invisible Computer, a series of essays on the life of Abraham and the Four Hour Work Week.

I’ll start with some comments on the last one first since it’s getting so much buzz lately. Honestly, I almost put the book down immediately after he told how he “won” his kickboxing title. Reminded me of the Seinfeld where Kramer takes Karate lessons and is “victorious” over eight year olds. Sadly, that behavior is a theme that is recurrent through the book. Was anything suggested illegal? Perhaps not. Immoral? absolutely.

To quote Samuel Johnson, there were parts of the book that were original and good but what was good wasn’t original and what was original wasn’t good. Many of the concepts in the book have been around for years. For example, the hero of John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee series was noted for taking his retirement in installments and parts of the book sounded like they were lifted directly from McGee’s words.

More troubling was the whole take on work and a work ethic. If a lot of the book sounded familiar, it’s because it’s a philosophy that’s been around for a while. Greek mythology and hence Greek culture  had a slave society because they felt work was beneath the dignity of the free man and it robbed man of time better used for introspection, thinking and perhaps kickboxing lessons. In fact, the Greeks dreamed of a golden age of where work would not be required or only the bare minimum of work. The rest could be done by slaves (or perhaps outsourced to India for $5.00 an hour).

I think work is good. It is a value and should be embraced not outsourced to create a leisure class. I have been taught and believe that work is dignifying, redeeming and cleansing. For man (or woman for that matter) to achieve things that are great, have meaning and depth there is only one way to do so -through work. I’m glad that the refuse workers who remove the waste from my home don’t outsource their work to India. I’m also pleased that the Neurosurgeon who repaired my spine a few years ago didn’t only work four hours a week, or aspire to. I’m sure you can think of others as well.

Ferris also makes certain assumptions about people and their careers. Few, he writes, have jobs that are fulfilling and meaningful (i’m paraphrasing here, the book has already gone back to the library). That’s perhaps true. One sad fact is lots of folks don’t like what they do and have fallen into monotonous work. One challenge of man is to engage the world, find the things that spark interest, learn and pursue them. I count myself among the fortunate. I like what I do and look forward to each day. The challenge is to find the thing that you love and pursue it. Do it. There’s an adage that says “do what you love and the money will follow”. I’m not sure that’s true but if you’re truly doing what you love, you won’t care. That to me is the key. It’s not about working 4 hours a week. Perhaps it’s working much more than that, but it only feels like four.

The poet Robert Frost said it far better than I.

But yield who will to their separation
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time

Forget four hours a week. Work on uniting your avocation and your vocation. After that, it won’t even feel like work at all.

One response to “The Four Hour Workweek (or four hours of my life I’m not getting back)

  1. Saw Wall*E this past weekend … you could draw parallels to the humans living on the Axiom as what is likely to happen if we stop working and strive for a leisure class.

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