When it comes to our work, we often can’t connect the dots. We can’t join heart and head. We have a bunch of emotional baggage that keeps nagging us from the inside, insisting that work should, well… feel like work.

To this I have one question:

Who says?

Who says work needs to feel hard or be painful? Who says work should be unfulfilling or tedious? Who says work must simultaneously take more of our time and be more miserable than anything else in our lives? Who says work has to feel like “work”?

Who says work has to suck?

More importantly, why have we accepted this as true?

Over the thousands of years humans have roamed the planet, we’ve found many ways to work. From our days as hunters and gatherers to the complex multinational corporate behemoths of the 21st Century, the way we “do business” with each other has continually evolved, sometimes in strange and unexpected ways. But the reality is that for almost all of us, our work occupies the great majority of our lives. We begin working in some capacity when we are teenagers and never really stop. It doesn’t matter if we are a tour guide in Beijing, an owner of a children’s bookstore in Prague, or a steel worker in Ohio, whatever we do for work defines what the rest of our life can look like. And strangely, despite the fact that the vast majority of our existence is taken with this singular topic of work, we spend almost no time thinking about why we work the way we do.

The fact that we don’t often think about our motivations for work is an important insight in itself. Realizing this disconnect helps us answer the chapter title’s question—Is work supposed to suck?— because it turns out the answer is NO. It isn’t supposed to. We’re just so busy that we don’t have the time or space to internalize that reality.

The other challenge about work is that, like parenting, it’s not taught, it’s caught. This largely explains why we work the way we do (and why it’s so hard to change): we see the way our parents work, or our teachers work, or our first managers work, and we just do that. It’s habit. We don’t think about why, we don’t stop to ponder, we don’t question anything, really; we just get to work. We “catch” whatever work styles our role models display just like we catch a virus.

The outcome is that, unless we are blessed with excellent examples (quite rare) or are able to educate ourselves about healthy, life-giving ways to work (hard to find time to do this with all the “work” we have to do!), we’re pretty much stuck doing whatever our role models did. It’s not intentional bad practice, it’s just ignorance. The sad result is that we end up feeling like work IS supposed to suck, because the sucky kind is all we’ve ever seen modeled.

Then, on top of all these personal misunderstandings about the point of work, we’ve got organizational structures that make it worse.

Think about all the monumental innovations that have occurred in most areas of business, from technology to operations to sales to finance. Despite these advances, there have been virtually no real-world changes in the area of organizational design. We could be part of a brilliant new startup building the most progressive, cutting-edge products on the planet, but when it comes to systemizing the way we work together in an organization, we default back to a “departmental model” that hasn’t changed in decades (and is really just a continuation of “scientific management,” which started over 100 years ago!).

This seems ridiculous (and pretty much is), but there are a few good reasons for it…



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