How to Tell When You're Tired

I’ve recently been really interested in the ideas of work. It all started when I read The Working Life a few years ago and it has continued to be something I am drawn to. How we think about work and its role in our lives has changed dramatically over the past century. Being in the tech industry, where people are talking about jobs, start ups, ideas, and working a lot of hours, it makes it even more appropriate to think on what it all means.

Recently I read How to Tell When You’re Tired: A Brief Examination of Work, and it sparked even more thoughts about how we think about these days we spend working. I highly recommend the book, not just because it is well written, but it is a completely different perspective on working than anything I’ve ever read. The author was a longshoreman for 30 years in San Francisco, he worked hard, he labored in a way that I find very foreign to me as I sit at a desk and write code. But through all that his thoughts on work are quite similar to other ideas I have read on the topic.

Shorter hours notwithstanding, the workday is the dominat fact of a worker’s existence, and more and more he sees it not as a part of the life he is living, but rather as a large hole in the time he spends on earth, the price he pays for the bits and pieces of life he has left.

If this is how we are living life, if work is something to just get us to retirement, what happens if it all goes wrong and we can’t retire at the appointed time? What happens if an accident or illness occurs and we don’t make it to retirement? Should we not be enjoying life now? How can you do that? Even if you are in a situation where change is hard, can it happen in some small way? All of these things are brought up by this book. I believe that working just to get the “big” payoff in retirement is not the way to live life. As you can see from what he says yet again in reference to retirement.

If retirement is what you are mainly working toward, then you are living a mistake, serving out a jail term, so to speak, waiting for release. The work you are now putting in is dead time.

But interestingly, he goes on at the end of the book to talk about how the problems that work brings up in life haven’t changed, even though work has change so much in the past century.

…[T]he problems surrounding work, how we do it and what it does to us as we do it, its rewards and lack of the same—its agony—remain little better resolved then they were 150 years ago. They remain, in fact, unaddressed.

This is what struck me as the saddest thought—how we think about work has not changed. We are still trying to resolve the same things that were plaguing us years ago, just the circumstances may have changed slightly.

There is so much in this book, so much that I didn’t even mention. It is a short read (less than 200 pages) and a perspective worth taking into account if you too are interested in work and its place in our lives.