Depending on how mindless the video game is, I like to listen to audiobooks or podcasts while I game, and the recently released Super Smash Bros Ultimate fits the bill perfectly for this. Coincidentally, Audible gifted me a free audiobook, and needing a break from the heavy philosophy / business books I typically read, I opted for a fiction title: Post Office by Charles Bukowski. Okay, I’m clearly not doing a great job at avoiding philosophy, but hey, I’m really enjoying this book, particularly the audio performance given by Christian Baskous.
Post Office is centered around the semi-autobiographical character Henry “Hank” Chinaski. Told in first person, the narrative follows Chinaski through a series of events centered primarily around Chinaski’s job at, you guessed it, the post office. Not really spoiling anything, Chinaski eventually takes the job as a clerk at a post office, and during his ordination, the ordinator(?) goes on a small tirade about how Chinaski has made a great decision in taking a position that will provide him lifelong security.
And that’s where I had to pause and write this.
There’s so much to unpack there, particularly in that word “security.” Post Office was published in 1975, so when Bukowski wrote this, the concept of a lifelong job was alive and well. Many people worked in factories and other similar jobs, and they were sold this bill of goods that so long as you punch in, punch out every day, the company will take care of you.
That’s just not the case anymore. At least, not at a majority level. Sure, many people still work in jobs for life with the same company, but with our Information Age, that has drastically changed in the last two decades. Companies don’t have the longevity that they used to, and it’s very common especially amongst younger people to jump between jobs frequently. Angel investor Naval Ravikant has shared this idea about a forthcoming “gig economy” that has me very intrigued, but that’s another post for another day.
So sure, that is kind of a lie in today’s terms, but it wasn’t necessarily a lie back then. There’s actually a bigger lie in that statement of security. One that I think overshadows everything we’ve talked about so far.
To understand that lie, we first have to have a basic understanding of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Wikipedia provides a decent enough explanation, so I’ll link off to that here if you want a deeper explanation. For our purposes, let’s focus on what happens as we move up the pyramid. The bottom two levels really have to do with the basic essential things about keeping us alive. This would be stuff like putting food on the table, living in a house, and providing other basic needs. Moving up the period, we get into deeper “purpose of life” kind of levels. This is why we have friends, get married, and attend church.
You might summarize those top few rows with one word: happiness.
Now, do you see the great lie told by security?
A job might provide security in the physiological and safety senses, but it fails to deliver on happiness.
The lie that we’re all told is that the material goods that satisfy those bottom levels also satisfy the top levels, but history has told us time and time again that that is not true. Take lottery winners, for example. They think that getting all the money in the world will solve their problems, but in too many cases, it actually creates unfathomably worse problems, ranging from drug issues to even death. Celebrities also fall into this category, where we see far too often the collapse of a person’s life because money didn’t bring them happiness.
And it’s not just amongst edge cases but amongst regular people, too. Having worked in nursing homes with my dad as a teen, it was unfortunate to see how many of those people were dreadfully miserable. You’d come to find out that they had worked a factory job until retirement, and with real sense of purpose at that old age, they basically became miserable people who found temporary solace in watching TV or playing bingo. I’m not at all trying to make fun of these people; I have great pity for them. They were sold a bill of goods that factory life would make them happy, and while it materially provided for them… it sucked the life right out of them.
Now, I’m picking on factory jobs, but I’m really referring to any job where you’ve traded your dignity and happiness for material security. In that sense, a doctor could be miserable, and conversely, a factory worker who truly enjoys what they do might actually be happy with their choice. If there’s two things I want you to walk away with from this post, it’s that job security is on the decline, and job security never made you happy, anyway.
We’re knocking on the door of 2019, and now might just be the perfect time to start making some changes. You don’t have to do everything right away, but now is a good time to start planting those seeds that will flourish into the career you want to move into. Start getting some training under your belt. Start making new contacts in new fields. And yes, it is easier to do this if you are young, but I would never say it’s impossible even if you’re older.
It’s time for you take your life back that you may have sold away so many years ago. It’s time for you to really, truly start living the life that you want to live. Make 2019 be that point you look back and think, “That was the year I really started living.”
Turn the greatest lie into your greatest life.