All work and no play makes Shaq a dull boy, but at least his advisor The Nicessist has some advice on how to look at his predilection to labour.
Ever since I realized my station in life wasn’t anywhere close to where it should be, I have kept my head down and worked, believing wholeheartedly in the aphorism “Work sets you free” hoping that working day and night will release me from my prison of mediocrity. And though nothing’s come of it yet, this commitment to working in every waking moment does give me great satisfaction. Most days, working is the only thing that makes me happy…
However, on a recent trip to a museum (for work, not pleasure), it came to my attention that “Work sets you free” was the motto adorned atop the fences of Nazi concentration camps. A dreadful revelation, one that nearly broke me existentially. Luckily, The Nicessist appeared to pick me up just as I was falling.
“What’s the matter, Shaq?” The Nicessist spoke softly, seemingly unperturbed by my need to use it as a crutch since the revelation had made my legs atrophy and useless.
“I think I might be a closeted-Nazi. Which makes me want to throw up. Look at this!” I pointed to the exhibit showcasing the iron gates that bore the ominous message ARBEIT MACHT FREI.
“You’re not a Nazi. This is simply a most unfortunate coincidence due to ignorance.”
“Let’s hope so. But maybe this isn’t coincidence. Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe I was meant to see these gates and realize that tying happiness and satisfaction directly to working is as toxic and evil as the group as that erected it.”
“That’s a bit of a stretch. Your propensity for getting satisfaction from your work can’t even begin to compare to the atrocities committed by the Nazis.”
“I know it’s out of proportion but you know what I mean, right? I should be worried that my emotional well-being is so informed by the work I was able or wasn’t able to do on any given day, shouldn’t I?”
“It’s perfectly natural. Your brain releases dopamine when you are productive. It’s a small, but powerful reward you give yourself for doing something right. The more tasks you give your brain to accomplish, the more dopamine gets released into your system.”
“Why did you tell me that? Now that I know I can get high off my own brain chemistry just by working, the only thing I’ll ever do now is work.”
“That would be unwise, Shaq. If you grow dependent on the dopamine that gets released from being productive, you’ll slip into workaholism. Not only will this put a strain on your personal relationships, thus diminishing your overall wellbeing, workaholics tend to derive little enjoyment from the work they compulsively do. Then where will you be? Some place far worse that the ‘prison of mediocrity’ you currently occupy is my guess. Isolated. Alienated. And going through withdrawal. Is that what you want?”
“What worries me most is not how much satisfaction and happiness you derive from your work on a daily basis, because pursuing passions gives your life a much needed sense of purpose. What worries me is why. ‘Prison of mediocrity?’ It’s a bit melodramatic, don’t you think?”
“The fact of the matter is, Shaq, work won’t set you free. By all means, enjoy the process and the fruits of labour, even if that fruit is a simple release of hormones in the brain. But the dissatisfaction you feel in your own life can’t simply be resolved by writing 10 blog posts in one sitting.”
“What can rid this sense of dissatisfaction if not working myself to death?”
The Nicessist began its evaporation into the ether, “That, my friend, will be something that will become clear through meditation.”
Once it had vanished, a security guard approached me to let me know that the museum would be closing in 15 minutes. As I made my way to the exit, I thought about all the work I wanted to complete that evening. However, absent was a feeling of excitement. Only dread. Rather than book it home to slouch in front of my computer, I chose to roam the city.
On my walk, I met nice doggies, made my breath bitter with a nice hot cup of coffee and felt relieved that there was still satisfaction to be found in life’s simple pleasure. Feeling invigorated, I went back to work because it seemed like a fun thing to do.