Developing a strong work ethic

Sep 14, 2017 22:05 · 979 words · 5 minutes read philosophy productivity society work

Last Saturday, I successfully hosted a book club(Urban Perspective) meet-up at some popular coffee place somewhere in the Nairobi city center(Café Deli). What I got from the experience was something quite insightful. We explored some of the great thinkers and doers of our society and wondered what contributed to their perceived success. What can we learn from them? This question led us to talk about work culture and its influence in our society.

It came to no surprise that some of us waste alot of out time doing trivial things that eat up our day. If only we used more of our time doing more productive things, then perhaps we’d make some decent progress in stuff we like. Perhaps our constant distraction from things we need to do can be attributed to the consumerism culture we have strongly cultivated.

What does having a strong work ethic really entail? Why bother?

Perhaps, using the term “work ethic” does not really feel right because this term is burdened with the negative connotation that is often associated with the term “work”(thanks to the corporate world). For the purposes of this article, I use the term “work ethic” to refer to a set of principles you use to get things done. “Work ethic” can be associated with such things as practising some sport, performing the arts and so on. The limit of doable things is only limited to your imagination.

We live in a society where we rarely see the sweat that went behind accomplishing some tasks. We glorify achievements, but rarely acknowledge hard work. We see the star, rarely the process that made the star. Many people who we perceive to be successful got to where they are because of alot of hard work and some element of luck. Hard work will necessarily not make you successful, but will perhaps improve your chances of being successful. In my opinion, it’s an end in itself. This game made me realise this– hard work being an end in itself– by demonstrating that making bad choices encourages you to make more bad choices in addition to inhibiting your ability to make better choices. Cultivating a decent work ethic makes you make better choices which better places you to make more better choices. Weird feedback loops indeed! I digress.

A strong work ethic involves devoting alot of your time practising or performing your art or gaining knowledge partaining to it. Consistent effort here is key. This is easier said than done. Being productive (and staying that way) can be hard. All we’d want to do might involve sitting on the couch and binge watch some movie/ series. With this regard, developing the discipline to stick to a given task is something of importance in developing a strong work ethic. Focusing on one task can be hard; It’s hard because there’s so much distractions thanks to how interconnected we’ve become due to modern advances in technology.

Another thing of importance to consider is setting goals. Having goals is necessary in giving your work purpose. [1] Performing goal-oriented actions is less about formulating logical steps on how to accomplish something, but more about getting things done so that work invested wouldn’t be counter-productive. However, an inherent problem with setting goals is: What happens when you achieve your goals? Simply setting more goals may prove to be an effective solution to this.

Goals can be important, but not to everybody. Perhaps you are a nihilist, where nothing really matters. You have embraced the fact(in your opinion) that nothing really matters and nothing really makes sense. [2] In your case, perhaps thinking like Camus helps: To embrace the absurd, you have to acknowledge that life is absurd and live it anyway. Not because you hope you’re wrong, but because you know you’re right, but living is more fun than not.

Another thing you should not overlook is both your availability and reliability. These 2 things usually determine whether other people want to work with you or simply avoid you. There are numerous ways to improve on these 2 qualities. It’s up to you to come up with these ways.

We should strive to develop and maintain interest in our fields of expertise. In many cases, interest precedes knowledge. If you are interested in something, you will want to know more about “that” something. It won’t simply be a dull exercise in accumulating information, but an engaging activity of processing it. Developing some deep interest in the activities we do will (hopefully) breed some innate thirst for knowledge partaining said activities. Often, our interest in activities presents itself as curiosity. Indeed, curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.

Finally, we should strive to become knowledgeable in things we do. Being knowledgeable on some things sometimes has the effect of improving the quality of our work in addition to having the side-effect of improving the level of enjoyability of our work(sometimes). Another really interesting thing with learning new stuff is that it leads to the synthesis of new things. One effective way of growing our knowledge base is by developing a strong reading culture, something a majority of our population(at least in my country) lack.

I’ve highlighted a few considerations regarding developing a good work ethic. There is more to this than what I’ve presented here. In my opinion, developing a decent work ethic is an organic process; We become better at it by doing more and more things and by being influenced by several cultures around us. Regardless of what situation you are in, I believe it’s worth your while to develop some strong working ethics that work for you.

[1] Work Ethic
[2] Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus”: A summary

Influential books and videos:
[1] The Art of Unix Programming
[2] A Mind At Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age
[3] One-on-one with Elon Musk