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Jobs eventually dull any character they build
When I was a teenager, I got a job as soon as I could. Not just because making a little extra money to throw away it seemed like the thing to do, but because I kept hearing that the workplace promised to reveal the most important character lessons.
Bussing tables, stocking drinks, and washing dishes did teach me some stuff. I learned to make friends with tedium, something I credit with anything close to “accomplishment” I’ve done. I also experienced the harshness of the adult world—grown adults with families powerless to defy a twenty-something restaurant manager’s whims, for example. For better or worse, this connected me with a competitive urgency to win myself options and freedom to navigate the unsentimental life that awaited.
Since then, the jobs I’ve had have also taught me to detach my self-concept from my work: to take other’s decisions or criticism with grace and humor because, after all, “it’s business, not personal.”
But the workforce ran out of lessons for me sooner than I thought, and the ensuing years of repeating the same activities and attitudes sanded down other lessons I brought with me when I entered.
As my worldview calcified into a purely careerist lens, I lost lessons of play and leisure. I lost a sense of what it’s like to look at the non-transactional and the unconditional without suspicion. I lost lessons of friendship and family, lessons which teenage L took seriously and would be embarrassed to see me struggle with today.
Leisure builds character much better than work—Hinduism prescribes it* as necessary for full spiritual growth. If jobs taught me lessons in hardening my character, now I’m trying to connect with leisure as remedial school for softening it again.
Something to remember as we feel the need to steer children toward work in order to mold them for the world: as many lessons as the workplace offers, the world outside offers vastly more. The wisdom to be gained from stocking shelves or making power points is useless without the wisdom gained from getting lost in a book, running around with friends all day, or simply staring out the window.
*(created on the backs of servants doing housework for you, unfortunately. But that’s for another post.)