What is work ethic? Wikipedia says it’s a value based on hard work and diligence, and frames it in the context of Marxism and the Soviet Union. It also talks about Ben Franklin’s quote that time = money, and uses a phrase “the value of delayed gratification to achieve self-actualization”.
Some sociologists argue that it’s irrational for an employee to work hard in a context where he “can’t rationally hope to become more than a manager whose fate still depends on the owner’s decisions”. Andre Gorz wrote, “The connection between more and better has been broken; our needs for many products and services are already more than adequately met, and many of our as-yet- unsatisfied needs will be met not by producing more, but by producing differently, producing other things, or even producing less.”
Fair. I think the modern concept of work ethic includes “producing differently, other things, or even less”. Producing more effectively, in a sense. And the assumption that an employee “can’t rationally hope to be come more” is valid in some terrible contexts, but not in mine.
Let’s shift gears and examine a blogpost by Entrepreneur.com. It describes 7 elements of work ethic. A person with strong work ethic is… Professional (in presentation and treatment, and so broad a category that it “basically encompasses all the other elements of a strong work ethic”, respectful (poised, diplomatic, polite), dependable (reliable, punctual, consistent, stable in an unstable world), dedicated (gets everything right, attention and devotion to excellence in detail), determination (unfazed by obstacles), accountability (admit mistakes, learn from them), humility (share credit for accomplishments, take work seriously but not yourself).
Let’s examine myself. I think I’m respectful and have humility. I’m in two minds about my own dedication and determination– I think I have “long waves” of dedication and determination, and I return to things I care about and I persist at things long after people give up– but I’m bad at “short wave” dedication/determination. I can get distracted or taken out pretty easily. I’m not as dependable as I feel I ought to be. I’m not as “professional” as I feel I ought to be. Those were things that I never really learnt to do or be, and I even developed anti-values around them, thinking of them as “square, predictable, boring” and writing them off. As I get older and get more experience, I realize that fundamental truth– that stability is valuable in an unstable world, and that a stable base is necessary for you to improvise off of. There’s not much point being some sort of creative genius if you crash and burn out.
smallbusiness.chron lists 5 characteristics– reliability, dedication and character are similar to the previous list. But they also include cooperation (sort of included in professionalism, humility… but with more of a “plays well with others” element) and productivity, which talks about “working at a consistently fast pace”. It introduces the idea of speed, which I think the previous list implied but didn’t outright mention.
Speed. I’m very erratic in the way I work, and the way I play. Perhaps a little less erratic now than I used to be as a teenager, but still too erratic to be reliably productive. With my own word vomits– in the context of my entire project, I still haven’t successfully completed a “write 1000 words / day for a month”. But sometimes I have these bursts where I do a lot of stuff at one go. I’ve occasionally had days where I’ve done 14,000+ words in a single sitting. And maybe that’s just the natural rhythm of how I work, in bursts. And maybe all of this is me trying to… find some way to convince myself that I need to work according to the systems and structures that are around me, the structures that I was so flippant of when I was a kid.
Is consistency really important? Depends on what you’re talking about. Okay, let’s talk writing, since that’s what I want to be doing until I die. Is it Really Actually Important to be consistent in writing? Well, you should have a daily practice because sometimes you’ll surprise yourself with good stuff even when you don’t think it’s going to be good. And if you’re going to wait for good stuff, sometimes you’re going to be waiting for a really long time and that’s going to make you feel like shit. You don’t need to be consistent in quality, you just need to step up to the plate every day and give it a shot.
Okay. So what about the rest of life? What about in fitness? What about in doing the boring, painful, nasty work tasks? Even if you’re doing the thing you love, about 20 to 50% of the time you’re going to be doing administrative things or preparatory things or practice or rehearsal or something. Right? The musician can’t spend all his time playing live– she also needs to practice, rehearse. She may have a team taking care of all the other details– the marketing, the promotions, whatever. She still gots to rehearse.
Well I suppose in my head the rehearsal part is fine. I don’t mind writing reams of words every day for things that I like, for things that I care about, even if 90% of it is rehearsal. That’s easy to justify. The hard part is doing the shitwork that ISN’T preparation. It’s doing things like… the day job so you can afford to keep the lights on while you write. It’s like Einstein working the patent office. But the thing about the patent office is that he didn’t have to work very hard at it. He just had to show up, and he could’ve been daydreaming the rest of the time. He probably was.
So I guess the confusing thing for me is, do I want to be a marketer, or do I just want to be a writer? Do I truly want to be a part of a great company, or do I just want to be a lone ranger on my own? I think the problem for me is that I still haven’t fully made up my mind about that, and I need to go sit in silence and figure that one out on my own. It’s probably not a binary answer. But I think I need to be super honest with myself about what these things mean to me and what I want, otherwise I’m not doing justice to anything.