How "The Work" Differs from Work

How "The Work" Differs from Work

Yesterday we cleared up the distinction between work and pay, and tried to show that the work for today’s young person quite likely falls outside the range of what is remunerated labor in our society.

Today we will try to mark out the characteristics that make the work different from other activities.


What distinguishes the work from other activities?

The work has certain characteristics that distinguish it from the other things you do during the day. First, it has to be creative and active. That means it should engage you in developing some idea that is new to you. (We discussed this a few days ago, when we explained how to become freer and more creative.) You must focus your imagination on something that does not yet exist, and try to devise ways to bring that idea into existence.

Second, the work is be deeply enjoyable. This means that when all is going well, you lose track of time and even forget your surroundings while doing it. Of course, this feeling cannot be sustained all the time; there are stretches of creative activity that are torturous. But when the work is going well, it is a peak experience.

Third, the work has the potential to help or delight others. Doing the work for yourself alone is ultimately self-centered. If you are producing something truly useful, beautiful, and enlightening, everyone deserves a chance to be uplifted by it. Even if you are creating your own life—working on becoming freer, more loving, a more loyal friend, a more compassionate mate—the rest of the world deserves to benefit from your creation, the new you. Making yourself freer also makes you more beautiful. And next to utility, beauty is the most potent solace available to us mortals.

And finally, the work is not mere entertainment. Entertainment is passive and uncreative: you watch a TV show or a film, you play a game where the rules are well established, you eat what someone else has prepared, you talk about gossip that does not make you think anything really new, but only the same old things about different people. There is a place for entertainment, just as there is a place for passivity. It can restore our repleted resources. It can show us something that is new to us, and that we can use as the beginning of a creative activity. But in itself it is never creative. The difference between entertainment and creativity can best be summed up in a simile: it is like the difference between playing a video game and inventing it.


Tomorrow we will describe a way for you to find the work that is distinctively yours.

Until tomorrow, then.

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