Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Punishing success

One thing that I'm having trouble getting over is the feeling that, at work, success and completion is rewarded with... more work. It sort of feels like a punishment. The pool of available work is essentially infinite, so when I finish one thing, there's always plenty more to do. Those who are productive or lucky and get ahead just get assigned more to do. It's kind of depressing, but it makes sense.

The idea is to reward those who are willing to work extra hard and get more done, which certainly makes sense from the company's perspective. I suppose that you can look at it a different way—another possible reward for getting work done is having extra spare time. One could, in theory, work thirty hours a week, get as much done as an average person who works forty, and take the rest of the week off. Or, you could use the remaining time in the week to get more work done. In the former scenario, your reward for working hard (or just being really smart) is time. In the latter, your reward comes in the form of bonuses, pay raises, and promotions. It's up to each person to find the balance between the time rewards and the pay rewards. I guess that makes a lot of sense from the human perspective too.

I don't know why I have any trouble at all getting the idea that there is infinite work to do through my head. I should be very used to it by now. When I'm working on my own stuff at my own pace, I always decided when I was done with each chunk of work, and I always knew that there was an infinite amount of possible future work on each project. It was so obvious I didn't even have to think about it. Why would it different when it's my job? It's actually very similar. Maybe I just had different expectations from the career life, and I haven't fully corrected them yet. Maybe subconsciously I expected to be handed, drone-like, a chunk of work, and then I would complete it and go home.

Like in school. Maybe I was brainwashed by school. Most assignments had an obvious point of completion, and the idea was to be done with it as soon as possible so you could do something else that was fun or interesting. Even tasks without an obvious end, such as reports and papers, had an implicit one—you worked on them for as little time as possible to get the grade that you expected. In school, the time was definitely the reward. Well, there's also the vague possibility that working hard might get you a future financial bonus in the form of scholarships—so it's another tradeoff, between (gasp!) money and time. I hated doing the work, so it was blissful to be done with it and have time to do something I wanted to. But I don't hate my job. I don't love it like I love the random tinkering I do when I'm not working for The Man, but I certainly don't dislike it. Maybe that's the difference—I mostly hated school (at least the school part of school), but I don't hate my job. Maybe I'm still approaching work from that hate-angle.

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