All children get asked it. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” A vet. A lawyer. A dancer. A mechanic. Some ballsy kids will answer “a tree” or “a cat”. You go, kids.

What do I want to be want to be when I grow up? Try happy. Fulfilled. Give this answer and the asker will retort, “no, no, what do you want to be? What job do you want?”

OK, so that’s a different question entirely. You’re asking how I want to survive, and you think that somehow the way in which I decide to make money defines my identity? It’s hammered into children from the day they are born; they begin schooling and get asked these questions that ease them into social obligations that apparently involve working so much that it defines who they are. The schooling doesn’t teach decent critical thinking, or philosophy, or knowledge with the sole purpose of giving you information, rather than helping you to pass exams and get ‘good’ jobs.

After spending a fair bit of time in India, and witnessing the sacrifice that millions of people make to their employers, these thoughts began to develop in my mind. Many Indians live where they work and get paid a monthly salary no matter how many or few hours they have worked. Even then, does their work become their identity?

People in India often dedicate their lives to working for a pittance to pass something onto their children and their children’s children in the hope that someone will ‘make it’ and be able to support the rest of the family.

But why do it? Many people have no choice, but in the West the same thing is happening where we have far more freedom. We choose to go to University. Get degrees. Get shitty, unpaid internships on the promise of a good job afterwards, where we spend six months making instant coffee that tastes like mud, in grey concrete buildings, telling ourselves we’re living the dream. That we’re on the right path.

We choose to settle. For the job we didn’t really want, in a town we don’t really like. We choose to spend our weekends socialising with the same people at work, discussing the closing of a deal or a cockup the new intern made. We choose to buy a house. Marry someone adequate. Have kids because we’re expected to. Retire. We work our asses off for forty years of our lives on the assumption that we will be able to spend our final years enjoying life. It’s madness!

Who’s to say you’re going to live that long? We’re storing up all of our enjoyment in life for a time that may never come, after working a job that apparently defines who we are. Who do we become then? Retired. A retired vet, a retired lawyer, a retired dancer. It never goes away. It follows you to the grave. Dead vets, dead lawyers, dead dancers.

The world needs some lawyers, and some vets (preferably alive). I’m not suggesting that everybody who works a traditional forty-hour Monday to Friday job is unhappy, but letting the way we finance our survival become more important than the way we choose to develop and enjoy ourselves seems backwards.

The emphasis we put on our success through progression in a career outweighs the emphasis we put on actual knowledge or happiness. Is an unhappy, alcoholic banker better off in life than a happy shopkeeper who spends most of his afternoons reading and spending time with his family?

With so much development in technology, it’s now perfectly possible for people to be working fewer hours in a week, and having more time to spend on self-development and spending time with family and friends. But this isn’t how it works. Money moves fast in the 21st Century, and the seed of an idea can be making its creator millions within months. The internet has created an endless amount of jobs and opportunities open to almost anyone, and more money can be made faster than we ever thought would be possible half a century ago. Time is money. Why spend only a couple of days working when you can spend six days working and on the seventh buy the new flat-screen TV you always wanted? Maybe you could use it to watch documentaries. You could, but you’re exhausted from work and want to tune out instead.

The economy would suffer massively if we changed the amount of hours people are expected to work. People would stop buying into the notion that a materialistic attitude equates to happiness (an understandable mistake when there’s no time left to spend money on anything else). I’d like to believe that we would stop the notion that work defines us, and most people living to work, but unfortunately I don’t see it changing in my lifetime.

What are your thoughts on happiness, fulfillment and traditional work? Share in the comments below.

Image Credit: NASA