“What’s your dream job?”
“I have no dream job. I simply do not dream of labor.”– unknown
This quote has been memed – circulating tiktok, twitter, reddit and more. It hits me like a ton of bricks each time I see it.
As a class straddler and as a financial futurist, this quote reminds me that what I do, where I’m from, and what I want are all in tension.
In my heart, I also do not dream of labor: rather, I dream of big warehouses full of art materials and good people able to play and build in them; of slow time with friends; of sunsets that make me feel small and vintage outfits that make me feel big. In short, I dream of contribution, connection, being, and enjoyment.
This is because my more shadowy aspirations also feel like dreams: my aspiration to feel secure, and avoid feeling precarious; to utilize my intelligence meaningfully; to provide to others the landing that I needed and didn’t have. I have the aspirations of a class-climbing straddler.
These aspirations ascribe to labor as their method of achievement. My dreams do not. The difference is as precious as our humanity.
I’m reading Sacred Economics, by Charles Eisenstein, in which he describes the psychological differences between gift and labor (among MANY other ideas). Through it, I am finally understanding:
- What “extractive” means in the context of resource relationship, and
- The nuanced differences between the human need to contribute, and “work product”
What would change if, instead of operating from the principle of “getting the most for me”, we operated from principles of fair exchange? What if, instead of exchange at all, we were able to create from our skills, trusting we’d benefit from others creating from their skills, too?
What if the nature of how we share work changed — and not to the tune of deep-hustle #girlboss workplace as stand-in family, but to something better?
I’ve scratched the surface of Work Won’t Love You Back, by Sarah Jaffe, in which she quips, “are we assuming our ancestors enjoyed hunting mammoths?” – asking us to critique the notion that work is a source of joy. Work is an introduced requirement, and she traces the sociological transition of work from something we all gotta do begrudgingly and in opposition to bosses, to something we’re expected to love so much we “never work a day in our lives!”
It’s all so classed, economically and geographically, and it makes my head spin, because I do, desperately, want to labor under enjoyment conditions. I do want to contribute and connect yet “never work a day in my life.” I do want to instigate the imagination for myself, for others, for you, that this kind of engagement is a possibility.
Firstly, the notion that work ever even might have joy is not a cross-class idea. For people steeped in lower-waged jobs, certainly work can bring satisfaction, pride in competence, and of course valued human relationships. But I can hear my working-class ancestors saying, don’t get ideas in your head, work is just work.
The hit for me is that I do, now, dream of labor. Of labor that does not suck, in which I can contribute. This project, my career, my art. This is undeniable evidence of my class transition – but, perhaps, also evidence of a hoped-for ideological transition as well.
The normal we don’t want to return to after quarantine ends.
The ways of working that need to end. The formation of democratic and self-organizing workplaces and depreciation of command and control ones. The hope of work being given as opposed to extracted. The desire for connection and not just exchange. This may be the heart of a humanist economics beating louder.
It is, of course, all still happening as we try to make sense of and survive in capitalism, where anything less than a few million isn’t a lot (!!), and precarity is real, and so much work is not created to be enjoyed, ever. Where the gratitude medium of an energetically gifted exchange might still be money, or crypto tokens, or some other abstracted mediator of connection.
It might be time to buy from local, small business, women-owned, Black and brown-owned, queer-owned. And it will be important to pay these entities sustainably. After all, for now, buying local and small business will still require an exchange, because we’re still in need of the everyday exchange medium of money. How might we transition the exchange from one of competition and bargaining to one of connection?
So we move through in a moment of transition, again. From gift connections, to labor extraction, to #hustle, to gift-but-mediated. I imagined a few of the ways we could experience the transition in the image below – how might we know we are operating in the new economy?