What Makes Work Worth It?

Find Your Telos and Do the Work

I posted a sign in my classroom that read: “Work is always a means, never an end.”

In economic terms, work is synonymous with labor, which is productive effort for some other end, like wages. On the other hand, leisure (or play) is consumptive, a pleasurable end in itself.

The second act of The War of Artby Stephen Pressfield deals with taking on the persona of a professional and getting to work. Now. Every day. No excuses.

My line of work is education. I’ve said elsewhere that education is an end in itself, not a means, which properly makes it an act of leisure. A luxury. A product of privilege.

Sure, we instrumentalize education all the time. And that’s exactly what’s wrong with it. We take something precious and cheapen it by making it a hoop on the path to many unworthy goals.

If education must become a means, we must find a telos of sufficient magnitude.

My work at the moment is to create a school with a lofty purpose. Hopefully, it’s big enough that it will feel like play, that I would do it for free if I could.

But Pressfield says that being a professional (not an amateur) makes all the difference in actually getting the work done. Apparently, I’m constrained to be a laborer. Better be worth it.

So, what’s your telos?

*See posts on the first and third books.

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