There is a book out called Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford. It looks very good, well written. I have not read the whole thing yet, but have read the article that inspired the book from The New Atlantis.
On one level, I am interested in the book, or better said, the idea because somehow my life has turned into an exploration of what defines work. The subtitle of the book is An Inquiry into the Value of Work.
I read this article at an interesting time in my life. I am not employed, but I am working. March Madness is happening, reminding me of my personal experiences, of my teammates. I am fresh off a visit to a hospital to present some of my ideas about how to improve patient care by making the care more personal than private.
And, most of all, I keep hearing and seeing exactly the same thing from people. I did what I was supposed to do, but life doesn’t feel the way I thought it would feel.
This begs a pretty simple question– were all of these people wrong in how they thought life should or would feel? I mean, I’ve heard this from so many people something has to be wrong. Are they wrong? Or is the system so flawed that it produces a world that no longer works. “Maybe what they thought they were supposed to do was wrong. Maybe they did not do what they were supposed to do well,” a skeptic might say.
Are people wrong about how they think life will feel if they do what they’re supposed to do?
My guess is yes and no. As Nettle said in his book Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile, there is an inner competition in each of us that most of us do not understand or are not aware of.
This makes knowing what “we are supposed to do” fairly difficult to flush out. Early on, we are told that doing what we’re supposed to do will lead to happiness by people who care for us. But this is not what I found in all of my interviews with world class performers. What I found instead was that if we did what made us happy, the better we would do what we’re supposed to do.
I define “happy” as feeling how we want to feel. My own belief is that most people given the right conditions in childhood will explore and discover that how they truly want to feel is good for society. Most of us want to feel engaged, alive, involved, charitable, productive, accomplished, etc. What most of us do not want to feel is judged.
As I was reading Shop Class as Soulcraft, I couldn’t help but see the Game in what Crawford is writing about. And I think this is where we’ve gone wrong in our society, why things seem to not be working.
Is Capitalism in and of itself the game we are supposed to play? Or is it a tool we use to play a bigger game? Is it simply a metaphor for something larger? Unless we answer this for ourselves individually and then collectively, too many of us will not only feel judged, but will also invite judgment of ourselves by others. We will be judged in a game we not only do not want to play, but simply do not have the skills to play. That defines a loser for those interested in a narrow definition of winning.
I wrote in an earlier post that life for too many people has become a balancing act of being on a ladder. They feel off balance with no more rungs to climb…but they are unwilling to climb down. So they walk through life on the ladder as if on stilts, terrified of falling, but more terrified of climbing down.
Shop Class as Soulcraft made me wonder– what happens when we define life by the tools we were given? And like the message in Soulcraft, what happens when people tell you those tools, your tools, are obsolete, that there are new tools to use, so therefore there is a new game to play.
Life these days is too easily defined by the tools we have. Einstein said that “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” I suspect he was right when he said this and I suspect things have gotten worse because our technology is almost exponential in its progress. Yet, I see more and more people getting lost in the process.
So what Game are we playing? Is Capitalism the Game itself? Or is it a tool that defines too narrowly how we play the game?
Maybe it comes down to how we keep score, what defines winning and therefore defines a winner.
But if we keep score by moments, by health, by experiences, capitalism certainly has a role to play, but it does not define the Game.
Maybe it’s okay to climb off the ladder and put it back in the garage, and pull it out only when you need it. The ladder should not define success because it limits how we can play the Game, and therefore it diminishes the Game itself. If I learned anything from some of the great athletes of our time, even those who might have had their missteps off the fields of play, it is to honor the Game itself.
And you honor any game, the Game, by playing it…allowing yourself to be held accountable, but never judged.