What work is worth doing?

This question, and several variations on the theme, has been obsessing me for months.

I’ve been carrying around just about everywhere with me a book I bought last September: Maxwell Maltz’ Psychocybernetics. I can open that book to where I left off, and very quickly find food for thought, comfort, and challenge.

One question it asks (or more accurately, quotes Dorothea Brande asking) is, What would I do if it were impossible to fail?

And then just recently, I have heard that same question improved on by Megan Macedo:

What is worth doing even if it fails?

Those two questions are really one and the same.

If something is so worth doing, so valuable, that its failure in everyone else’s eyes would not daunt me in the least, would not sway my view that it was always the right thing to have done . . . . then in reality, failure was never (for me) a possibility.

What work is that failure-agnostic for me?

What work is that failure-agnostic for you?

Do that.

Do that first. Before anything else. That’s your mission in life. That’s your top priority. Nay, that’s your only priority.

Everything else, you leave for later. Or drop it entirely.

The doing of it is actually the easy part. The hard part is answering the question in the first place. Like I said, for me it’s been an obsession for months. I’ve concluded that the answer is recursive: The answer is answering the question.

A bried perusal of my favourite author’s writing in Ecclesiastes reveals that it was an obsession for him too.

Meaningless, says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless. Everything is meaningless.

He gets to the end of the book (and, I suspect, his life) and he’s still asking the same question.

Fortunately for us, he doesn’t leave us with a cliffhanger. He actually stops asking the question, and says (in effect):

Look, peeps, give it up. You ain’t going to get to the bottom of this one. I’ve tried, I’ve accomplished more than the lot of you, I’ve experiemented with everything. Nothing gets there. This rabbit hole is a black hole.

So take my advice: Fear God, and obey his commandments. That’s it. That’s the sum total. That’s the solution to the equation. I can’t show you the proof, cuz I don’t know what it is. I do know that the proofs to the other answers, are proofs to the wrong answers. So get going.

(This article is in a partial fulfilment of a promise to old friend and colleague Matt Williams, who asked me to get back to writing stuff on my blog. Here you go, mate. More coming.)

One thought on “What work is worth doing?

  1. Matthew Williams

    What a question. What work is worth doing? Isn’t it a pity that there’s no simple universal answer to this conundrum. I’m probably a bit like you in one respect in that I’ve been thinking about this and trying to reach nirvana for decades.

    I think only a small minority of people only get to feel that their life is fulfilled. It’s probably down to several things of which worthwhile work plays it’s part. As you know I’m currently in the phase of thinking what do I do next. Suiting myself and doing my own little thing doesn’t seem to work for me when interaction with other people is removed from the equation. I also like some kind of routine and structure to my days which work seems to provide.

    As with most things in life a happy balance is required. As you know, I’ve spent years travelling around the uk, living out of hotels doing work which more often than not isn’t in my wheelhouse. This has prompted me to ask whether it’s worthwhile when it decimates other areas of ones life and causes problems for other people.

    Personally I’ve got a sinking feeling that work is just a means to an end. With the benefit of experience I think I’d settle for something where the people you work with are reasonable human beings, you’re not constantly getting stabbed in the back and my life outside of work doesn’t get decimated too much. That for me would be worthwhile. Maybe I’m asking for too much eh?


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