The opposite of work is ….?

The opposite of work is ….?

If you said ‘play’ you’d be in the majority. And you’d be wrong.

Think of it.   The opposite of anything is another thing completely devoid of every quality of the first thing.

When I ask this question in my work engagement training sessions, I ask people what comes to mind when they think of play.  Invariably their responses include fun, laughter, and joy.

If you think that work is the exact opposite of play then it means that for you work is devoid of fun, laughter and joy.  That’s terrible; no wonder most people would prefer not to work.

Work as the opposite of play is an agreement.

Not the truth.  If you want to appreciate the power of agreement, take out your wallet and examine a $20 bill—any bill will do.money_euro_100_front 20 dollar bill

That bill only has power because we all agree that it has worth and can be exchanged.   That agreement is so widespread and historical that we hold it as a belief.  And we have that belief validated as true every day.  But we could break that agreement at any moment.

The same applies with beliefs about work.  In the conversations we have every day most of us are passing along our agreement with work as being unpleasant and something to be avoided.   Popular expressions like “Hump day” (Wednesday) and “TGIF” are signs of our war on work and a sign that Trinidad and Tobago is not unique in negative work attitudes.

The legacy of slavery

slaveryWorker exploitation through the centuries is probably the main contributor to work’s bad reputation.   Francis Wade, the Jamaican time management guru, convinced me that slavery is at the source of many negative work narratives.    If you think of slavery, work only benefited one group who seemingly did not work while forcing another group the slaves (workers) to do all the work … with no reward.

We live with this impact even today with many workers doing everything possible to get ‘payback’.  They avoid ‘work’ wherever possible (e.g taking every sick-day), steal from whomever represents ‘massa’, and wear the work scowl as uniform.industrial revolution labour

It’s not important to me whether slavery or industrial revolution sweatshops are the cause of our negative and destructive work attitudes. I only point to the prevailing negative attitudes to work, and if you answered that work is the opposite of play then you are a victim of the anti-work conspiracy—whatever it’s source.

Is eating the opposite of drinking?

steak and wineHolding work and play as opposites is like holding eating and drinking as opposites.  That’s absurd.  Both examples are essential to life.  Both examples can be good and both can be bad (yes you can play too much).

If you’ve ever met people who enjoy their work, or have had a rare experience of enjoying doing work then you know they don’t have to be opposites. Let the workplaces at Google, Facebook and Zappos challenge your idea of what going to work everyday can be like.

For some work does suck … but for most it need not

Granted some people’s circumstance may make it seem impossible to find joy at work—like the single non-educated mother struggling to make ends meet—there are many whose only excuse for hating work is a bad attitude.

To these people I say this. “If you do not enjoy your work that’s your choice.”   It is not the nature of work to be joyless, oppressive or even hard.  That only comes from working with and for people who are part of the anti-work conspiracy.

To be fair it’s not their fault. They are not bad or evil people. Somebody or something just needs to wake them up to the choice they’ve made about work. We spend half of our waking hours at work, why not ‘work’ to make it enjoyable or at least meaningful.

How you feel about work is your choice

If you hate your job you have two choices: transform your attitude to your workplace, or leave and find a workplace that let’s you have some autonomy and encourages you to grow.  Oh, actually there is a third option: you can continue complaining and playing the lottery as your success strategy.

Good luck with that.

Be very clear though, the opposite of work is not play.

The opposite of work is corruption, decay and death.


This article was first published in the Trinidad Newsday on Sunday Sept 7, 2014

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.