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Full transcript here. This month, we sit down with Frithjof Bergmann (University of Michigan) and David Helmbold to talk about work that we really, really want. Not just kind of, but like, really really. Click here to download Episode 122 of Elucidations.

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work. And yet, the weight we assign to our jobs doesn’t seem to reflect that fact. We give some thought to what career we’d like to have, but usually not to what the day-to-day experience of pursuing that career is actually going to be like, long term. You can see this in the way we look for jobs. Typically, if you need a job, you look at what’s available, filter the options for something you think won’t be that bad, and do your best to get one of the best ones you can. It never seems to work the other way around. You don’t put effort into thinking about what kind of job would suit you psychologically and what you’d be good at, and then let the opportunity to pursue that job come to you.

There’s good reason it doesn’t work that way. Obviously, individual people don’t have the power to make jobs they imagined in their heads materialize at will. How could they? Work is a cooperative social activity. And yet, there do seem to be some interesting cases in which groups of people have teamed up to create exactly the jobs they want. Not something that’s tolerable, that you just put up with because there aren’t any better alternatives. Something that’s everyone’s absolute top choice for what to do.

The logistics of making that happen are complicated, and Frithjof Bergmann has done trial run experiments in many different countries around the world to try to determine which forms of social organization would be most conducive to setting people up with meaningful work. But here’s something that isn’t complicated. Think about how great it would be to have a job that isn’t just sort of all right, but rather the highlight of your entire life—the thing you look forward to more than anything else. Wouldn’t that be incredible? The simple fact is that there’s no way for anyone to have a job like that unless individuals raise the question. You have to think about the type of work you’d like to do, what you’d be good at doing, and what’s going to make sense in the long term, in repeated intervals. Merely engaging in that introspective work, our guest argues, is a kind of revolutionary act. Simply according your job the importance it deserves in your rational deliberation is a necessary prerequisite to getting one that’s worthy of the title.

Tune in to hear Frithjof Bergmann and David Helmbold discuss what work can and should be! (And has actually been, in select cases, at various New Work centers around the world.)

Matt Teichman

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Further Reading

I highly, highly recommend Frithjof Bergmann’s book New Work New Culture: Work We Want And A Culture That Strengthens Us, which is out now in English translation from Zero Books, an imprint of John Hunt Publishing:

New Work New Culture, Frithjof Bergmann