Gabriel Conroy’s Rules of Work
By Gabriel Conroy*
Rule #1: Every job involves some complication that one who has not them doesn’t understand.
Rule #2 [corollary to rule #1]: Most jobs are harder than they seem to the one who hasn’t done them.
Rule #3: Work is ennobling and degrading. Often, the same job can be both at the same time.
Rule #4: There’s nothing wrong with honest work. But while some jobs are more honest than others, there probably doesn’t exist a job that is completely honest, that doesn’t involve either screwing someone over or taking a resource that others need. In part, this rule is just the principle of scarcity restated. In part it is something more: an urge to caution directed to those who assume their jobs are more virtuous or contribute more to society than others and an admission that we’re all caught up in the maw of life.
Rule #5: Before heeding someone’s advice for how to approach one’s job, it is important to consider the context. Sometimes it truly is helpful to stop being “a loyal employee” and take ownership of one’s own job. Sometimes the best decision is to revert to go into survival mode, become a yes-man or yes-woman, and revert to passive aggression. It’s important not to be a prisoner to the incentives at work, and sometimes following a certain pattern can act more as a self-defeating crutch. But sometimes it doesn’t. At an intuitive level, I think most us understand that and act accordingly.
Rule #6: Before criticizing someone for not following your job advice, heed rules #1, #2, and #5.
Rule #7: Having a job to fall back on can be limiting because it can discourage people from taking the risks necessary to lead fulfilling lives. This idea comes from Saul De Graw, and I was very cranky when I heard it. But it is nonetheless true.
Rule #8: Having the resources to start anew and to act as a cushion against failure can be limiting. It can make risk-taking seem less risky and act as an invitation to judging others. It can also discourage people from taking certain less reputable jobs from which much can be learned.
Rule #9: A career is different from a job, but it’s easy to exaggerate the differences. Both involve working for money and sometimes doing things you otherwise wouldn’t want to do, with money as a reward. There are tradeoffs to both, too. A career might give the careerist a certain satisfaction and sense of responsibility, but it is an all-consuming sense of obligation, with no clear marker between work time and leisure time. A job usually has a clearly demarcated “hours worked’ and an “hours off” component. But even here, the differences can be exaggerated. People with careers still get vacation time and, more important, the freedom to carve out downtime at work or off-time and according to a relatively flexible schedule. That freedom is not absolute, but usually greater than the one enjoyed by the “jobbed” person. Also, someone with a non-career job often takes home work at least psychically, in the form of being wound up from the stress of the day or in the form of dreaming at night about still being at work.