This is anti-oppressive exploration on how to deal with the myriad mental health issues from selling our labor in a capitalist system, while protecting our soul and ensuring that we privilege loved ones, health, community care, and freedom.
Now that I got that out of my system, let’s talk a bit about healing from work. Almost all of us have to work in some way or the other for some form of sustenance. This is regardless of whether or not we have an actual wage job or not. Any physical, mental, or spiritual effort exerted to sustain ourselves and our loved ones (including non-human loved ones) is what I define as work. It’s rarely fun, and often precarious, exploitative, even downright lethal across various parts of the world. Some are luckier than others; but for the most part this is because it’s less shitty and not because it’s more delightful.
Work, as we all know, is work.
And we all need to heal from it.
Below are six pointers I have found useful and have suggested to many of my clients during therapy as a way of dealing with issues of alienation, frustration, tedium and more from work; work they do in order to sustain themselves and their loved ones; work they do for food, clothing, shelter, and safety; work that they often have no choice but to take on in order to wage those valiant struggles for community survival.
(Don’t worry, these points will be kept as non-controversial as possible. Not that I would shirk from rousing the occasional rabble, it’s just that I I still have a job that I love and need for the foreseeable future. Whenever my wage career is over, we shall have the more agitational version of this article. Onward comrades.)
Work smart, not hard (it’s way easier once you master a few easy life hacks): This takes a little practice and requires some application of thought, but once you get into the groove of things, it will become second nature. First, figure out the most crucial and vital work deliverables, i.e. those objectives or whatever else you might call them that are key to ensuring a steady wage and as secure a job as possible. Then, work out ways to ensure those deliverables are, well, delivered while traversing the path of least resistance and least effort. In a nutshell, you are seeking to do the most amount of work for the least amount of time and effort and no more.
We think we are efficient in our Western society. We’re not. We’re just a wealthy society.
I sometimes compare the way things are done in India vs. the US and Canada. It’s interesting how systems can influence societies. Because of the corruption and chaos of the system, many people in India have no choice but to work smart as opposed to hard, because life is already much harder there (they don’t need to burden themselves with workaholism, an absolutely baffling affliction), they often have to use quick thinking and sharp brains to take the path of least resistance for maximum output – whether it’s an overworked school teacher or a farmer sweating it out for 10 hours a day in the hot sun. If they don’t work smart, they’d collapse from sheer exhaustion.
It’s the exact opposite in the colonial countries of the Western world, where because the system is so much better than a country like India, I have often found tasks normally requiring 15-20 minutes, taking a few meetings and endless discussions to complete, merely because people have more time in this part of the world doing mundane, useless work to pretend like the system is efficient and hard-working.
Don’t fall for that trap. Use it to your advantage. Work smart, not hard. Finish those quick tasks quickly (but don’t let on that you’re doing them quickly), thereby giving yourself more time for life, and let the rest of them fall prey to the self-exploitation capitalism wants from all of us. The best frame of mind to get yourself into would be to…
Ditch perfectionism; don’t sweat the small stuff (just do what needs to be done): This is crucial. Perfectionism is this unholy virus in capitalist and colonial society that can take on all kinds of forms. A couple of insidious examples include sexist body image norms and oppressive ideas of beauty. Perfectionism is also the tool by which capitalism gets us to do far more than we need to, making us believe that we have to be perfect in our jobs, which takes away from the one thing that pretty much all of us who have to work would secretly admit to – if given a choice, we wouldn’t work but use our time to sustain ourselves in ways that make us and our loved ones happy.
Since many of us don’t have the choice, or might still be in the process of figuring out other ways to sustain ourselves and our loved ones, let’s not drive ourselves up the wall with stress and anxiety by falling prey to this virus of perfectionism.
And don’t sweat the small stuff. Really. Just worry about the key, big-ticket items that ensure your wages remain steady and your job is relatively safe, and blot out the rest.
But what about, you know, all these people we have to deal with, I hear you ask. Well, here’s a thought…
Don’t compete, or be hostile, or engage in one-upmanship with fellow workers (and don’t be a brown-noser or management snitch, unless you or your family’s welfare is at risk): This just makes your work life more pleasant. You don’t have to be friends with your fellow workers, nor do you even have to particularly like all or any of them. But one thing to avoid at all costs is competition, hostility, and one-upmanship with fellow workers. Just do what you need to do and move on with your life.
And for the love of all that is good and pure, unless you or your family’s welfare is at risk (in which case, I well understand that all bets are off), please don’t be a management snitch or brown-noser. Don’t be a scab either, as far as you can help it. Doing shit like this should be avoided. On the contrary…
Be supportive, honest and develop healthy friendships if possible (avoid the shittier people, and only confront when faced with no other possibility): The moment you mark yourself out as someone who is a supportive and honest person, you automatically get marked out as someone whom others might find it difficult to compete with, be hostile to, or engage in one-upmanship with. Remember to not be a please-everyone faker or an argumentative jerk, just supportive and honest.
Also, among the lot that consist of your fellow workers, you might find one or two people whom you can be more open with, develop healthy friendships with, and generally be a source of support for each other. Engage in conversations with them and develop bonds that might, again, make your work environment a touch more pleasant. A friend is always good to have anywhere.
But while all the above points relate to your work itself, in reality the best way to heal from work is outside of work. It’s vitally important to…
Remember that love, liberation, and health are far more important than your job or career (this is such a truism it almost feels insulting to write some points about it): When we have this very simple notion that our loved ones, our family and community, our freedom, our sense of liberation and independence, our ways of healing, and our health are far, far more important than our jobs or careers, happiness and resiliency become the new baseline.
We need jobs, or careers, or whatever other nice label we put on the process of selling our labor to the system, only in order to sustain ourselves. But it’s no substitute for the real deal in life which is love, liberation, and health. Remember this point, and I can assure you that the stresses at work will be less stressful, the anxieties you deal with possibly in engaging with other people will also reduce. Why? Because the job or the career is nothing more than a mode of sustenance so that we can do what we were truly meant to do as human beings which is…
Focus on building a loving, liberated, and healthy community/family (if there is one point you might take from this article, it would be this one): I’m not kidding. If you’re not already engaging in this in some way or the other, you really need to start right away. Focus on building and developing a loving, liberated, and health community or family. If you already have a community of loved ones or a family you feel a part of, then start finding ways to spread the love, fight for each other in one another’s daily struggles, and develop healthy, healing practices. It really is that simple.
The above pointers (along with other healing and liberatory practices) are meant to be an anti-oppressive path towards some peace of mind and a little less frustration when having to sell our labor within a cold, profit-driven economic system that breeds alienation by design. It’s far more important to be successful in love, liberation, health, and caring for the people around us than it is to be successful in a career or job. Such “success” at the cost of the above beautiful life forces is not success at all. Do what you need to do in order to heal from work by figuring out ways to implement the above points in your life. As always, use what works for you, modify as you deem fit, and stash away the rest.
Now clock the fuck out before 5pm and go have fun with someone who loves you.