Your family connections? Your network of friends and acquaintances? Charm? Luck? Education? Hard work? Interest? Ability? Intelligence?
To the old cynical ones in the world of work, the first several seem to have dominance. Only the younger ones are left with the illusion or delusion that their personal ability born out of being educated, their intelligence quotient, and industry showcased in their field of interests have anything to do with it. And the very, very, very cynical would have us believe that these illusions are merely the symptoms of being young.
We have too often seen the son become the Managing Director and the new son-in-law, yesterday the clerk, soar to board membership. And we all too often have known that the son and the son-in-law not only had no aptitude in the first place but, with no fear of discipline, acted more carelessly for the firm than the worst employee. These familial connections depend on the accident of where one is born — an accident rather than a condemnation to involuntary lineage.
But leaving the nepotism for another day, what have we left?
There is network of people you know. There is no doubt that personal relations play an important role in obtaining, keeping, and improving in a job position. One has a friend who works for some big-ass company, the friend knows of an opening, and the friend has other friends and these still more — so into the big-ass company, one can settle down and work with some security and hope to rise.
And then there is a matter of personal charm. How often does the young and beautiful stenographer who couldn’t spell ‘cat’ suddenly rise, with her typing fingers still all thumbs, to the post of an executive secretary to the boss, while she still can’t spell ‘cat’ any better but she certainly can spell ‘rise’ and ‘supper club’ and probably ‘diamond necklace’ and ‘rise again’. And we have certainly seen the young man with the chiseled jawline and perfect hair soar above his elders because he could tell the right joke or play a slightly worse game of poker.
We have seen the factor of education going awry in industries and governments where the trained man, learning beyond his credit at the cost of his eyesight, gets passed over by a certain dude who did not have any degree but the degree of push. We have seen the wise ordering a score while the untutoredly orders a million.
At the same time, the hard work of the young to slave is all too often braked by the older superior who says “Why do you want to sweat so much, young padawan, when it is all going to come out the same?” And perhaps we all have stayed after hours, dabbing ink on our clothes, lingering at our posts beyond all expectations and calls of duty only to watch the lazy one we ridicule, draw the better pay. And we have said that this is not justice — something less.
And we have seen the interest come to naught. When our absolute absorption in the deadly game of ‘being true to the firm’ made us neglect our life or wife and burn our nights and the leisure time to draw solutions gauged to save our firms, only to be neglected, and having soon beheld a fellow worker whose real interest was man or ‘stamps’, rise to a higher post — we have had cause to be less interested, or so we thought. And our interest in the work was condemned by those around us for they did not understand it one bit and grew tired of hearing it from our mouths.
Amid this torrent and the random chaos of causes for better pay and promotion, personal ability must seem a wasted item. We have seen our own wasted. We have seen the abilities of others laughed at as the unable kept rising and the able neglected. Personal ability, to the small cogwheels in the clashing gears of business fate, might not seem as important as it did once.
And it comes to a point when intelligence would feel like having no bearing upon our fates against this hard-broken parade of illusions. Seeing many around us ruled by the stupid and having to live with the decisions that would have been censured even by children, we wonder where is intelligence. We begin to think that it may be better to be dumb than have our own wits continually outraged by the foolishness which passes for planning and policies.
It must, then, certainly be luck and nothing but luck the whole way down.
And so it appears that obtaining a job, holding it, and improving the job are all dependent on the chaos of causes which are out of our control. Instead of an orderly expectancy, we accept the tumbling mass of “accidents” as our fate. We still try. We clean ourselves, put on our best clothes, and apply for a position. We take ourselves to the office daily, shuffle the papers or the boxes or the folders or the machinery parts hoping to pass, and we return home on crowded transports running on crowded streets, prepared for another day’s dull toil. Every now and then we enroll in a course to have the tiniest edge on our fellows — dropping it more often than completing it. It begins to feel like that we can’t even do this much to help us on our way against the accidentals. We fall ill and hurt ourselves. We run out of sick leaves. Still anything but recovered, we now have no job — we become the victims of some larger than life cabal or slander and we have no job. First, we were thrust up against a job we cannot do and do not want to do, and now we have no job. We grow old thinking about the times that once were and hoping “I wish there was a way to know that you are in the good old days before you have actually left them”, and one day we have no job.
The fortune cookie in the work world has ‘uncertainty’ for most of us even though everyone wished for ‘security’. Other than the lucky few, the rest of us worry from day to day and year to year about our ability to get work, hold work, and improve our lots. And all too often our worst nightmares come true. Every new day seems to impose a new threat on our consciousness — a world where Machine is the king makes Man a cog and we are told of new developments which can do the work of thousands of us and so we will starve. The advertisements inundate us about all the things that we must own but still, we, who make those things, can not own them on our pay. And Christmases leave us a little more ashamed of how less we can buy and we make the coat do just another year. The years advance and we grow no younger and each hour confronts us with accidents that can make or break our futures. No wonder we believe in luck alone.
I think this is where the trouble begins.
We must have a job to eat and we must continue to be acceptable at our jobs to live. We hope for better lives — breaks at our jobs — and it all appears a disheartening confusion composed of accidents, luck, and donkey work with nothing at the end of it other than the illusion of the carrot. The quest for security, soiled with blood and sweat, is a quest for peace and stability. One who works deserves these things for he creates and should have it all. Instead, he has chaos. This chaos of insecurity is everything that we know about work and about people. If you have no compass by which to steer your life, you will get lost! And recently, so many elements have entered into our lives that all of us have forgotten the place where we kept our compasses. Work and security and peace are parts of life and these parts will not be understood if life is not understood. If all life seems like a matter of guess and chance, then work will too — chaotic life will mean chaotic work.
What makes this even more perplexing is the idea of work being greater than any other thing in life. It is said that we spend a third of our lives in bed and therefore beds are important. But if we don’t work, we don’t have a bed. So, work has to be the most important. The fact that the majority of concentration put in our lives is in work, not in sports, love, or entertainment substantiates the above idea. Life is seven-tenths work, one-tenth familial, one-tenth political and one-tenth relaxation. So, essentially, the economics — the paycheck and the struggle for it — is seven-tenths of existence. The principal worries of existence are worry over security, worry over worth, and worries about being able to do things for others, and the paycheck tells us our worth. The old studies would have us look at the love life or the childhood of someone gone insane but a newer and certainly a better idea will be to look up his security and conditions at work. As security goes bad, insanity rises and if one has to tackle insanity problems in society and conquer them, we wouldn’t build better insane asylums — we would improve the condition of work. Work is the major role of our existence whether we like it or not. If we don’t like our work, we don’t like our life.
Then, let us all agree that work security is important. But security in itself is an understanding while insecurity is ‘unknownness’. Security derives from knowledge whereas luck is chance. To depend upon luck is to depend upon not-knowingness. One is insecure when one simply does not know and is not sure. One who knows and does not believe in luck is secure. But how can I have knowledge about life when life itself, like knowledge, has not been brought into order? When the subject of life itself is chaos, how could work, as a part of life, be anything but chaos? If livingness is an unknown subject, then workingness and everything pertaining to work must be an unknown subject, exposed to cynicism, hopelessness, and guesses.
In the absence of luck, to obtain, hold and improve a job, one would need to know the exact and precise rules of life for it would not be enough to know fairly well one’s job. That would not be a security, for as time goes on, we would see — as we have listed — too many chances entering into it. Knowledge of the underlying general rules of life would bring about the security of life and the security of the job along with it.
For, insecurity will be born in the absence of Knowledge and the only thing for us to depend upon will be Luck.