What Gen-Z Needs to Know About Work
February 18, 2022
Cody Elliot Szaro (he/him/his), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer
Years ago, my parents’ generation, Generation X, looked at us with hopeful eyes. Now we’re looking at Generation Z the same way. We were raised in a world on the brink: climate change, corruption, crisis after crisis and the quickening erosion of Western power in geopolitics. We were told it was up to us to fix a world that was already broken. But there’s still hope, still reasons to get up in the morning. As you grow and begin to enter the workforce, there are a few things you need to know about how the world works.
- Things weren’t always this way, and they won’t stay this way forever.
Do away with the idea of your “dream job.” One can enjoy what they do for work, but working was never meant to be your whole life. We all know the story of the worker who spends every waking moment engrossed in their job, only to miss out on life with their partner, their children, their family. Many people don’t dwell on the history of work, known as labor. It has a long, colorful history, but it is and always has been evolving. We began as hunter-gatherers living together in tight-knit communities. Think about our history as a species. What was “work” originally meant for? Survival. Daniel Everett, having studied a group of Amazonian hunter-gatherers, commented on their lifestyle in The Atlantic:
“It’s a pretty laid-back life most of the time,” Everett says. He described a typical day for the Pirahã: A man might get up, spend a few hours canoeing and fishing, have a barbecue, go for a swim, bring fish back to his family, and play until the evening. [. . .] Everett estimates that Pirahã adults on average work about 20 hours a week (not to mention without bosses peering over their shoulders). Meanwhile, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average employed American with children works about nine hours a day.
- It’s okay to dislike working.
Humans worked to secure food and shelter for their families. It was what we evolved to be good at; the life that felt right to us. It’s no wonder that, in modern life, we seek escapes through activities like hiking, camping and hunting. We evolved to excel at these things. Life today is different, and evolution has not had anywhere close to enough time to catch up. As a result, we all feel displaced, wrong. We hate working, and are told that that’s not normal. We work most of our waking hours just to scrape by. There is no dream job, because we were never meant to have jobs as they exist now in the first place.
- You are not alone.
The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an old flame. It has laid bare the exploitative nature of our society and economy that we seem to forget every few generations. While we hunkered down and suffered through the pandemic, the rich got richer. And the moment it was feasible, they demanded we return to work, to make them richer still. The wealthy do not suffer from catastrophe, and they have little sympathy for those of us who do. It sounds bleak, but the fact that millions are beginning to feel the same about this is evidence to the contrary. In the past, workers uniting against the system led to progress. The bad news is that the wealthy will stop at nothing to resist that progress. If you look back through history, nearly all of the labor laws we enjoy today were written with blood, not ink.
At times, the US military, sworn to protect the citizens, killed women and children on US soil, all over striking workers. They don’t teach that to Americans in school. What is a strike? It’s when workers collectively decide to stop working until certain conditions are met. Instead of simply sacrificing a small amount of profit to make the workers happy, corporations will resort to aggression to keep getting richer. Don’t think this is something of the past. Despite declining union membership and increasingly unfair practices, we are still catching glimmers of hope. If any of this sounds far-fetched, just open a history book, it’s all there. That’s not to say there aren’t two sides to every story; unions themselves have a complex history and haven’t always been blameless.
- Educate yourself and others, and fight for what’s right.
The first step to change is education. Know your rights! Things like food and shelter are human rights. We should never stop fighting for total freedom because we’ve gained some ground. Every time we grow complacent with our liberties, some of them get taken away. If you take anything away from this at all, remember this: this is not “how the world works.” The current state of things is an invention, created by those with great wealth, wherein they ask you to work constantly so that they don’t have to work much at all. The tale of rags-to-riches is a myth. Your grandparents did have it easy compared to you. With each successive generation, we are told to accept the status quo. But if you don’t, great change is possible. That change isn’t easy, and you may decide it isn’t worth the trouble. But you deserve to know that there is a choice to be made.
Cody Elliot Szaro is an American writer with a passion for wildlife, the environment, and the struggles of working people the world over.
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