What Are We Laboring For Anyway?

You work hard at your job, don’t you?  We all do.

But what exactly are you working towards?  What are we laboring for anyway?

Money.  Probably benefits.  Not really much else.

Sure, there are some folks out there that truly love their jobs.  That is awesome.  But I’m afraid that isn’t the case for a vast majority of the working class.

You hear the cliche’s all the time.  “The 9-5 grind” comes to mind.  Who wants to go somewhere and be ground all day?!?

Fill in the blank with your own cliche _________________.

So why do we do it?  It’s such an old-fashioned way to work 40 hours in a cubicle in a job you don’t really like that doesn’t stimulate you.

But we do it.  The alternatives aren’t abundant, are they?  At least not yet.

I think our economy and the state of technology today have created some great opportunities in the workplace.  No longer are we bound by pre-fab walls in an office building.  Much of what we’ve done for work, if you are using a telephone or a computer, can be done from home.  Companies are starting to catch up to this and are offering flexible work hours.

But what really excites me is the fact that the current and future work generations may have a way around being cube monkeys.

It’s tough getting a job out there, especially if you are new to the workplace.  If this sounds like you then good for you!  I’m not trying to say I’m happy you aren’t working.  We all have bills to pay.  But this creates incredible opportunity for you.

Instead of getting stuck in a 40-hour a week (and let’s face it, you’re lucky if you’re only working 40 hours and not a whole lot more) job in a cube with the hope of moving up into better cubes for the next few decades at a job you don’t particularly like, you have the opportunity to start something for yourself!

Not that doing your own thing is easy.  But at least it’s yours.

Today’s generation, and anyone else that’s in a similar situation or brave enough to leave the cube world, has the internet on their side.  There is so much out there that can be done.  There are so many ways to connect with people all over the world now.  The economy is ripe with opportunity if you can believe it.

But you need to work at it.

Find something.  Something you love and are good at.  Go create a business around it.

Build a blog and offer your expertise.  Generate a plan to help other people.  Establish materials that will allow other people to get ahead.  Find out that need that isn’t being filled out there and work your rear off to fill that need.

When you think about it it’s pretty insane.  We wake at the crack of dawn; dress up based on another’s standard (uniform); travel away from home, many times in debilitating traffic; then sit at a desk doing mundane work.  How long does it take for you to look at the clock and wonder when your first break is?

How is that a productive economy?!?

We do it because we’re told it’s what we’re supposed to do.  Suck it up and get a job.  Work hard, get promoted, move up in the company, one day you get to retire.  You’ll get paid so you can cover your mortgage and they even throw in health insurance.  You stay stuck at the job for fear of missing your mortgage payment and not having health insurance.  I know what it’s like.

The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.

-Henry Ford

I remember my cube life vividly.  It wasn’t that long ago, though I’m going on three years away from that job.  I started at the bottom of the rung and worked my way up the ladder.  I went from basic data entry to managing a team of people.  Somewhere after my first promotion or so I recall thinking that I could stick it out in the field.  After all my pay was going up and my responsibilities were increasing.

But I didn’t love it.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the company and my bosses.  I learned a lot at that job.  But it just wasn’t something that was my life’s calling, if you will.  When someone I met asked me what I did I would mumble off some job description and hope they wouldn’t ask me any more about it.  Has that ever happened to you?

I’ve been blessed to be able to run an online publishing business.  I’m my own boss with my own company.  It all started out with my creating a blog and writing on the side.  I networked, researched, and built it up.  I worked.  See, you don’t have to up and quit a cube job abruptly.  Start working on your own time.  It CAN be done.

The next time you find yourself watching the clock wondering why the hands aren’t moving fast enough, take a minute or two and think about what better use of your time you could be exploring.  What could you be doing that you would be proud of?    What could you do that the next time someone asks you your job you find that you can’t shut up about your job, that’s how enthused you are about it?

Want to hear something crazy?  I probably work more hours now than I did at the cube farm.  I’m not talking sitting at a desk for 40 hours working.  Let’s face it, most of us don’t work all day in the cube.  You might have a few productive hours a day but you don’t really work 40 hours.  You just have to be there for 40 hours.  I can honestly say I’m working more now than when I was on the cube job.  And it’s great.  I’m working more hours and it’s better.  That almost sounds loopy.  But it’s true.

The hours are mine.  I work when I can be productive.  When I can’t produce I do something else that will help inspire me and recharge me – I live.  All those hours that would have otherwise been spent playing Minesweeper are mine to use how I want.

I want to see some comments.

Tell me your cubicle horror stories.  Tell me what ties you to your job.  Tell me how you escaped.  I want to hear it all.

Get discussions going on about why we labor like we do.

The old days are starting to erode.  We don’t have to spend our weekdays in a faux room without a door.  Don’t work for the weekend.  Work for yourself and make every day your own.

Let’s do this.  What are you laboring for?


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Published or updated September 3, 2012.


  1. Elaine Miranda says:

    We spend so much time at work, we share more with our collegues than we do with our family and friends. Finding something you love and at which you are good at, is imperative to live a happy life!

    • So true! There were times when my little guy was young where I’d work late. By the time I got home he was already in bed. I wasn’t even seeing my family?!? What’s the point?

  2. I was a reporter, Glen. My favorite story of corporate journalism frustration was when my boss insisted that I be at two places at the same time. She was in a spot. I worked on a daily and we had to get stories out quickly. We didn’t have enough reporters available to cover all the events scheduled for 3:00 pm. So she told me to cover two of them.

    “But I can only be at one place at a time!”

    “Make it happen, Rob.”

    I knew what she meant. She meant to ask a friend who was there what happened. That’s borderline unethical because you are putting your name to coverage of an event that you did not really see. But the chances of getting caught are very small.

    I didn’t like being put in that position. That was when the thought of whether there was a way to get out first entered my mind.


  3. Nice post, Glen. As you know, I enjoy my job and don’t have to deal with the pressures of being in the cube. But I was in a pretty high pressure environment when I worked in the hotel industry. I spent 50-60 hours a week working, and I was travelling every 3-4 weeks.

    When we had our first child in ’09, I was the acting manager and director of sales for the hotel. It was too much. I ended up being passed over for the full time manager job, and was relegated back to my old sales job with no real direction as to where I’d go next.

    About a month later I met with a client, which happened to be the local University. Through our conversation I discovered they were looking for a Business Development Manager in Athletics, which I thought would be perfect for me. Sports, sales and marketing…right up my alley!

    The position paid as much as the hotel manager was making, without the stress. I’d work 37.5 hours a week, get 22.5 days of vacation (plus the week between Christmas and NY), a defined benefit pension and a host of other perks.

    My point is, I hear a lot of stories about people feeling stuck in a dead-end job, and they’re usually told the only cure is to quit and start their own business. But self-employment isn’t the only way to get out of a bad career.
    You can still find your passion working for someone else.

    • Good point. There are better jobs and opportunities out there. You just have to be willing to look. You don’t have to be stuck. I’m sure there are many people who work a “9 to 5” for a company they love. But I don’t think that is the norm.

  4. Public accounting was a nightmare but I am glad I have escaped that grind. Corporate accounting isn’t so bad and while I don’t love it I definitely don’t hate it. I have been working on my blog as a side business though and I really enjoy it so far. We’ll see how far it gets me one day 🙂

  5. Very timely post for me as I am strongly considering writing/blogging full time. One thing holding me back is that I am one year and three months away from being vested in our pension. However, I found out that by quitting at around the time I am vested in the pension I would receive approximately $360 per month at the age of 65.

    The pension is not market-based though (longevity and 36 highest months of salary), so I think I might do just as well taking my money out of it and putting it into the market for the next 35 years.

    Decisions, decisions….

  6. Hello Glen,

    Thank you for the opportunity to tell you how very right you are.

    Sitting all day in a cube is not fun. It is torture if you would like to do something else, say writing.

    When I retired in Feb, 2012, I was stressed. I wondered how I would fill the void in my life.

    I had been writing for Dollar Stretcher . Now I wanted to start a blog to help others who had lost their jobs through layoff, or retirement.

    In the six months since, I have been blogging on my personal web site
    Retire and Renew, and on Dollar Stretcher. But that isn’t all. To write, we need to find subjects. I have met so many great people who have taught me and entertained me with their stories.

    Now I don’t have time to worry about the spaces in my life. I don’t have any!

    Best wishes. Thank you for the terrific post.

    Lori Blatzheim

  7. I hear, you Glen, but I want to ask the $100,000 question: do you think that recent college grads really can bust out on their own? In my experience, I think that everyone needs some time in an office, if only to really know what it’s like. Also I’m much more likely to take YOU seriously than some young whippersnapper.

    • I think time in an office as part of the corp culture can indeed be valuable. But I also learned a lot working for a supermarket chain as well.

      The thing about a new student is they can fail as well as explore life and their options. Sure anyone can, but it’s a little smoother when you don’t have kids and a mortgage.

      As for expertise, it depends on what you are offering. Experience is made. It’s not something given just because someone has some time under their belt.

      And I’m thinking long-term here too. New students need to be looking at these situations and asking if they even want to be part of the cube culture and what they can do to stay out of it.

  8. I’ve worked in high-end and mall retail, food service, college, publishing, and legal arenas. Each experience has contributed to who I am today, even the ones that I look back on and shudder. They are why I am now pursuing my own business and financial education.

    Some people are happy in their cubicle, whatever job that is. But those of us who aren’t must take what we learn on and off the job, build on it, and use it to escape to the place we want to be.

What Do You Think?