Conspicuous *Production*: “Sexy” Work, “Schlep” Work, Automation, and Artisans

People who seek sexy work are often members of what I called the Jeffersonian middle class in an earlier post — motivated by creative self-expression and a sense of personal dignity rather than economic survival.

… Sexy work is attractive to those who like their social identity to be harmoniously integrated within itself (what your mom thinks of you and what your boss thinks of you are not in conflict) and with your private identity (you don’t feel misunderstood). There is consensual external validation of your internal sense of self-worth. You feel authentic.

Sexy work is easy to enjoy, learn, value and integrate into your identity, primarily because it is downhill psychological work: it is the cognitive equivalent of muscular atrophy. You have to choose to make it hard for yourself. You can cash out some status and attention even if you’re not making any money. It does not test your sense of self-worth significantly.

Schlep work has the opposite characteristics along all four vectors. It is harder to enjoy, learn, value and integrate into your identity, primarily because it is uphill psychological work for a social species. It is hard whether or not you want it to be. It is hard to cash out status and attention even if you’re making good money. It tests your sense of self-worth every day.

Somehow, over the past decade, we’ve gone from a useful heuristic (“focus on your strengths” and “find flow”) down a slippery slope of use-with-caution ideas (“work smart, not hard” and “follow your passion”) to the idea of work as a kind of consumption that should be chosen based on the pleasure one can derive from it.

Sexy/schleppy is to my mind, the most natural way to break down human preferences for work. They arise from fundamental desires and aversions. In choosing consumption behaviors or conspicuous production, we tend to feed desires and starve aversions. In schleppy work, we do the opposite: we defer gratification and accept, even seek out, a degree of pain based on the no-pain-no-gain heuristic. A little nudge from a plausible “play to your strengths” philosophy is enough for us to choose the easier way.

Unfortunately, the entire current conversation around work is confused because we prefer a less meaningful distinction, creative vs. uncreative.

Via You Are Not an Artisan.

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