About the Author
The School of Life is a global organization helping people lead more fulfilled lives. It is a resource for helping us understand ourselves, for improving our relationships, our careers, and our social livesas well as for helping us find calm and get more out of our leisure hours. They do this through films, workshops, books, and giftsand through a warm and supportive community. You can find The School of Life online, in stores and in welcoming spaces around the globe.
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There is no more common emotion to feel around work than that we have failed. We have failed because we have made less money than we hoped; because we have been sidelined in our organisation; because many of our acquaintances have triumphed; because our schemes have remained on the drawing board; because we have been constantly anxious and, for long stretches, tired and bored.
We tend to meet our sorrows personally. We believe that our failures are tightly bound up with our own character and choices. But the suggestion here is that the single greatest cause of our professional failure lies in an area that self-aware, moderate and modest people are instinctively loath to blame: the system we live within. Whatever our natural hesitancy, it seems we deserve to recast at least some of the explanations for our woes away from intimate experience and towards large-scale historical and economic forces. Although on a daily basis we are enmeshed in problems (inadequacies, desires and panics) that feel as if they must be our responsibility alone, the real causes may lie far beyond ourselves, in the greater, grander currents of history: in the way our industries are structured, our values are determined, and our assumptions generated. For a long time now, capitalism has been a confirmedly tricky system in which to retain equilibrium, make peace with ourselves, find fulfilment in our work - and cope. It's not quite our fault if, rather too often, we feel like losers.
This isn't to make a particular dig at capitalism, or to suggest that there may be easier alternatives at hand. Every economy that has ever existed has been bound up with multiple sorrows. Organising an equitable system of incentives, goads and rewards is as yet beyond us. We should be allowed to level criticisms, not in the name of arguing for an alternative utopia, but in order to depersonalise our sense of failure.
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