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Obligation and Choice

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This article has been contributed by Tyler Wentzel, looking at the differences between obligation and choice and the effects it can have on us. 

All too often people place the majority of their stock into making a living when it comes to choosing a profession. The necessity of earning a living obligates us to find work—any work—that can sustain us and our families.

Once employed in a field we didn’t really want, the obligation principle augments further in that our jobs are often characterized by rigid requirements and time constraints. Consequently, actually doing what we wanted to do takes a back seat and many are left with regret about what could have been.

In this article, I’ll be weighing the two modes of operation, obligation and choice—i.e. doing things because you have to, and doing things because you want to—and explaining why the latter is not only the most desirable, but also holds the greatest opportunity for advancement.

Chicken or Egg

The Dilemma: Obligation

We’re always advised to “follow our dreams” when it comes to choosing a career path, but seldom do people wind up doing what they wanted to do. Becoming self-employed is usually the best solution for those who want to be in the occupation they desire, but it is often dismissed as an unlikely option unless one has adequately proven him or herself at a place of employment prior. Even then, people are often encouraged to not quit their day jobs to attempt a start-up. This effectively stifles motivation further as the workload of juggling a day job while starting a business quickly becomes too much to handle. At that point, it becomes more desirable to relinquish the notion of self-employment and simply continue doing the job in which one is currently employed.

I find it ironic that the same people who promote the “follow your dreams” mentality are also the ones who stifle ambition through forced labor. In K-12, we’re given oftentimes overwhelming amounts of homework from a broad spectrum of subjects we didn’t volunteer to learn. Honestly, how desirable is a subject that you may have genuinely had interest in were you given the opportunity to learn at your own pace, when you’re given a hefty and unnecessary workload with deadlines to meet? Then consider this: how many of us have a genuinely keen memory of our elementary, middle and high school subjects?  More often than not, the truth is we simply can’t remember the content of the classes we took.

This is because human nature is characterized by generally wanting to shun whatever it is we’re being forced to do.  Knowing how we operate then, it seems wise to consider working under an alternative mode of operation in order to remedy the problem created by doing things because we have to.

So what about choice?

Ambition flourishes and a great deal more meaningful work is accomplished when we choose to do it ourselves.

It’s motivating just to know, “I do this because I want to” rather than the sinking feeling that accompanies, “I do this because I have to.” Now obviously it’s needful that what we enjoy is also financially profitable. The business we choose needs to have realistic potential for success. But if one chooses to put forth the effort, both in education and application, success is very likely.

Olbigation or Choice

You may even find work in a field that didn’t exist until you thought of it if you can convince people what you offer has utility (a little 10th grade Economics for you there).  Along those lines, consider this: no one thirty years ago would have dreamed of having a personal computer in their own home, nor did they reckon it would be useful; now we kick ourselves if we leave home without our iPads, laptops or smartphones.  We’ve been convinced that these things have usefulness, and indeed they do.

We can see the success of the choice principle exhibited in the world’s greatest inventors who brought to light solutions to many of the world’s problems simply because they had a passion for invention, they liked to create things. They made the conscious choice to pursue solutions out of sheer desire to solve problems. The result of a vast network of people minded this way brought about the revolutionary technological advancements we’ve witnessed over the past 100 years, and continue to witness today.

Now imagine for a moment these inventors had no interest in inventing, and had been forced by authorities to come up with solutions. I believe we’d still be driving vehicles with two horsepower: horse-driven buggies.

Motivation, Productivity & Sustainability

Plain and simple: motivation, productivity and the quality of the finished product all spiral downward in proportion to how pressured someone is to complete a task. We’re all aware of the amazing things that can come from working “under the gun”, but we should also be aware that this mode of operation is not sustainable. Long-term productivity comes as a result of being free to make your own choices.

Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings seems to understand this to some degree. He stated,

“We want our employees to have great freedom—freedom to be brilliant or freedom to make mistakes.”

The 300 plus salaried employees at Netflix are afforded no limit to their vacation time.  This means they have the freedom to choose when they work and how much they want to get done at a time. You can read more about the success associated with this ideology here and here.

Indeed, doing things because we have to stifles creativity and potential more than we probably realize. But once we see the satisfaction that accompanies the freedom of personal choice, it’s hard to settle for anything less.

Tyler Wentzel is a blogger and logo and identity designer who’s always on the lookout for inspiration. Photos by 123RF.


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