Bill is a financial analyst for an investment bank. He's busier than ever, working from home in Brooklyn, New York. When his firm published a list of "essential workers," (those allowed to come into the office) his name wasn't on it. "I get it," Bill said. "I'm not on the trading floor. But still, it was a gut punch; I'm not 'essential.'"
With much of the world in "lock down," or "shelter-in-place," or whatever other new-phrase-of-the-day we're supposed to use, everyone agrees that certain "essential" work must go on: hospitals, grocery stores, fire and police departments–are all considered "essential."
As they clearly are. Now on the flip side, anthropologist David Graeber argues that around 40% of us are engaged in work that doesn't really serve society. On his list: Lobbyists, Corporate Attorneys, Advertisers, and right near the top: HR Consultants. Ouch! His book, Bullshit Jobs is compelling, disturbing, and laugh-out-loud funny.
In business I've learned, "The most important job is the one that's not getting done." Right now we're told to "Just stay home," and some act as if binge-watching Netflix is our civic duty. Balderdash! I'm reflecting on what's "essential" in my work, in my personal life, and in the world. I'm also going outside as much as possible. Good day sunshine! "The next bright idea could come from any of us," Mark Cuban said last week in an interview.
The billionaire, "Shark Tank" star, owner of the Dallas Mavericks) also said, "We human beings need entertainment. We need community." Yes, yes! But he also said, "We need the NBA." Ah, no. The NBA is "fantastic" as the ad goes, but sorry, Mark, even fans like us know the NBA is not a necessity.
If you're reading this, you have essential work to do, whether or not your position or company is deemed "essential." To see how subjective it is, let's compare two industries in two places. Here in Tokyo, as of today, hair salons are not facing government recommendations to reduce hours, let alone close. In San Francisco, those same salons would would be fined for staying open. Quite a contrast. Here's a bigger one: In San Francisco, cannabis dispensaries are considered "essential businesses."
On April 12, Sam Harris interviewed Laurie Santos, a professor at Yale, on "The Science of Happiness" on his "Making Sense" podcast. Some of the interview is behind a subscriber paywall (Sam waives fees by request). I highly recommend that interview as well as the sources quoted in it. Sam and Laurie are doing essential work and they're helping me do mine. They can help you, too.
Staying positive isn't always easy. I feel for those who have been disproportionately affected by the virus and already by the economic shock, as well as for those feeling any and all the frustrations related to what's going on right now. My grandfather and father (surgeons) both used to say, "The mortality rate of the human race is 100%." But while we're living, there's work to be done. After all, we are essentially human beings....and all "Essential."