The Unhappiness Motivator - Dilbert Blog

The Unhappiness Motivator

I wonder how much of a role unhappiness plays in peoples’ ability to plan for success. I was thinking about this lately because I know a lot of successful white-collar types who had unpleasant manual jobs when they were young. In my case, I worked on my uncle’s dairy farm in upstate New York.  And let me tell you, nothing makes you want to avoid farming as much as actually doing it. When I studied for a test in school, I was keenly-aware that it meant something.

Where I live now, in the San Francisco bay area, most kids either don’t have jobs or they have the easy indoor kind, as in scooping ice cream or handing out towels.

During the school year, most college-bound kids in my area have no time for jobs. If you play a school sport and have four hours of homework per night, which is typical for college-bound kids, there’s no room for anything else. Weekends too are packed with sports and more studying.

So what happens to a kid who has never experienced a truly shitty job? Will those kids have the same amount of career drive as the folks who have?

I realize every generation has asked the same question. But what is different now is the amount of homework kids are getting. When I was in high school I never took a book home. I could polish off my meager homework during study hall. And while I didn’t love schoolwork, I never had so much of it that I developed any kind of deep hatred for mental pursuits.

But I imagine how different I might have felt if I had never experienced unpleasant manual labor – and lots of it – and instead was tortured with several hours of homework every night. I think I might have longed for a simpler future with no books and not so much thinking. In other words, I think the homework would have redirected me away from seeking a career in law or engineering and toward something that didn’t require so much damned studying.

Obviously no two kids are alike. You’ll always have a Mark Zuckerberg or a Bill Gates who are born into good situations and have the success gene in them. Apparently some people are naturally motivated and some are not. But for average kids, do their childhood experiences make much of a difference to motivation?

Research tells us that piling on the homework doesn’t make kids smarter. Schools do it anyway, because although schools teach science, apparently they don’t believe in it. We know that too much homework is bad for family life, and we can observe that it keeps kids from more fully enjoying their youth. What I’m wondering is whether homework makes it impossible for kids to experience genuinely shitty jobs that would motivate them to achieve something more comfortable.

I put the question to you, my unscientific sample. Did you ever have a truly unpleasant job as a kid, and if so, did it motivate you toward a career that promised an easier life?