Work, Leisure, and Rejuvenation
June 7, 2022
Our stone age ancestors, homo sapiens, evolved around 300,000 BC during the Paleolithic period.
Almost all of their time was devoted to simply surviving by hunting birds and animals and gathering berries, fruit and nuts from the lands they lived in, as depicted in the photo above, painted roughly 15,000 years ago in the famous Lascaux Caves in southwestern France.
In the Neolithic period, beginning in roughly 8,000 BC, our ancestors started to grow crops and domesticate animals for food, eventually forming the first civilizations around 3,500 BC.
The need to roam widely as hunters and gatherers, focused just on survival, slowly went away and life for humans evolved into two primary uses of their time, as defined by Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset in Meditations on Hunting: "occupations" and "vocations".
Work vs. Leisure
Gasset observes that, "for almost all men, the major part of life consists of obligatory occupations, chores which they would never do out of choice,"
These occupations "weigh upon our existence, mangling it, crushing it. In English, such tasks are called 'jobs'. In the Romance languages, the terms for them derive from the Latin word trepalitum, which originally meant a terrible torture."
As the term implies, work then "occupies" our time, and in doing so, steals time away from tasks we would more willingly spend our time doing.
As pointed out by Gasset, there is and always has been a positive end to the time spent on occupations.
"The man who works does so with the more or less vague hope of one day winning through work the liberation of his life, of being able in time to stop working and... to start really living."
In modern times, we've come to know this positive end as "retirement", but to a lesser extent it also means any time earned away from one's occupation.
"Opposite a life which annihilates itself and fails––a life of work––[man] erects the plan of a life successful in itself––a life of delight and happiness."
Time spent in this more positive, fulfilling way is what Gasset calls a person's vocation, which derives from the Latin vocare, "to call", or a calling, mission, purpose, niche, or specialty that is particularly suitable to each person.
In short, time spent on our vocation is pleasurable, we enjoy, and brings us happiness.
Interestingly, although "vocation" is considered by Gasset as the opposite of "occupation", it's another, very similar word that more specifically represents this opposition.
A word universally associated with "time off", pleasure, happiness, and rejuvenation...
The word "vacation" is literally the opposite of "occupation", deriving from the Latin word vacare, which means to be unoccupied.
Gasset observes that, "It is moving and very sad to see how [occupation and vocation] struggle in each individual. Work robs us of time to be happy, and pleasure gnaws away as much as possible at the time claimed by work."
"Laborious activities are performed, not out of any esteem for them, but rather for the result that follows them"... i.e. time for vocation and/or vacation!
Occupation as Vocation
With all due respect to Jose Ortega y Gasset, I believe that his conclusions about the circumstances of man, as related to occupation and work, are not as inevitable as he makes it seem.
Societal norms, expectations, and even momentum make the occupation-vocation dichotomy all too real for most people, but there is one group of people, in my opinion, that can escape the trap caused by the necessity of work: small business owners.
My previous article, "How to 'Never work another day in your life!'", explains how, at the individual level, "work" is no longer work when a person is focused on activities that are their "unique ability", i.e. activities they are truly excellent at, that give them energy rather than take it away, and they truly love doing.
To be clear, unique ability activities ARE one's "occupation", how you make a living. They are your profession. They just happen to also be your "vocation"! The best of both worlds, if you will.
Freedom Focused is Vocation
At the organizational level, occupation becomes vocation when a small business is Freedom Focused, and the owner's personal and professional freedom have been maximized.
Operating at the Freedom to Exit level of freedom, from my Four-Levels of Freedom hierarchy, the owner does not consider the work they do to be "a terrible torture" that "mangles" and "crushes" their existence.
On the contrary, with a "dream team" of employees to help run the business, the owner spends all of their time working ON rather than IN the business, working 100% in their unique ability.
The owner has freedom to take as much time as they want away from the business...on "vacation", rejuvenating their mind and body.
The occupation-vocation struggle that Gasset found moving and sad... is no longer an issue.
No longer a part of the owner's, or their employee's, reality.
A business owner and their team who are operating a Freedom Focused business have effectively overcome thousands of years of evolutionary pressure to accept a fate of struggle between work and leisure.
In doing so, they have found a way to stay...
Focused on their freedom!
See Podcast: #026 How Small Business Owners Can Escape the Struggle Between Work and Leisure