jump to navigation

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Summer June 28, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, career, change, employment, survival, the economy.

One of the best books I have ever read, fiction or non-fiction, is Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work writes Steve_Denning author of award-winning books The Secret Language of Leadership and The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling

Summer’s officially here – with recession in full swing – and so this would seem like the unlikeliest of times to be considering the subject of work. But work is the subject of this post – for I’m about to embark on a one month long voluntary furlough to help the firm make payroll for the remaining architects back in the office. I face the coming month with a mixture of curiosity, ennui and oddly, relief. Relief because up until now I have miraculously managed to be employed or self-employed continuously for 25 consecutive years and I am looking forward to doing many things with this newfound time: writing my book, biking with the kids, training in new technology, and perhaps as great as any of these, doing some much needed mid-career exploration of the very notion of work. And despite the furlough probably some work as well.

Do you live to work or work to live?

With so many out of work right now it would seem like a luxury to spend valuable sun-soaked hours pondering the meaning of work: what it means to individuals and society, who ultimately benefits from it and what it takes for it to be considered meaningful. It’s not as though work is an option – for most, it’s a necessity, and for others, a necessary evil. Few have the metaphysical disposition to question “to work or not to work?” That is certainly not the question, for work we must.

Who better to guide us on this exploration than Alain de Botton, author of The_Architecture_of_Happiness and this summer’s runaway nonfiction bestseller, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, an examination  of 10 professions and industries in 10 chapters covering the one thing most of us devote the greater part of our lives to. Specifically, de Botton writes cleverly and entertainingly about the

  • specialization of labor,
  • production of superfluous goods,
  • our removal from the sources of what we consume,
  • detachment of meaning from work, and
  • elusiveness of self-fulfillment.

What work?

As reviewers, commenters and de Botton himself points out – most of us entered our chosen field by way of decisions made when we were unthinking students looking for something to earn us spending or rent money without really giving it much thought. Our careers chose us by paying well or being conveniently located to our homes, we didn’t choose our careers. This lull in summer affords us the opportunity to consider – or reconsider – this choice. To take ownership of it. To make it our choice – rather than one that happened to us, as though from some source outside ourselves.


We all know what we do for a living. But what exactly is it? Work is the thing, says de_Botton, alongside love and perhaps children, from which we derive our identities. All societies have had work at their center, but modern Western culture, he says, is the first to assume that a “meaningful existence must invariably pass through the gate of remunerative employment.” In a time when we’re all just trying to make our mortgage payments – let alone enjoy some of the fringe benefits of summer in the city – is it too much of a burden put upon ourselves to ask of work to be anything more than a means to a paycheck?

As one commenter put it, “There is a nobility in simply arriving home at the end of a day having secured the resources sufficient to meet one’s needs.” And so again we ask: is this enough?


Along the way de Botton tries to answer some of the most urgent questions we ask about work:

  • Why do we do it?
  • What makes it pleasurable?
  • What is its meaning? And
  • Why do we daily exhaust not only ourselves but also the planet?

To look at work and life through a wider lens

Summer ought to be about pleasure pure and simple – not sorrow. A season not meant to be fraught with the burden of finding employment, meaningful or otherwise. This delightful book, dressed for summer release in sand colored sleeve, is a light read in a heavy book, as much photo essay as word painting, and the perfect accompaniment to your own explorations into the travails and pleasures of work.

Author Steve_Denning recommends Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Penguin, 2009) strongly: “provided you understand his mindset and appreciate finely crafted prose, you will find this one of the funniest and wisest books you will ever read,” Denning concludes in his own review of this worthwhile and enjoyable book.



1. Don Deutsch - August 10, 2009

Hey Randy, your humor is the golden parachute most of us could use in this ‘recession, what recession?’ crazy making world. I’m glad I found my way to your blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: