Work Is a Relationship With Strangers

Writing books is about as solitary a job as one can find, and yet…

Psychologist Alfred Adler, one of the “three greats of the 20th century” next to Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, saw only three “life tasks,” as he called them, for each human being: tasks of work, tasks of friendship, and tasks of love. You might look at this trifecta and think, “Oh, sure, that makes sense. It is our relationships and our work that matter most,” but actually, Adler thought work, like the other two, is just another form of relationship.

You see, Adler also believed that “all problems are people problems.” Whatever our challenge might be, in one way or another, it would inevitably come back to our connection to other human beings. Someone who’s lonely is only lonely because they feel as if they don’t fit in with others — a group of friends, at work, or society at large. Addiction might be a way to rebel against one’s parents, and so on.

From this perspective, work is just a set of relationships with people you know a little (or a lot) less than your friends or your family.

Going back to writing books, on the surface, it seems like it’s the most solo gig there ever was, right? You’re sitting in a room, alone, trying to come up with words, alone, and then structuring it all in a way that makes sense, also alone. Forget editors, sources, or being a journalist. I’m talking about a hardcore self-publisher. Someone like Steve Scott, who, for a while, published a new, short book every month. What does that kind of work have to do with relationships? Actually, a whole lot — because at the end of the day, who are the books for? People.

As soon as I had finished my first blog post, I couldn’t wait to see what people might think. I showed it to my parents, my sister, and my friends. I posted it on Facebook and other social media. I’ve enjoyed writing from the first second I took it seriously, but from that same second, I also wrote so people might one day read my work. At first, I only had a tiny audience, but it was an audience nonetheless.

Today, a few hundred people read my work every day, but little has changed: I still write hoping more people will read my work, but I now also write so the people who already do may have something to read. I want people to say, “Oh, that’s a typical Nik post!” It’s the highest compliment.

In your work, the necessity of relationships might be more obvious than in mine, but the point is that, whichever relationships lie at its core, work has no purpose without its human element. Work is always for something — and, in turn, that something is always for people.

If all of our “life tasks” relate around people, and if work is nothing more than the tasks involving those with whom our ties are the loosest, that raises an important question: Do you really want to spend more time working? In essence, whenever you are working, you are working on your relationships with the people you might have the weakest connection with.

In my case, most of the time, it is a connection with literal strangers. I don’t know most of my readers. I know some, and they’re wonderful, but at the end of the day, I’m writing books for people halfway around the globe whom I’ll never meet, see, or hear from. There are also colleagues and peers, of course, some of which I’ve come to call friends, but none of whom are as important to me as my family.

Even if you’re very familiar with the people at work — after all, you spend close to a third of your time around them — chances are, you don’t dig as deep in your conversations with co-workers as you do with your best bud from high school or your wife. Whenever you choose to work more, to put in another hour, you are essentially prioritizing those people over the ones closer to your heart.

This isn’t to say that working more is always bad. It feels great to make something useful for others, and sometimes, especially the fact that those others are strangers adds to our sense of accomplishment. You can feel a sense of camaraderie with your co-workers, too, and some may even become friends. But it is worth reflecting on this dynamic.

All you have in life is relationships. Work is just one of three flavors — and most likely, it’s the least important kind.