‘Don’t Dream Of Labour’? You’re Not Alone — But Is That Good Or Bad?

From girl boss to no boss

What’s your dream job? You would be surprised what youngsters on YouTube and TikTok would answer these days — “I don’t dream of labour”. A response that’s quite surprising considering that hustle culture was the popular work philosophy not so long ago. Flexing your new gadgets, wardrobe and luxury goods — all fruits of your labour — was a surefire way to gain a following on social media. So what happened? Why the sudden shift? And what exactly is the “I don’t dream of labour” trend all about? Ahead, we discuss.

Rest over hustle

For so long hustle culture has promised us that working hard guarantees a good life and a sense of achievement. We were told that through sacrifice and perseverance, we will have the means to get a nice place, indulge in life’s comforts, and be able to provide for ourselves and our families. It was a big disappointment then when most millennials and older Gen Z-ers joined the workforce and quickly found themselves accepting unlivable wages despite being dedicated workers. The onset of the pandemic only worsened the situation with lay-offs and pay cuts becoming commonplace.

Woman typing on her laptop

(Photo from: Thought Catalog via Unsplash)

With this disillusionment, it’s no wonder that trends like “I don’t dream of labour” have emerged. The origin of the quote is challenging to trace but the phrase began to pop up on social media in January 2020 — months before the pandemic had truly taken hold of our lives — when Twitter user @thechrisfrench posted about it. Since then, the tweet has garnered over 82 thousand retweets and 321.4 thousand likes. Clearly, it resonated with a lot of people.

Soon after, the “I don’t dream of labour” trend took off on YouTube when creators Lynette Adkins and Katherout shared their experience of being burnt out from the constant grind. This sparked a conversation online which has led to many takes on the topic.

Another similar movement called “Tang Ping” has gained traction in China where several youths posed lying around in different places as a way to express their rebellion against the intense pressure of work in a competitive job market for recent graduates. It can be argued that both these phenomena are part of the so-called late-stage capitalism concept, a “malleable” term that has taken a lot of meanings through the years but is now used to criticise the inequalities (such as the few rich getting richer) under the economic model of capitalism. It’s no secret that it will take a lot of time and collective effort to tackle these problems.

In the meantime, working under the current system is still a necessity. “I don’t dream of labour”, at its core, is an individualistic immediate solution to a systemic one. It calls for a change of one’s mindset and relationship with work. True, it’s a band-aid but even band-aids have their purpose and the “I don’t dream of labour” trend was created to soothe burnout. It promotes the message of working to live instead of the other way around. It’s not about laziness nor not working at all.

“I don’t dream of labour” doesn’t mean not working

Money isn’t the only thing we expect to gain from working. There’s a notion that self-worth, fulfilment and even happiness can also be derived from our source of income. “If you're wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn't love you anymore,” says a popular quote from Lady Gaga.

Even our identity can be linked to what we do for a living. For example, in social gatherings, we normally introduce ourselves first by our name then followed by our profession. The “I don’t dream of labour” trend seeks to break away from this idea that our work is who we are and what we live for. It’s not really about not working but more on seeing work as a means to an end rather than the reward itself.

Singaporean YouTuber anattynook shares a reading list for those curious about the “I do not dream of labour” trend.

This work philosophy of not dreaming about labour isn’t something new, it just got a new name. In History of Work, John Dupré and Regenia Gagnier wrote about Adam Smith’s labour theory of value where work is seen as “toil and trouble”. “The real price of everything, what everything really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it,” Adam Smith once said. From this angle, work is nothing but a way to make money. It’s not an aspiration or a dream worthy of pouring your life into.

Finding your ikigai

While the “I don’t dream of labour” stoic approach to work is great on paper, we can’t discount the fact that work is something that takes up a lot of our time. How sustainable is it to spend our waking lives doing work we don’t love for money? It turns out, not very much. Working a job that makes you miserable will slowly contribute to the deterioration of health. So what now? How can you reconcile the idea of treating work as just a means to an end but still finding meaning from it?

One helpful way to deal with this struggle is to turn to the Japanese concept of Ikigai which roughly translates to “a reason for being alive”. It deals with multiple facets of your life: your mission, passion, vocation and profession. Finding your ikigai is not an easy task and requires deep self-reflection. It asks you to reflect and identify that one thing that you love to do, you’re good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for. An ikigai is not always found in grand endeavours. Sometimes it can be something as seemingly simple as making great sushi or wanting to keep a space clean and efficient. It’s this kind of love for labour that makes the act of work rewarding beyond monetary compensation.

Not everyone is blessed enough to be able to take some time to find their ikigai. Some would need to continue working a job with less than stellar conditions to cover basic expenses. So if you’re in a position where you can, take the opportunity.

At the end of the day, meaningless meandering isn’t what we truly want. Neither is working for the sake of money and glory. Living out our purpose in life can be a happy middle ground.

(Cover photo from: Mikey Harris via Unsplash)

Next, check out these career tips from women who didn’t shift careers for a decade.

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