Why Do We Choose the Boring Work?

In The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, a man is condemned by the Gods to roll a boulder uphill, watch it roll down and repeat the cycle for eternity.

In the essay, Camus mentions this is not unlike a worker who does the same thing every day and this fate is no less absurd.

Per the interview on NPR which inspired this post, Shankar Vedantam alludes to an example of being paid to work in a museum telling people they can’t touch the exhibits. In context, this is related to monotony on the job and recent research conducted at Duke University which revealed subjects actually chose to do a boring task instead of a more interesting one.

He says, “Imagine working for a museum standing around for several hours a day watching people.”

Vedantam makes the point of the disconnect when looking for a job versus realities on the job. When you apply, you may say to yourself, “Great! I’ll just stand around for a few hours and get paid to do nothing. This is such an easy gig!”

Now imagine the reality. You’re watching people walk around, you can’t talk to them, and you’re standing the entire time.

He points out how job seekers view a job versus the actuality of doing it. “When we think about jobs we have to do, we’re confronted with different things to think about it so we simplify it and think about just one or two characteristics of the job. If you had to choose between living in sunny California or freezing Michigan, the question makes you think about the weather because of the weather but there’s traffic jams, the cost of living — you simply the decision into one or two factors.”

And although the research brings light to choices and how subjects chose the more boring job rather than the more interesting one, that poses questions we should ask ourselves when making our own decisions. Are we in the comfort zone even though the reality may lead to boredom?

Are we making decisions by simplifying them and not looking at the entire picture? Just some food for thought…