The quest to be workplace “bobos” | City Bible Forum Plus

The quest to be workplace “bobos”

And where true satisfaction in work can be found

The quest to be workplace “bobos”

Tue 8 Sep 2020
And where true satisfaction in work can be found

One of the questions I’m regularly asked about work is its purpose. That is, “What’s the point of work?” I often give two main answers, the most common reasons that many people give for working – finances and fulfilment. That is, I work to live (finances), or I live to work (fulfilment). But as Daniel Doriani notes in his recent book Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation, “Both groups probably agree that work is a means to an end – happiness”. That is, whether its what I want to get out of work to enjoy the rest of life (finances), or what work satisfies within me (fulfilment), both have the goal of personal happiness.

It’s these twin pursuits that led American cultural analyst David Brooks to coin the term “bobos”, a term combining bourgeois and bohemian. [1] Rather than pitting finances and fulfilment against each other, Brooks suggests most working professionals today are trying to gain both through their work (although for most one might take slight precedence over the other); “In [bobos], materialism [finances] and self-expression [fulfilment] fuse”. [2]

Doriani expands:

“To say it differently, American [and I would add, Australian] culture promotes two kinds of individualism: utilitarian individualists and expressive individualists. Utilitarian individualists are hard-working, ever-improving, self-made types…They may choose a career not because it attracts them but because it is respectable and offers material rewards…Expressive individualists want a life that is rich in experience, open to all kinds of people”.

In other words, the quest for finances and fulfilment in our daily work are both outworkings of the individualism of our age, and a quest for personal happiness. We are striving to become workplace bobos.

Now there is a sense in which both of these purposes in our daily work are not wrong, but indeed God-given gifts. Work is a God-ordained means by which He provides for our daily needs (Ephesians 4:28), and like Him at creation He intends that we might find joy in our work (Genesis 1:31; Psalm 104: 31). The problem arises when we seek to find these things in our work not for the good of others and the glory of God but for ourselves. That is, work becomes about what I can gain out of it for myself (whether that’s finances, fulfilment or a bit of both). When work takes on this inward selfish orientation it inevitably fails to deliver the happiness we hope that it might and the quest for it becomes a burden.

What is the solution? It is to reshape our orientation to work from inward to outward. That is, rather than looking to see what I can gain from work for myself, see my work as an arena to honour God and serve others. That is, seek to become workplace “lolos” (people who love God and love others through our work).

In a strange twist, when we seek to be lolos rather than bobos we might actually find those purposes of finances and fulfilment are more likely to be satisfied. As the writer of Ecclesiastes explains, when we live life fearing God and honouring Him, rather than seeing what we can gain out of it for ourselves, God provides for our needs through our work and gives us satisfaction in it:

“This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given them – for this is their portion. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their portion and be happy in their toil – this is a gift of God” (5:18-19. See also 2:24-26; 3:12-13)

So pursue love in your work today. Strive to be a lolo not a bobo.

[1] David Brooks, Bobos in paradise, 2000.

[2] Daniel Doriani, Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation, 2019.

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