Friday, October 16, 2015

Why I eat my lunch

“Don’t forget your lunch” my wife reminds me, as she often needs to, as I step out the door in the morning.  It’s not just that she wants to ensure her husband doesn’t become malnourished, it’s because she took the time to make the lunch and doesn’t want to see it go to waste.

I learned this lesson the hard way a number of years ago.  My wife would send me to work with a lunch bag, and after some period of time noticed I would be bringing home a lunch bag with the same contents as when I left our domicile, but just at room temperature. “Didn’t you eat lunch today?” she would ask.  “Yeah” I would reply, “but the guys wanted to go to the diner today for lunch.”  This begin a series of increasingly more frustrating arguments with my wife, escalating to “FINE, I JUST WON’T PACK YOU A LUNCH ANYMORE!”.  After a brief work stoppage, she started to pack my lunch again.. and I learned to eat them, provide advanced notice when I wouldn’t need a lunch, or make the appropriate provisions to ensure that not eating a lunch one day would turn into that lunch becoming my dinner that night, or lunch the following day.

Each week, I make sure to listen to 2 podcasts: This American Life and the TED Radio Hour on NPR, and the most recent TED Radio Hour show was about “The Meaning of Work”, which is probably my favorite show they’ve done yet.  It already inspired me to purchase and tear through Beyond Measure by Margaret Heffernan, one of the speaker’s on the radio show.  Another act of the show contained a presentation from Dan Ariely on What Pushes Us to Work, Even When We Don’t Have To

I’ve read Ariely’s work in the past and really enjoyed it, his experiments are very detailed and thought provoking and provide specific life lesson’s that we can all take away.  In his speech on the show, he discusses how he was able to measure why we work, and the joy we get from building, creating, and problem solving.  In one experiment, they measured how much our work matters to us by allowing subjects to build something (LEGO robots), and then paid the subject decreasing amounts for each item build ($3.00 the first time, $2.70 the next, and so on).  With a separate group, they performed the same test, but with one alteration.  Once the subject agreed to start another robot, the robot they just created was destroyed.  It was disassembled, in front of the test subject, and placed back into the basket to be rebuilt.

Destroying the robot had a significant impact in the study, subjects stopped creating robot’s far sooner than they had done in the control experiment. Knowing the work was essentially for nothing, it de-motivated the test subjects, caused them to lose their drive, and realize that their time could be best served doing something else.

At work, I’ve noticed a pattern with some other friends of mine.  Some are also lucky enough to have their wives pack them lunches, and over time we’ve managed to swap eerily similar stories about why we “need” to eat lunch at the desk, or why we “can’t go to lunch today, I packed my own”.  After hearing Ariely’s talk about the meaning and purpose of work and building things, as much as it resonated with me in why I enjoy what I do for my career, I didn’t realize how easy it is to take someone else’s work for granted.

So today, it looks like I’m having a Turkey sandwich, some pretzel’s and  some cranberry juice.  I’m not really in the mood for it, but I’d hate for it to go to waste.

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