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WORK and work

I walk around tired a lot and I was trying to figure out why. I think this is why.

At the end of the day I often say to myself “I’ve got to get some work done.” When I said this to someone in passing the other day, they said to me “What have you been doing all day?”

I thought about that and realized that I’d in fact been been WORKing all day, dealing with bureaucratic stuff at Columbia, going to meetings about career services for students, meeting with some students, replying to emails, preparing a talk I had to give for a business trip. This was the WORK I was paid for.

WORK is how I earn a living. Sometimes it’s also work, which is what makes me feel productive and well; it’s what I do that I feel compelled to do out of desire rather than obligation, though I do my obligations first. It’s what I feel will last longer than a day, though maybe not much longer.

These aren’t completely orthogonal states. Sometimes the two kinds of work coincide, and then life is easy. At other times, they only partially intersect, and then life gets tougher, because I do the WORK and then I try to do the work.

A few weeks ago a student at Columbia told me about a summer internship at an investment bank he’d had in which he spent most of his time programming, and was surprised that they weren’t using him for his skills in stochastic calculus. He thought he was going to spend his time doing research and writing papers along the lines of what people in Quantitative Strategies used to do at Goldman. I tried to explain the difference between WORK and work, and that the place he was at no doubt had enough people to do the stochastic calculus they needed.

When I worked at Goldman Sachs in the 80s and 90s, I did WORK building trading systems and that was work too. The papers that I collaborated on, on various kinds of volatility and options, was strictly work, and I don’t think I got paid for doing that. It was a self-imposed task. Same with writing the book I wrote.

So, that’s the way the world w orks, at least for me, and when I don’t get enough work done during the WORKing day, then I spend the rest of the time trying to work too. It’s tiring but I can’t live easily without it.

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