Murphy\’s Bye-Laws

Law #4: Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. –H.D. Thoreau

Have Job, Will Power

Posted by PintofStout on August 8, 2007

It was Tuesday. The sky was overcast and gray as I pulled up to the curb outside my office. Well, it wasn’t really my office; it was the office of my employers. They were responsible for this building held up by bricks, boredom, and broken wills. I yanked the emergency brake and shut off the car, but didn’t get out. Despite my tardiness – I was always 30-45 minutes late everyday – I didn’t hurry out of the car and toward the door. I sat and sighed out the windshield. After a good long sigh that drew my eyes shut, I lifted myself with a grunt out of the car to the sidewalk and trudged my way to the door. It seemed to me as if I was using up a lot of some unknown resource to push myself closer to the door. Then it dawned on me: I was using up a reserve of will power that was dangerously close to being exhausted. What would happen if it was exhausted? I pictured a u-turn on the highway and driving back home. I pictured turning around, walking back to my car, and driving down the road somewhere – anywhere but here. While lost in the visions of not quite making it, I ended up in the door, signing in, and grunting a reply to the receptionist’s inquiry about my condition. Listlessly, I ambled down the corridor and past the dull gray depressing cubicles to my seat in the same. I could have sworn I heard the cries of “dead man walking” the whole way. I sat down half-expecting a big shock.


So while I sulked, sitting low in my chair having not the will to even sit up straight, I began to sort out the theory of finite will power. After a while, I dislodged myself from the uncomfortable chair – a temporary clemency – and got some coffee. By then I had recovered enough will power to care about not getting canned for being a slouch, and I opened a file to give my monitor an appearance of activity. For the rest of the day I had forgotten about the theory of finite will power and commenced with the workday as usual. It would have been gone for good, but something my wife said made it pop back into my thoughts: she asked why I never dress nice for work anymore; I used to dress nice and care about my appearance. Now, I only try to be not-naked.


At that moment the half-baked theory of finite will power rose and came to temperature in my head. So I explained it briefly while I slid on my well-worn jeans and a wrinkled polo shirt. The way I figured it, I used up so much of my will power just getting out of bed and performing the minimal preparations before commuting into work, if I were to have to iron and dress well I would surely run empty of will power before arriving to work and thus have to turn around before making it all the way in. She thought I was ridiculous and rolled over to sleep for a little while longer. I couldn’t shake the theory from my head after that, though, and it lingered and bubbled until I could organize it further into comprehension.




I started my examination of the theory by observing my will power levels throughout the day. This would have been made easier if there were some sort of gage I could wear on my wrist to measure the levels at any given moment. Then again, that may feel too much like a Big Brother tracking device in this dystopic setting. The lack of technical equipment or methods for observation couldn’t stop Freud, so I wouldn’t let it stop me, either.


My typical routine was pretty constant and only altered with the amount of pressure work could bring to bear in order to shame me into higher levels of activity. Upon examination, the roller coaster of fluctuating will power levels was obvious in my routine during the work day. Similar patterns emerged in my outside life, increasing inversely with temporal proximity to work. It was like this black hole of will power I call my job had a powerful gravitational field that reached outside of itself to consume larger portions of will power the closer you approached.


If my job is a black hole of concentrated misery and ridiculousness, the event horizon approaching the black hole of employment would have to be waking in the morning. Like overcoming static friction I have to burn an oversized portion of will power just to get this snowball of self-pity rolling. After motion is initiated towards work the comfort of steady routine carries me obliviously forward like a cow at slaughter hoping for yet another bail of hay on the other side of the gate I just passed through. If it weren’t for the coasting inside of routine I likely wouldn’t make it all the way to my cubicle before running dry on will power and diverting myself to a coffee shop or bookstore to squander my day on fun stuff while simultaneously losing my job and working toward divorce. Despite seemingly running on fumes from the start, I seldom run completely dry even as the day progresses.


Once achieving my position at my desk and fulfilling any need for warm caffeine, my will power meter has all but bottomed out. I assume the slouch position and avoid talking or emailing anybody work-related until enough will power is contained to propel myself beyond apathy for being fired. During this “recharge” I will check my personal email, peruse the internet, maybe write drivel about hating my job, just stare at my screen, or any combination of these depending on how low the will power reserve has sunk. This is the first of similar instances throughout the day that appear to “recharge” the will power resources. In the event that a power failure will occur before arriving at work, a detour for an emergency Egg McMuffin may be required. The type of work day that is typical for this routine is not the only kind, though.


There is more than one kind of work day, and each type of day has different demands on will power and different strategies for “recharge.” One of the most demanding of days, such as prescribed above, involves minimal time pressure for tasks that are long-standing, tedious, or redundant and unexciting. Gathering the will power to dredge through these tasks is like summoning the will power to hold one’s head submerged in manure in a hot and steamy barn (or so I imagine). There is no stimulation for the brain which must compensate with sheer will power. There is also no pressure, which is a close cousin to stimulation, to propel one through tasks. The only good not-disastrous thing about minimum-time-pressure / maximum-drudgery days is the time cushion that can be used for frequent “recharges.”


At least one other kind of work day that I’ve been able to identify in the wild (Crikey!) is a faster paced day than the first. Like a midget in rising water these kind of work days keep you too busy treading water to realize that you hate swimming. When working to the level of busyness where the thoughts of motivating yourself are absent or overcome by the tide, the pressure or motivation or motivative pressure takes the place of will power and drives us in the direction of what needs done. Any motivative drain that could be detected while leaving the job on the first type of day is undetectable on days where one is too busy to think about their misery. Any resulting lethargy can usually be attributed to sheer exhaustion.


There are also slight variations in the too-busy-for-misery days. The first variation would be like that just described where the amount of work is overwhelming and the nature of the work is tedious or uninspiring. This type of day tends to drain energy and has a delayed depletion of will power effect that carries on well into one’s personal time. The other variation is a day filled with work of a different nature. When inspired to be creative and productive by genuine interest or intellectual challenge and in doses not altogether overwhelming, the work can transform from a rising tide to the vertically challenged into a totally rad whitecap to some righteous dude. The joy garnered translates into extra energy that carries on away from work if one has to be torn away before completion, and if the challenge is successfully conquered then bonus energy is released by the feeling of honest work and success. All this gained energy can be converted into will power to carry one into and through other tasks at work or home that would require will power consumption.




I tried to be as objective as possible while examining my routines and the ups and downs of my will power. This meant trying not to draw conclusions before I had observed enough to have confidence in any conclusion drawn. Now the time has come for making frivolous and meaningless blanket statements.


The first conclusion seeks to define the nature of will power. Will power in this context seems to be a catalyst or cattle prod that urges some object into motion. The person possessing and using the will power is a physical object with emotional inertia that must be overcome to initiate physical motion. Since all but the involuntary actions of this object are controlled by emotion – in the form of motivation, for instance – there must be some emotional push from within or without to counter the friction of any motion. Many times this push comes from threat of violence – possibly the most effective method, but threat of negative consequences alone cannot stir an object at rest into productive motion; that takes will power…or high voltage. Those threats are simply the trigger for the application of will power. If an object has copious amounts of inertia, the harsher and more imminent the threats have to be to trigger a response.


Will power is generated by happiness and, to a lesser degree, not misery. So while I’m as happy as a bootlegger at an IRS audit when I sulk at my desk in the morning, I am not actively being miserable in comparison to having to do actual work, and can therefore generate small amounts of will power to “recharge.” When the perceived threat is great enough, the will power is triggered and action is slowly initiated. Essentially, will power is artificial caring: caring about the achievement of some outcome or the avoidance of some other outcome.


The times when the motivation for action is external, such as inspiring work, will power is not needed due to the presence of real caring. And since most objects enjoy the output of creative energy, this is also a state of happiness that generates the reserve caring of will power. The feeling like we are getting away with something helps, too.


So will power makes it like we care when we really don’t. Even the things we do care about are only used to make the things we couldn’t care less about possible. So is it a giant conspiracy to control us all? Who cares…

I pulled my eyes from the cartoon on the television and returned to the blog entry. I was cranking my creative gears when my Will Power Wrist-O-Meter 5000’s alarm went off. The needle was deep in the red and would soon be resting on the peg below the “E” on the gage. I still needed a snappy conclusion, but the foul-mouthed fourth graders on the television were so alluring. A commercial offers a window to finish this blasted entry. But the volume from the commercial is overwhelming. At last a silence prevails and my fingers find the keys once again. The clicking of the keyboard ushers in a great and profound idea that is sure to change all of humanity forever; the idea that the source of all our will power and the ultimate use for it lies in…in…umm…cartoons?


4 Responses to “Have Job, Will Power”

  1. thesofine said

    There is always infinite will power for Sid Meier’s Civilization.

  2. It only takes will power or extreme dehydration to stop!

  3. Bayan said

    Insightful article. I can relate to it. E-mail me if you like i have some thoughts. —

    Try Manning-up (anger will), believing your work is easy and fun (happiness will), or believing your work is curing-cancer fighting-crime saving-the-world important (duty will). These mental techniques can help generate will power almost at will (no pun intended). There are other recharge ideas that might help too.

  4. Those are interesting ideas. I never thought of the different flavors of acting on will power. I don’t think those delusions can count as a generator of will power in themselves, though. If anything, they are outlets for the will power built up. It takes a lot of energy to delude yourself into believing the unbelievable.

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