Quiet quitting – where people consciously choose not to go the extra mile at work – is much less about employers. It is much more about achievement-obsessed moderns who cling to careerism for their self-worth, adjusting to reality. Being employed so that you can put food on the table is one thing. For many, it is unavoidable suffering – a cross they must bear, even one that is noble when done to support your family. On the other hand, chasing career achievements to feel validated takes a far greater emotional toll – and this is entirely avoidable suffering.
The difference between avoidable and unavoidable suffering was well-described by Siddharta Gautama over two millennia ago. It is the difference between the pain (and pleasure) we experience as sentient beings, and the extra anxiety and suffering we create because of the way in which we relate to our experience. And this is highly relevant to quiet quitting.
Much of modern employment is a dangerous brew of two things:
- Relentless pressure of sterile office work (unavoidable for many)
- Achievement-obsessed careerism (entirely avoidable for all)
Both are highly undesirable, yet they are very different animals.
The drudgery of corporate existence needs little elaboration. What is important to understand is that the drudgery is inherent, built into the system. Far from being a bug, it is a feature of large-scale systems that need to simplify operations in order to function at that size. So, you end-up with bureaucracy, mediocre bosses and being a cog in a big machine.
For many, this may be the only realistic option to make ends meet. And, some are perfectly content to treat employment as just that. They are under no illusions and do not try to make pigs fly. Savvier types manage to find for themselves a sinecure – a low intensity, but reasonably paid gig – one that offers plenty of free time outside of work. (You can read more about sinecures and how to find fulfilling work here).
Quiet quitting is about not trying to make pigs fly
The real death trap is when employees that are cogs, begin to pin their self-worth to climbing the corporate ladder in some sterile bureaucracy with its endless politics and bullshit. Achievement-chasers slowly fall into despair as they bend backwards to curry favour with mediocre bosses that have the intellect of a sundried tomato. But, only because they are trying to make pigs fly.
Don’t get me wrong, there is such a thing as playing the game. The point is that there is a difference between playing the game and believing the game is real. Between trying to curry favour and get promoted in order to have an easier life as a senior, and believing that career success makes you more worthy as a person.
Of course, Covid happened. It pushed many into difficult places and to ask fundamental questions about life and work. It forced us to reconsider our relationship to work. Now, many are starting to realise that achievement and success do not bring fulfilment, especially when pursued in a sterile workplace.
Yet, many are still stuck blaming work environments, blind to the pain of their own achievement obsession. And this is the deeper psychological cause of suffering. I don’t dispute that employers need to do better, but there may be a limit to what is possible in these sterile bureaucracies.
Quiet quitting is about letting go of ego achievement
Quiet quitting is then much less about bad employers, and much more about quitting relentless achievement. It is about going into work and doing a good job, but not investing your entire self-worth into bogus ideas of career success. This is an internal shift in how you relate and many are starting to get the idea now.
Dumping achievement can make even the worst job more tolerable.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.