Consider what happened to an entrepreneur I’ll call Taylor, who quickly rose through the ranks of her business. Like many others I spoke to, she also invested herself in her business by working 70-80 hour weeks, eating all her meals at work and limiting her social circle to co-workers, until that his whole life revolves around the business. Like John, Taylor believed his dedication would be rewarded with a much-awaited business acquisition, when the value of the business was precisely realized.
But when the acquisition fell through, it “broke my heart,” she said. “I couldn’t take it anymore, so I left.” She plunged into a year-long existential crisis which she described as a “death of self”. Taylor was so dependent on work for her identity and meaning that after quitting her job, she no longer knew who she was.
“Who am I? What do I value?” she wondered. “I didn’t even know these things because I gave it my all to work.” With her sense of self so long linked to his company’s performance, the failed acquisition revealed to him the poverty of a worldview that reduces values to mere dollars and cents.
Adoring the work also costs the rest of us. Today, theocracy of labor increasingly governs life in other knowledge-industry hubs across America like Seattle, New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts. It empties our religious communities and our civic associations – the places where diverse groups of people discuss difficult moral issues. value, the very issues Taylor was so eager to engage with.
In different faith traditions, Silicon Valley clergy say their congregations are dwindling because people are too busy working. A few decades ago a pastor told me that the typical member attends Sunday service and Sunday school most weeks. Today, that member only attends Sunday service once a month, he said. And he’s looking for volunteers like never before.
Worshiping work also weakens our democracy, as well-paid professionals — historically among the most politically engaged demographics in America — check politically. Silicon Valley politicians I spoke to lamented the political apathy of busy grassroots tech workers living in a bubble. (The Musks and the Thiels, that’s another story.) “They don’t get involved,” one official told me. “They don’t vote. They don’t know their local representatives.
But not everyone is trained in the religion of work. During my research, I found that certain groups of people are less likely to love the job, including older techs and techs of all ages who are deeply religious. Whether at a local Buddhist temple, church, or political association, these tech workers belong to communities outside of work that claim their time, energy, and dedication. Tech workers who are religious stand out even further from the work-loving mainstream. Their religions give them a solid foundation to build a sense of self, community, spirituality, and purpose outside of work. And their faith communities are often more diverse, both racially and socioeconomically, than those they find at work.