It’s ironic that shortly after I wrote “I Quit”, an article about long-term planning and working, I read an essay in Harper’s Weekly by Mark Kingwell about the topic of the work. Included in it was ideas of what drives us. Why do we continue to work over half our lives just to say we did? It actually was entitled “The Language of Work” which discusses how we approach it, verbalize it, and react from it. Kingwell cites correctly that those doing the actual labor is in a position that is unpleasant and not satisfying, while the higher up you go, the more incentives there are.
I wondered if Bertrand Russell, who said this in Kingwell’s article, actually worked that hard in the first place. It is nice to hear someone of a higher social status recognizing the unsung hero of everyday labor.
I enjoy diversity. Life is so full of opportunities and chances that it is a shame to waste any of them. I have strung barbed wire over a mile along a fence line in a middle-of-nowhere pasture in 90 degree heat. I have frozen in the middle of a conference discussing philosophies about the right approach of educating under-privileged youth. I have roped, wormed, branded, and doctored cattle for two days straight. I have coached students at a tournament that really only included registration and a little advice. All of it is considered work. Some of it was free but grueling work, while others it seemed a little ridiculous to be getting paid so much for so little.
Honestly, the ones I remember and value now are the ones that took both physical and mental work. Satisfying work challenges people. There has to be a goal with strategies to help reach that goal. Sometimes the actual goal is very difficult, abstract and harder to grip. Other times, seeing the mile of a straight fence line gliding up and down the gentle slope of the pasture’s border near wild flowers and thick, lush grasses and knowing you did your job, you did your job well, is worth more.
I suppose a lot of this has to do with who I was working with. Working cattle and fence building (among other jobs) was work done with my brothers and sisters along with extended family. The conferences were among strangers with the same value towards education as the only link with each other.
There were many other things Kingwell discussed in his essay, but one he satirized was the way to make work easier by perspective: “It’s not work if it doesn’t feel like work” and other such nonsense. But I’ve also worked my self to pieces before and still enjoyed it. Why does work have to be a four letter word?
I must say that you cannot judge a person’s intelligence, personality, or determination by their job. Job titles are different from their quality of work, which is more likely where I would place judgement on a person.
An in-law of mine was determined to let me know that as a teacher, it perturbed him a little that I was at home during the summer while most other careers required year-round attendance. An intelligent man who works both in the field and in the office, and knows that I grew up in a very hard-working family, once stated that “wearing flip-flops throughout the entire summer must be nice.” It had been hard to admit that I did not work that hard during the summer months. I was at home with young children and it would be counter-productive to pay their daycare bill more than a second job during the summer would pay me. I settled for this excuse, and it was hard to argue with those cold, hard facts. Yet, I still felt guilty, causing a little anger towards him for making me feel guilty.
A friend of mine once told me that getting caught up in what level of work others expect of you is silly. Who’s to tell me how much I have to work to be satisfied? The bills get paid, the kids fed, what else do we need? He went as far to say that if he didn’t have a child of his own, he would work 2 days a week on a beach somewhere and spend the rest of the days in a hammock. And why not? While I won’t go that far (I suppose I was programmed too much to enjoy the personal rewards from the results that come from work.) I no longer feel guilty for having weeks off at time.
Long story short, enjoy both the work and the play. Or at least look forward to the next time you will be able to enjoy it.