Apr 292015

There it was again today: an offhand comment overheard in a public place, the words “I have to work.” Work is a universal theme, but what struck me was how it was spoken with the tone of a person sentenced to life in prison. Downward. Sighing. As if work were a bad thing, a nuisance, a burden. Watch, and you’ll notice it, too. Rarely (if ever) does the concept of going to work sound like fun.

Heavy construction = hard work! (Chicago 2013)

Heavy construction = hard work! (Chicago 2013)

Theory: even when someone likes his or her job, it’s just Not Cool to be excited about those hours of the days involving work. (This commentary applies, students, to the tone with which the phrase, “I gotta go to school” is uttered as well!) No one wants to be that Pollyanna who arrives at the work setting fresh faced and flushed with excitement to be digging into another day in whatever trenches await, metaphorically or otherwise. It’s not that people do not like their work, or that they honestly hate school. It’s just that there seems to be a social habit of undermining the work we do by failing to give it the credit it deserves as a source of pride or achievement. Or at least, a living (or a way to pay the bills).

When I consider the hours of the day—all 24 of them—it seems that it’s helpful to my state of mind to value the activities that consume them. Work is…well, work. It can’t always be thrilling. There aren’t very many peak moments. It’s a lot of slogging. Work might be physical or intellectual or emotional. It might involve coping with unsavory tasks and co-workers who aren’t much fun. Maybe you sit all the time and your back is sore (consider altering your ergonomics, or rising hourly for a good stretch). Maybe you’re out in the weather (which involves having the foresight to dress appropriately and remember the bug spray). Maybe you’re alone, as a writer is, and it’s awfully quiet except for the thoughts screaming around in your head trying to make their way onto the page. Doesn’t matter. It seems to me that when a person has to be at work for eight or ten hours, or sometimes 12 or 24 hours as in the emergency services, it seems somehow wrong to be dragged into the habit of framing it with a sigh. It’s your life, after all. Why spend a third of it resenting where you are?

Isn't LIFE a working draft? Make yours a great work-in-progress!

Isn’t LIFE a working draft? Make yours a great work-in-progress!

Work (including the work of learning) is hard. It sometimes sucks the very life out of you, when you are tired before you start and you feel you have little or nothing to show for your labors at the end of the day. It’s easy to glimpse the greener grass elsewhere and wish to be there. But the fact is, whatever job you’re doing now is using up the only hours you have right here, right now. Edge toward making a change that will feel more rewarding if necessary, but meanwhile, why waste energy wishing to be somewhere besides where you are? It’s not what a person does for a living that matters; what matters is how to choose to approach it, how to decide the best way to ride it out to create a more upbeat feel about the job of the day.

Even a simple brick wall is sweaty work! (Nicaragua 2011)

Even a simple brick wall is sweaty work! (Nicaragua 2011)

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but what would it be like if the words “I have to work” and “I have to go to school” were spoken with an upbeat tone, a hint of enthusiasm? Why not make an adventure out of the mundane, the daily grind, the “have to” parts of life? What an interesting collective social shift that would be!

Fire Academy

Fire Academy

  3 Responses to “Work Is Not A Dirty Word”

  1. I’m trying to think back on what my attitude was when working full time…it’s just so common to hear “I HAVE to go to work” that I probably said that more often than “I GET to go to work” but I loved the work I did. So I don’t think my words really matched my attitude…at least that’s what I recall. Nice job on this essay.

  2. work well done, Kate!
    I had times before I was married and had kids, where I dragged my feet to work because I didn’t want to face my customers or my boss or coworkers. I worked in a German bank after graduating from a German high school (Gymnasium to be exact with a baccalaureate. The German school system is quite different from the school system here). First doing a two year apprenticeship in a bank, then getting hired in after the apprenticeship. Working there, and after getting married I worked in a different branch of the same bank in a different city, I had good days and bad days. Bad days were when I had to tell a customer that he couldn’t withdraw any money from his checking account because his social security hadn’t come in and said customer cussed me out OR when I had made a mistake, I knew it, and had to confess to the boss. I learnt as a kid that trying to cover up a mistake didn’t get you anywhere. But bad days still got to me on a frequent basis. German bosses never acknowledged what you did right. They only saw the mistakes.(at least 30 years ago. I can’t imagine the German culture has changed that much) or looked at what you hadn’t done versus all the stuff you had done, really could break an employee’s spirit to happily go to work.
    So now that I am working full time here in the US. Yes, I’d rather be at the barn than at work. BUT: I like going to work. I have a great boss, who lets me do flexible work time. She knows I get my work done, and that I care about the quality of my work, so she allows me to come and go as I please and that suits me well. So work is OK, downside ….more and more being dumped on you and no raise the past three years (supposedly better this year……..waiting holding my breath . lol)

  3. One way I have thought of work is “work is when you would rather be doing something else”. I enjoyed your essay and it was probably work putting it all together. Thank you for your work!

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