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.
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?
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.
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!