What is work?
We often think of it as something we do to gain income. And so it is. Hey, I like to sleep indoors. But is more than that.
Work, at it’s merest definition, is activity involving effort (physical or mental) done in order to achieve a purpose.
To me, that is the purest definition of work. And that is why I think work is a gift.
I have challenged myself to see if I am just a workaholic who wants to justify always having a job. Maybe. But I don’t think so. In fact, there was a time I could only dream of not “working,” as I defined working in my 20s and 30s. I did some “work” that frankly had no purpose.
That’s not to say that even the hardest, or most boring, or most menial of jobs can’t have purpose. They absolutely can. But let’s face it; the American culture doesn’t value all jobs equally. If you aren’t making at least above average money or don’t have at least superficially apparent power, our culture may say your work isn’t all that “important.” But any job, done honorably, is greatly important and impactful in ways culture’s blind eyes can’t see.
Don’t you dare say, “I’m just a secretary.” If you are worth your salt, the whole operation closes down without you. You are the de facto CEO, CFO and COO of companies, hospitals, and government offices every day.
Don’t you dare say, “I don’t have a job; I stay at home with my kids.” I mean it; I’ll slap you. I never was a stay at home mom, and I can tell you, SAHM, you matter and you are doing work that has one of the greatest purposes in this world. The future of our society is literally on your shoulders (and in your bed, under your sofas, and on your minds 24/7).
Don’t you dare say, “I’m just a teacher.” Some of the greatest influences on my life, even today, officially taught me things like English and Spanish. My work today does not rise and fall on my knowledge of the Canterbury Tales or conjugating the present imperfect of ser. But my work today, and in many ways, my life, was greatly impacted by fabulous 11th grade English and Spanish teachers, who taught me how to steward knowledge and secure confidence for the life ahead of me.
When I realized that every job can have purpose, I made some changes within my job at the time to give purpose to what I considered purposeless work. That helped. There came a time, however, that I needed to move on to another line of work because I had changed, and my circumstances hadn’t, and something had to give.
In the past 6 years or so, I’ve had the good fortune to really have purpose to my professional work. That means I’m significantly poorer than I could be (economically speaking). That means I can’t buy my favorite Uniball pens and lawyer pads that are too expensive for my non-profit budget. I can’t rent cars from Hertz anymore (Enterprise! I love you!) and I have roommates (whaaat????) when I travel for my job.
But my work has been fulfilling, and I don’t want that to ever end. Yes, one day I’ll probably work for free, but it will still be work. There is an old saying: “He’ll probably die in the harness.” I hate that saying, because it conjures up an old farm animal forced to work against its will. But, I imagine I will die “in the harness.” But it will the harness of my choice, with purpose to its mundane and frustrating details.
If someone asked me the greatest “work” advice I ever received, I think it would be this: don’t chase money. Find what your purpose, your passion, is, and plan (that means MAKE PLANS) to work in that area. And after you are working in that area, simply eek out the money you need (not want—need). If you do that, the ironic thing is, the actual money, with a little extra, will always follow.
You. You who think there is no clear reason why you exist. Know this: that is crap. You have a unique purpose for your life’s work. The only shame is not making an effort to find it, plan to fulfill it, and do just that: fulfill it.