Work is a blessing, but this is a well-kept secret. At least, I'm only just realizing it. I think our parents know it and I'm certain our grandparents did, but I wonder if, for some of my generation, this concept is lost to us or on us? I am a 30-something who, for the longest time, thought, work is something you do when you've screwed up and not figured out how to get by without it. Work felt like failure.
Why is that? I'm immersed in the work of Brene Brown right now and she talks a lot about our society being one of "fun, fast, and easy." That if our work doesn't meet that criteria it's not worth doing. I think I fell into this category. There was what I enjoyed doing and then there was getting paid, or keeping the house clean, or keeping the yard mowed and that all fell into the category of work.
I've worked since I was fifteen and took my first nanny job for a busy couple who ran their own business. I worked for them for several years, I worked in restaurants through half of high school, and all of college. I've worked hard to get good grades because that would mean something and I went straight into work I hated as soon as I graduated.
That's not work. That's drudgery. Sometimes it's drudgery with a paycheck and sometimes it's drudgery with just the promise of a paycheck, but it's drudgery nonetheless and there's usually money tied up in it somewhere. You can define it as work, but I don't think I'm going to anymore.
What if work doesn't have to look like that? What if work was never about "getting through it"? What if work is a concept that looks more like: the place I put my attention, for a certain period of time and with the expectation of the outcome I desire? I expect, in most of the world, that's a common understanding. In the small world of my personal experience, I've redefined the wheel. Work as an effort made, a task worth doing, a job well done! That feels so satisfying to me. That feels inspiring. Nothing can be menial when I expect to feel proud of my accomplishment. In "fun, fast, and easy," I held so little pride.
I want my work to be something I do for the satisfaction it gives me and the contentment it brings me. And sometimes there's money tied up in it.
Yet this is not really about the work. There's something else, something that makes this work not only a job well done but brings great contentment too. Is my mind right when I do it? I love the idea of getting right with God; when I work, am I right with me? Hello, mind blown. The job becomes less important and the intention I bring to it becomes everything. This is terrible because it means I'm responsible and it's freeing and wonderful because it means I'm responsible. What do I bring to my work?
Yesterday, my five year old and I raked leaves. We had a perfect day for it, the temperature brisk but not cold, the sky the "blue true dream" e.e. cummings would appreciate. We are strong and healthy girls and well able to attend our modest yard of leaves with our modest collection of tools.
There are no trees of significance in our yard. We have one dogwood and one tree to which I have not been properly introduced. They drop their small offering of leaves briskly and with little fanfare. Our neighbor, however, has the most magnificent tree, with a thick, arms-wide trunk and bark that disgorges itself in smooth, white, weathered strips as we near winter. We spend most of the year admiring this tree and a small portion of the year cleaning what it gives to our yard. Yesterday we made our offering for all that time spent admiring.
I raked and Dorothy, my little daughter, alternated between raking and playing in piles of leaves. She also embraced the job of dogsbody, fetching us waters and snacks and Kleenex when such items were needed. I raked and I raked with such appreciation.
I appreciated that she is five and old enough to be helpful and old enough to stay busy while I worked. I appreciated the weather. I appreciated my gloves because it really hurts to hold a wooden handle that long. I appreciated the feeling of pulling the rake through the grass, leaving neatly combed trails in my wake. I appreciated purposely, thriftily, intentionally crafting a life where I was home to work in the middle of the week and my daughter was home to assist. Sometimes I forgot what I was doing, and, in my head, crafted columns I would write for The Huffington Post just as soon as they email. Mostly I appreciated that I appreciated what I was doing.
Do you know what I can say about that kind of gratitude put into that kind of work? It builds. It does.
So now I look back and think- Thank you for the drudgery. Those times I worked but did not appreciate it, those times I resented the employers who hired and paid me and resented the people I love who needed me to have this job, and hated myself for crafting such a miserable life for myself, those times make now possible. I don't think we all need to experience what we do not want so acutely, in order to appreciate what we have. That's just the way I get down. Yet the path gets me there, to here, just the same as another. I have to appreciate all the work I suffered through because now, with the rake in my hand, I was so immensely glad of the work I could do. I worked hard. It was not fast or easy. We took time to jump in leaves and during our breaks I stopped to make Dorothy the clover necklace she requested. It was hard work and it was fun and at the end I was proud of what we accomplished.
When I was done, I was tired, a little sore, and supremely satisfied. It is such temporary work, removing these bits of nature that will thoughtlessly and relentlessly return to right back where they came from next year. Instead of feeling downcast- this will all be repeated next year- I felt empowered. Bring it ON, Mother Nature. I have my rake, my gloves, and my kid. We can do this. I've got this muscle to work, this gratitude thing going, and I'm not afraid of some hard work. Let's dance, Lady.
In the title of this blog, I didn't put Work first because I think it's more important than Play and Rest- I think they all deserve equal attention. Yet, slowly, I am getting excited about the idea that making Work, whether it's in a yard or on a computer, a priority makes the other two that much more gratifying. It makes them sweeter.
I don't know why it can feel so difficult to move from saying, this is my work. to saying, this is my work! but adding that straight vertical line to the top of that dot at the end of that sentence- that is my work.