Labor Day Musing: Work is a Four-Letter Word
I can hear the jokes already and most of them are not politically correct. Let me throw out a word that we often don’t attach to work and yet I think it is a word of redemption, of contribution, of achievement, of community, and ultimately, of legacy. Here it is: LOVE. Kahil Gibran proclaimed, “Work is love made visible”. I would further clarify his position by insisting that a job is what you do for a paycheck. Work is what you do for a life. It is that energizing, all-encompassing activity that allows you to bring skills to bear in ways that are satisfying beyond a pay period. It is that activity that saves you from being a faceless number in a mechanistic wheel—hence it holds redemptive powers. It is that activity which makes a contribution to a larger world order. It is that activity from which you sense a measure of accomplishment and achievement. It excites you. It gives you joy. It binds you to a community of people who are stakeholders in what you do. Ultimately, it has a ripple effect and the potency of a legacy for those who follow. “Ah come on!,” you insist. “How about a garbage collector? A waiter? A store clerk? Who is going to love those jobs?” Great question. And at face value, it seems that not every employment opportunity has such grand potential. Just take the money, leave it as soon as you can for greener pastures. Screw those miserable bosses. Thumb your nose at the customer. And tomorrow you die. That’s it. Plain and simple. While you are looking for the dream vocation, the better work environment, the nicer boss, reality can step in and your one moment on the Planet is gone forever. It’s a reality made even MORE real by current events. There’s an uneasy shift that has taken us by storm and rattled our plod-along workaday world. Many are paralyzed by the insecurity of the times. The terror of 9-11 and the subsequent global aggressiveness pushed us over the edge. With a wobbly U.S. economy, unsettled change continues to bombard us. Mega-mergers boggle the mind with the endless zeros streaming behind a behemoth’s financial size. We gasp at the number of employees who are cast off from a consolidated giant. We see plant closures and layoffs in everything from clothing manufacturing to banking. Overnight web companies turn almost under-age youth into millionaires and executives at age 40 are left scratching their heads. Then, dot.coms fail, leaving bewildered employees in the rubble. Wall Street meltdown, corporate greed, and icon-like presidents who crash as fallen idols make daily headlines. Statistics point out a bleak picture and there’s pain and inaccuracy behind these cold numbers. We are working more but feeling as if we’re earning less and living in time poverty. Affluenza is an all too common word. The consistent notion that work should be a 24/7 event with fear of job loss hanging as a shadow is being challenged by a rising number of strident voice. And with those voices comes a cry for the most urgent answer to sustainable success: finding meaningful work that makes an impact and lets us live in the bargain. Answer that plea and we’ll unleash a productive and creative power akin to a tsunami. In short we want to LOVE what we do, who we do it for and who we do it with AND love the life we create outside that work. That’s the essence-the Holy Grail-the mysterious work/life balance piece. Finding that Holy Grail is done by parallel processing, working on two tracks. The first track is to make work “work” for you in your current situation. Wouldn’t it make more sense to transform wherever you find yourself—even while continuing to search—so that if and when you leave, there’s a faint footprint of achievement, community, contribution and yes, even the memory of a beneficial interaction. Such a transformation allows you to love yourself in the process. It keeps bridges from burning and strengthens a network of relationships that one day you might call upon. The critical question becomes: how do you turn a “job’ into a “work”—into something that gives you more than a paycheck? No, you might not be able to alter the corporate strategic plan, paint the garbage truck peppermint pink or change a boss from a toad to a prince. But, there are specific action items you can take within your sphere of influence. Too often, we expect management to lead us in career directions, to provide us with recognition, to make “it” a better place. It’s just like a marriage: there’s responsibility on both sides. Don’t wait. Time is too precious to squander. You CAN fall in love again.
"Somewhere there is an ancient enmity between our daily life and the great work. Help me in saying it, to understand it." – Rainer Maria Rilke