I’ve been thinking a lot about work lately, probably because I’m looking for a job. I’ve been considering what it means to work. What kind of work do I want to do? What does the term “work” call to mind for me? What is “good work?
I’ve come to a few conclusions, and while these may not be earth-shaking for some of you, they have been really fundamental shifts for me.
1. Work is hard. I’m not just talking about the physical toughness that comes with manual labor; I’m thinking of the amount of effort it takes to do anything worthwhile. For some reason, for a long time I’ve thought that if I found the thing that I really loved to do, I wouldn’t find it difficult. Lately though, I’ve been considering that some of the most worthwhile work I’ve ever done has been some of the hardest – teaching, writing, raising money for good causes. It’s not that work becomes easy when it’s pleasurable or feeds your passion; it’s just that when you enjoy it and know it’s important the work seems worth it.
2. Work is necessary. Of course, it’s necessary for physical survival. But it’s also necessary for mental health and emotional well-being. I find that when I don’t work – or don’t have the prospect of meaningful work before me – I begin to get pretty depressed. I get bored; I feel that sort of existential angst that the nihilists were so famous for discussing. Work makes me a better person.
3. Work is important. Somehow, I had come to see work as secondary to life. This now seems so wrong-headed and obviously short-sighted to me because of the two reasons I listed above. I still don’t believe it’s right to live to work, but I also don’t know that it’s right to just work to live either. If all we’re doing is spending our days trying to get to 5pm or the weekend, we’re doing something wrong. But if all we do is work, never taking time to enjoy the time we have outside of work, we’re also doing something wrong. There is balance here, and that balance requires us to see work as something more than a way to make money.
I know these insights are not that new or fresh, but they are truly altering my job search as I peruse my options and see what’s out there. I want work I enjoy, work that challenges me, work that encourages me to see the world in new ways, work that uses my skills and talents, and at the end of it all, work that I can be proud to have been a part of. That’s a tall order, but not an impossible one.