Monday, September 6, 2010

Redefining “Work” on Labor Day


Today is supposed to give workers some deserved time off. Forget the job and go camping, cook up some grub, spend time with family and friends. Party a bit and tip your hat to the symbolic end of summer.

A holiday from work. I’m all for that. In fact over the last few months I’ve been trying to eliminate work from my life.

And today, Labor Day, as I’ve cared for animals, picked apples, made and canned applesauce, reviewed a critique partner’s submission, organized my tax information, did laundry, pulled weeds, rewrote a chapter and mapped out my writing schedule for the next few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about work.

Or rather, “work.”

A while back I stopped using that word. It’s amazing how it changed my attitude about the various tasks that fill up my days. Now I’m specific about each activity instead of lumping them all under one blanket term with slightly negative connotations. The result: a great deal accomplished, yet little to no work.

Yes, writing is my job. But when I stopped thinking of it as “work,” a subtle shift occurred in how I approach it. It’s an activity, and I do it because I love it (as opposed to doing it because of the piles of money it definitely does NOT earn me). How can that be work?

Now when K suggests a round of golf, I’m not torn between work and play. I don’t snap, “I’d love to, but I have to WORK.” Instead, I think about whether I can fit both in, and how that might work that day. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I still prioritize, and I might choose the activity of golfing rather than writing if that feels appropriate. For example, have K and I been spending enough time together lately? Are there other people who might want to play, making it a social event? Have I been getting enough exercise lately? Is the weather spectacular or miserable? Would I simply rather spend the afternoon writing?

No guilt. No resentment. Balance.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I’m cooking, baking, canning, blanching, freezing, chopping, drying, pickling, fermenting, and saucing. By choice. No one makes me do this stuff. The satisfaction of a freezer and pantry shelves gradually filling with homegrown produce makes me feel grounded and connected to one of life’s most basic necessities: food.

This “work” feeds my soul as well as, eventually, my belly. All the senses engage. I relish the rich purple of roasted beets as the knife slices them for pickling, the beautiful colors of bright lights Swiss chard, the tender green of baby lima beans. The aroma of basil-laced tomato sauce simmering down in the oven fills the whole house. The sound of yellow wax beans snapping in two or the crackle of dried onion skin between my fingers suggest unparalleled freshness. And the flavors– oh, my the flavors.

Sure, my back aches at the end of a day of cooking and preserving. But so did my legs after a recent 7-mile hike in the mountains. My hands are wrecked. Time to make up some cocoa butter lotion bars – for me and for my gardening friends. Another activity.

The idea of dropping the idea of “work” is really just a simple version of neuro linguistic programming. But I’m not trying to cure a phobia or think myself to success. I only seek to adjust my attitude toward gratitude. I started working for money when I was thirteen, and I’ve worked at some monumentally crappy jobs. I get it. But I can honestly say that I often had a monumentally crappy attitude about those jobs, too, and that only made things worse.

My jobs right now are writing as well and often as possible and home keeping. I’m so stinking lucky to be able to have the life that I do, and I’m going to do everything possible to appreciate it.

Even if that means stopping “work” altogether.

Happy Labor Day!


  1. I like your thoughts on the "w" word. Maybe we do put too much emphasis on it. BTW, you've peaked my interest with the cocoa butter lotion bars. Sounds nice and creamy. Happy Labor Day.

    Thoughts in Progress

  2. Work seems to be a four letter word to many people... including me at times. You've given me food for thought (quite literally in this scrumptious sounding post) and I'm going to try to reprogram myself to think activities instead of work.