What do you do for work?
That is such a common question when meeting someone for the first time or making small talk with somebody. It is even often shortened to, “what do you do?” with “for work” being implied.
There is men’s work, women’s work, even Bryon Katie’s The Work, and child’s play. Ah! Maybe that is a sign of so many of societies problems that play becomes work once we are men, but I digress. How do you answer the original question? What answers are you looking for when you ask it?
Is your work what you get paid to do? Is your work your personal mission or purpose? What if you have multiple jobs? What if you work for yourself? What if you are retired? What if you are unemployed? Would you ever answer that your work is raising children, being a husband, coaching little league, mowing the lawn, watching TV, volunteering at the local animal shelter, or being a better man?
The notion of work has been on my mind because while I’ve been looking for full-time employment many people have told me that they admire my work. As I’ve gotten used to saying I’m currently not employed on job applications, when someone comments on my work I get confused. A few people have even told me that my work is too important for me to get a full-time job. That really stunned me. My work is so important that I shouldn’t go to work? If that is true, then why am I not making a fantastic living right now?
Whenever I find myself questioning a word I like to go back to the definition of it.
work wərk/ noun
noun: work; plural noun: works; plural noun: the works
1. a. activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result. “He was tired after a day’s work in the fields”
b. a place or premises for industrial activity, typically manufacturing. “He found a job in the ironworks”
2. mental or physical activity as a means of earning income; employment.
If you note, it is only the second definition that mentions income or employment, yet that is the first place my mind goes, and I bet yours does too, when it comes to work. Actually, any action we take for a purpose or result is our work. So our work is both constant and indefinable. Ideally, our work brings fulfillment, satisfaction, joy, and money, but each bit of work won’t always bring all of those things.
Have you ever seen a painting, sculpture or any creation by an artist and say, I like their work? You don’t know if the artist makes a living via art or is behind the counter of the convenience store around the corner. Our work, all of us, is our output. Right now, this article is my work.
Look at some of the synonyms for “work” to see the wide variety. Some are very attractive and some I very much want to avoid. a job, a position, an occupation, a profession, a career, a calling, wage labor, tasks, duties, assignments, chores, labor, toil, slog, drudgery, exertion, service, salt mines, and grind.
Now I can better receive positive comments about my work. I see that my work is whatever that individual last encountered from me; a book, a video, a blog post, a podcast, a coaching session…. In all the jobs I’ve held over the years, I don’t think there was ever a time when I worked at a company that anyone outside of that company praised my work. So my biggest impact, my most important work by many standards, has never been what has paid my bills. It is still a goal of mine that someday it is, but if not, so be it.
Our work is so much more than our employment. Which is a good thing especially if you don’t like your job or don’t have one. Our work is our impact, our creations, and our influence on others. Our work is the trail we leave behind. It is the evidence that we are or ever were alive. What if our work isn’t necessarily what we get paid to do, but is the living we do? Could all of our work be to become our best selves? Could our most important job simply be being us? I encourage you to embrace your work, both the tasks you do for money and for love, with all of your heart for I do believe that can improve even time in the salt mines.
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