A Moment to Breathe
I got my first job at twelve as a paperboy, and since then, except for a few periods, I've always been working. Some jobs were sweaty, back-breaking gigs, but many, like my job today, are hard for emotional, not physical reasons.
The idea of work has changed over the last two hundred and fifty years. We went from the fields to the factories. The work was hard, and the more we produced, the better things seemed. Today, we sit at the cusp of a new work frontier with A.I. It will feed on our deepest fears and be our hardest work yet, and I worry that we've lost our ability to do hard work.
We look for shortcuts, do the minimum, and even create viral ideas like #lazygirljob, which don't prepare us for a future that demands the type of hard work that pushes us emotionally.
It's the type of hard work that accepts that some jobs will never come back, new ones will appear, and you need to develop new skills or ways of working all the time or you will be left behind.
It's the type of hard work that courageously speaks up, innovates, dances with insecurity, and leads mindfully and with empathic firmness.
It's the type of hard work that is like-hearted, open to different-mindedness and embraces inclusion and belonging. It sees our shared humanity, gives a shi(f)t about each other, and acknowledges that we can't do this alone.
It's the type of hard work that stops "the way we've always done it" for something unproven. It understands that we're never truly ready and will never have all the answers.
It's the type of hard work that decides to pause, breathe, and recover when everyone else seems to be grinding because you know that hard work without rest leads to burnout and no work.
A little digression: Have you ever wondered why you get complete healthcare, 401K, and other benefits when you start a job, but you have to earn P.T.O. through loyalty? Why is that? If we accept that time to think or to be idle is beneficial to our mental wellness, productivity, and creativity, why not just give everyone four weeks of P.T.O. to start?
Okay, now where was I???
It's different than the type of work that spends hours on "I'm so busy" work, replies to all, and over-indexes on quantity rather than quality. It's not about hiding, "yeah, but..." or pointing the finger.
Let me boomerang back to a point I made earlier. I love to work hard - physically and emotionally. In many ways, I love to train on my bike more than I love to race. Hard - not busy, not long - work makes things happen.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,
All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.
But we also need time to play, recover, and contemplate. We need time to wander, wonder, and walk mindfully in nature. We need time to do nothing, to be still, and breathe. We need time off to jump off the hamster wheel, hear how we speak to ourselves, and figure out who we are.
Second digression: I see personal identity as a shopping mall with a few big box stores representing dominant aspects of our identity, like husband, Mom, or profession, and the smaller stores that round out identity. Over time, the stores we frequent change. For example, we might start at Old Navy, move to the Gap, and then on to J. Crew (yes, I'm dating myself) as we mature and identities change.
A good mall might have a movie theater because we need entertainment. And, of course, there's got to be a food court - this is our place to get some nourishment, get off our feet, and rest before heading back into the mall.
Here's the thing - we won't discover our true selves by scrolling someone else's platform or shopping at Spencers. It requires us to put our phones down (which is hard work), get outside, sweat, speak up, struggle, fall, bleed, get back up, heal, celebrate, and take a moment just to be.
Then we get to do it come Monday, the day after, and the day after.
Yes, it's hard work, but putting beautiful ripples in the world has never been easy - it's damn hard and just the type of work we need to do today.