Doing My Work
I have been struggling lately with some very luxurious things. In the midst of this struggle, which is often uncomfortable and disorienting, I want to affirm that I am very fortunate. There is a good deal of privilege invoked by the statement “I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my life.” Holding the expectation that my life will extend for a foreseeable and goodly amount of time, and having options about how to spend the large portion of that time, these are luxuries.
And so I want to make good decisions. Because I have been given the great good fortune of being able to decide. And because, well, this is my life. I’d like to enjoy it.
Just last night, about what actually motivates people, according to some fairly credible-sounding studies. What makes us enjoy the time we spend. You can watch it now, or later. I found it fascinating. Here’s the mini-spoiler: What motivates us, according to this analysis, anyway, are three things: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
We want to do our own work, we want to get better at it, and we want to do it for a reason.
Switching to I-referencing at this point, I’ll say that very much resonated for me.
While I’ve been struggling (and there’s a gentle quality of mid-life crisis to this struggle, if that helps you put it in context, it’s been very much about where and why I feel dissatisfied with my life, and what I want/need to do to feel satisfied, possibly even occasionally joyful, in what some people call the Second Act but, realistically, is more like the Final Third of the time I’ve been allotted) I keep getting the same message, over and over, from within and without: Do Your Work.
And I’ve been, like, “great, fine, I’d LOVE to do my work, but WHAT IS IT?”
Because, you know, there is always work to do. And there is always someone who wants you to do it for them. Instead of them. Alongside them. There is always good work to do, as well as useless work and out-and-out exploitative work. Someone always needs something. When I was younger I first wanted (w)ork, defined (by me) as something someone would pay me for. I wanted enough money. I understood that I exchanged time and/or skills and knowledge for that money. Okay.
As I got a little older (and, as a very direct result of the privilege of securing the “enough money” part) I found I wanted (W)ork. What the Buddhists call “right livelihood”. I wanted to feel good about what I was doing. To be a part of a solution I believed in, for my labor to exist in integrity with my values. I had the great good fortune to meet with a lot of opportunities to do Work (although the older I get, the less difficult I think it is to find those opportunities, really. I think noble Work is all around us, all the time, it’s just not always the same thing as Publicly Acknowledged Work, and so we can overlook it). I got to do personal Work, community Work, healing Work, creative Work. Lots of people and groups and organizations are doing Work that is in alignment with my values, and they want help doing that Work.
So I found Work. And the opportunities to Do it. But here’s what I also found, and what I’m struggling with lately: that Work isn’t always Mine.
And oh, this gets tricky to talk about, starts to sound in my head like Ego talking, and for all I know maybe it is (I said that I was struggling, right?), but I find I want to do MY Work. Work wherein it matters that I was in the room. Not something that anyone could do as well as me. Certainly not something that some people could do better. Let the best people be in that room! If that’s not me, don’t put me in there! But let me find, please, the room in which I am the best person. Or one of them. Let me be well-used. All of me. Not just my hands. Not just my heart. Let there, please, be, somewhere, that room in which the task that must be done requires exactly who I am, who I have strived to be, learned to be, been hammered into being.
The world will never stop being full of jobs that must be done. The daily bits of necessary, self-responsible, community-aware, good-steward-of-the-planet jobs that no one is or should be exempt from. Pick up my trash. Hold the door open for someone with their hands full. Speak up when injustice is done. Mop the floor when it’s dirty. Vote. Care for and tend the fragile things that have been given into my care, whether that be the hearts of friends and family or the actual physical well-being of the animals I share my space with.
But there is also this: words by Frederick Buechner, American writer and theologian – “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” The world’s deep hunger is the Work. But somewhere in that Work there is a lock where I fit like a key, where the Doing of the Work elicits not just my satisfaction, but my deep gladness. My joy. I want to spend some part of my time… as much of my time as possible… in that intersection. So that’s how I’m spending my Spring this year. Calling to the gods of my understanding, searching for those who can help me answer my own prayer, with great, great gratitude for the freedom to be able to ask it: How then shall I live?
The photo is Alfred Stieglitz’ Georgia O’Keeffe—Hands and Horse Skull (1931). Because when I imagined an image of someone doing Their Work I remembered his photographs of her hands…
This post was written by Laurie Dietrich