A Job Well Done: Finding the Worth in Working

Most people I know say they hate to work. I get it, I have felt the same way when I had a job I didn’t like, a job I dreaded going to for eight hours, five days a week. Sometimes on weekends, too.

A lot of artists and writers especially hate to hold down traditional jobs, dreaming of the day they can quit and make their living from their art. I have worked creatively, made a living at graphic design and advertising, thinking I would enjoy it. Instead it became a burden for me, since I was pouring all my creative energy into work that wasn’t for me, work I certainly didn’t love. And it stopped me up for quite a long while.

I think most people view work as a burden, whether they are an artist or a grocery clerk. I agree that it certainly can be a sucker of our time and energy, a source of endless stress and frustration, a waster of our lives. I know, I’ve been there.

But we need to make a living for ourselves and those who depend on us somehow, right? It’s good to have a roof over our heads and a safe place to sleep at night. It doesn’t have to be glamorous or upscale, though that’s the direction a lot of people take, thinking more equals better. It’s good just to be able to sleep well at night knowing we can provide even a basic living.

Work gives us that sense of safety. And I think because it gives us a sense of safety – even if that’s an illusion and we learn abruptly how tenuous our job is one day – that we stay in jobs we hate doing, work we feel no connection to.

Maybe we started off in college or in a family trade without thinking much about it, and now as an adult years later we have learned we can’t stand what we’re doing. Now we’re committed financially, emotionally, on all levels. Our families, too. We’ve made a trap for ourselves and there doesn’t look to be a way out. But if there is a way, we are the only ones that can find it.

I have spent a good part of my life trying to just avoid the trap. I turned away from running my dad’s business, a role I knew would have given me nightmares. I left my unrewarding, creativity crushing design job. I have changed nursing positions to find something that fit me and what I wanted to do as much as what my employers expected.

Finding a job that I enjoy, one that doesn’t trap me, has been a lifetime occupation in and of itself. And by enjoy, I mean one that provides me with a decent income and some benefits, that allows me the time and ability to do my creative projects, that doesn’t leave me crying and stressed out at the end of the day. I mean work that helps me feel good about myself and my role, that provides some real benefit to people and the world at large.

I feel I have that now, that after twenty-some-odd years of looking and striving to find a balance between what I need to do and what I want to do, I’ve come to a good place. I’m also beginning to understand that what I need to do and what I want to do are becoming one and the same.

Work means many things to me now, it’s definition has broadened. It isn’t just my job. It also means the work I do at home, the small daily chores and the big ones, caring for my animals. It includes my art, my poetry and writing, my photography, the work I undertake on my house and in the garden. It is all work, all meaningful and valuable, all one.

And it is all working (for lack of a better word) together. My nursing job supports my efforts at home, and my ability to have more time at home allows me to do better at my job. One hand is most gratefully washing the other.

I wouldn’t want to leave my nursing job now so I could write or take photographs full-time. I am of service in my job in a way I’m not when I write or take pictures or paint. I also meet and touch and help people in a whole other environment, people I might never have encountered if I were not in a position to do so. And they so often help me with their own stories.

The personal value and support I find in my job feeds me, and not just with an income. It gives me time, energy and freedom for my creative projects. I’m able to do more for myself and depend less on others, to grow food in my garden and work on my house. To sit here and write this blog.

I do not think work and creativity have to be viewed as separate, divisive worlds. They certainly can be, and we can stay trapped in the battle between them our whole life if we don’t end it. I think if more people tried to unite the worlds instead, they would be more content, more free.

There is value in work beyond the income or sense of safety it provides. If we find something that does that and makes us feel good about ourselves, gives us something back in return and maybe helps others at the same time, then that is work worth doing. Work in all its forms that sustains us, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, is a true gift to us and to the world we live in.

Work can be that way if we choose to make it so. It isn’t always easy; it may, in fact, be very hard to do. A lifetime’s effort, even. But I believe it to be a goal worth pursuing. I continue choosing to do so.

Some tasks are going to be more pleasant than others, and there will always be days when I don’t like some of the work I do – creative or otherwise – or even want to do any work at all. And there will be days when the world doesn’t like something I do, either. But that’s just how it goes. It is the effort that counts, the putting forth of energy, the giving back as much as taking. That is how I see my work now, all of it together, connected, flowing out into the world around me, coming back to me in kind, three-fold.