|Ora et Labora (Pray and Work) 1862, John Rogers Herbert|
I once viewed work as a necessary evil, an unending, horrible toil to be endured all a man’s life. Much of this came from the book of Genesis in the Holy Bible, which has been the inspiration for the famous “Protestant Work Ethic”:
and ate from the tree
That I commanded you not to eat from,
‘Don’t eat from this tree,’
The very ground is cursed because of you;
getting food from the ground
Will be as painful as having babies is for your wife;
you’ll be working in pain all your life long.
The ground will sprout thorns and weeds,
you’ll get your food the hard way,
Planting and tilling and harvesting,
sweating in the fields from dawn to dusk,
Until you return to that ground yourself, dead and buried; you started out as dirt, you’ll end up dirt.” (The Message)
“We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'”- excerpt from William Butler Yeat’s “Adam’s Curse”
Poetry is hard work, but thought of as less valuable than actual “hard work”, that is, manual labor. After all, men ought to toil, oughtn’t they?
Aye, they ought. So I did, and hated my work, but I accepted it. I don’t believe in shoddy work. I believe a man’s reputation is about all he has, and shoddy work is a great way to ruin that. I threw myself in to it. Yes, I am able to form my own ideas, not just synthesize them from what other people put in old books, but I was too busy to slow down. I did more direct, physical labor in my earlier days, but I was promoted off the floor and chained to a desk. My life became excel spreadsheets and meetings. Not just my workload, but I believed my tasks to be my life. I was obsessed with being excellent, and making sure everyone recognized it. I brought work home with me. I sought to please. I lost sleep worrying about projects. I volunteered to take on additional tasks, and overloaded myself. I was stressed, gaining weight, losing hair. My back and neck was constantly in knots, and would spasm. I once spent over an hour arguing about fonts with other adults.
Yes. fonts. I appreciate good typography as much as anyone, but we were talking verdana vs times new roman on a table of contents. I thought TNR was stuffy, and liked the deco-inspired miniscules and majiscules of verdana.
About a year ago, I read some of “the Rule of Benedict”. I only read some of it because, to be honest, it’s hard to read. A lot to take in. Theology is hard to read, and ancient theology is much more so. My wife bought me a modern translation, but still hard to muck through. St. Benedict had a strict schedule to balance focus between the physical and spiritual worlds, and largely off oneself. This set of rules was published in the 6th Century and is adhered to currently in monastic communities worldwide. What really struck me was the pronouncement “Orare est Laborare, Laborare est Orare”—to pray is to work, to work is to pray.
Whoa…work doesn’t have to suck? I can do things with a spirit of excellence and dedication and craftsmanship, and it could point to the glory of my Creator, and in doing so, foster intimacy between God and I as if I had been singing Psalms?
Yes. It was shocking, but it shouldn’t have been, I knew it before, but I allowed myself to forget.
I went to Air Force basic training right after 9/11. At the time, I was planning to do a few years, get out, go to Life Bible College, and go in to ministry. I had some administrative/office experience, so my Drill Sergeant assigned me to…cleaning toilets.
I literally cleaned the piss out of those toilets, too. I would sing and pray the entire time as I led my team. I was able to find joy in my work, and this gave me great comfort, which is contraband in boot camp. Someone asked me why I was so happy about cleaning toilets, and I answered: “because this is the Lord’s toilet”, and they looked at me like I was a psychopath.Fair enough.
So now, work is a little different for me. As outlined in my “A closet full of costumes” blog post, I create margins between my personal and professional life. I still take pride in crafting things, but it’s not to earn Earthly accolades.
Work is work, but attitude can make it suck a little less.
What do you think? Do you feel pressure to be consumed by your professional responsibilities? How much of that is culture, and what, if any, is hard-wired? Let’s talk. In the comments section.