Monday, January 4, 2021
It is the first Monday of 2021 and therefore the first working day of the year for many of us. For some, this makes this a day of dread. It marks the end of a few days of blissful peace from the stress and grind of whatever labor helps us pay for stuff.
Others may feel a different kind of panic, because, like millions of others in the U.S. and elsewhere, they have no work. They would far prefer to have a place they have to be, a task they are required to do, a product they must deliver. In the past year, many have learned that, despite whatever shortcomings said work might possess, we would rather have others need our work than not.
Whether or not you are fortunate enough to have work and the sense of self-worth that ideally comes along with it, there always remains the question: is this the work I was meant to do? The work I should be doing? The work I want to do?
I have asked myself this question repeatedly over the years, and because the answers keep changing, I keep asking the questions.
In my case, I teach and write, I make radio and podcasts, and I help organizations and people communicate their ideas. I'm one of the lucky ones because I've reached a point in my career when I have a lot of control over my work, my time, and my process.
But that doesn't guarantee that I'm always locked in on my purpose. Hence my nearly daily practice of asking myself these questions.
One reason this is rattling through my mind this morning is because I reacquainted myself with the story of writer Charles Bukowski who hate-worked at the post office for years before accepting an offer of $100 per week from Black Sparrow Press to spend the rest of his life doing nothing but writing. He was 49 at the time.
As an appreciator of Bukowski's dark poetry and fiction, I've always been grateful for the wisdom of his publishers. Yesterday, I came across the letter of thanks he wrote to his new employers for enabling his escape from his 9-to-5 life.
It's a pretty succinct rap on how steady work can weigh us down, but it also equates his P.O. work with slavery. Perhaps he was being hyperbolic, but I wish he had put it differently, because working for pay in the modern world is not slavery, even if the work stinks. But the last line of the letter is the one that strikes me:
"To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself."
That might seem like a pretty low bar, but it does get at this issue of purpose, self-examination, and the quest to do something of the value with this gift of existence.
Kudos to all who see themselves on such a quest.