When you are outside the system, you can develop a different perspective.
That’s what’s happened with me and “work”.
Although I work in paid employment one to two days a week, I am definitely not part of the rat race. I only dip my little toe in the water.
This hasn’t been by choice but is the result of my numerous health problems as well as wanting to spend time with the kids. I also write quite furiously and that is a job in itself but at this point it is “unpaid” and as such “doesn’t count”. I also volunteer both at the school and on the Status of Women Committee at our local council. I am busy, work hard, am inspired and very motivated but largely operate outside the 9 to 5 grind.
I am also able to do this and have a roof over our heads because my husband plays “the rat”. He commutes one and a half hours each way on the train to Sydney every day. He also works one Sunday a month and is also on call. He puts in long hours at work and is also my carer.
All of this means that when it comes to work, I am more of an observer and outside the system.
So this is my question: why has work turned into such a religion for so many, many people? An obsession? The only source of meaningful fulfillment? I know for many it is sheer necessity but work certainly has a cult following. Why?
I understand the need to buy your own home. Provide well for your family and be able to indulge in a few niceties. Nobody wants to go without. We all need to put food on the table and be financially independent.
However, I’m not just talking about work itself here but more about attitude.How work is put up on such a mighty deis in our society, when it’s really just a means to an end.
Furthermore, this definition of all meaningful work as “paid work” is extremely narrow. It has nothing to do with being industrious, productive or innovative. It’s all about exchanging labour for money. For some reason, being paid somehow turns work into “work” with some kind of golden halo.
But is money the right yardstick for measuring fulfillment? The more you are paid, the more you contribute to our society. The more important you are.
Perhaps, we should ask Mother Theresa?
What I am seeing is actually a new form of slavery. That’s a strong word but how else can you accurately describe the 9 to 5 rat race especially when you consider that the 9 to 5 part of the equation has now spun out of control. So many are now leashed to work almost 24/7 via mobiles phones and email?
Is that your definition of fulfillment?
A lot of my friends have chickens at home. They insist their chickens roam free range. The chickens have to be free but what about people? What are we doing to ourselves? Are we the next generation of battery hens locking ourselves up in our cubicles at work?
We don’t want to admit to it but there’s more than just a bit of truth, isn’t there?!!
When was the last time you went for a stroll along the beach? Fed the ducks? Smelt the roses? Do you even know whether the sun is actually shining outside or even on the inside? How in tune are you with your own emotions?
Do you even know your own children, your partner or even yourself?
Or do you know your job like the back of your own hand?
Work can be so comfortable like an old, worn pair of jeans. Work is often so much easier to fathom than people. We usually know what we’re doing which is certainly much easier than managing relationships.
I’m not saying I have all the answers but I’m certainly asking a lot of questions.
It has taken me a long, long time to reach this point where I’m no longer dependent on paid work for my self-esteem, identity, sense of belonging and feeling essentially “human”.
I literally had grief counseling when I had brain surgery 15 years ago. I was told I was a “human being, not a human doing”” As much as that all sounded great at the time, it didn’t change how I saw myself. Who I was to myself as a person and that was not only as a working person but as a professional, a career woman, an achiever. I certainly didn’t relate to this new person in a tracksuit and sneakers being driven to and from rehab appointments by her mum. I was 28 years old. Why would I? I was a free and independent woman. I’d just been living on the other side of the country. I’d live overseas. I was well and truly my own person. I really grieved for that person and felt such an intensely painful sense of loss. For awhile there where I didn’t know whether I would ever regain some semblance of a “normal” life back, I felt like I had died and this shell, my body, had just gone on living. I didn’t relate to this new me at all.
It is true what they say about how time heals. Certainly, I recovered almost fully form the brain surgery and went back to work. Met and married my husband. Had kids. Picked up another rare and life threatening medical condition. Life goes on.
Through all of this, I slowly came to realise that work wasn’t everything and that I was still essentially me whether I worked or not.
Fortunately, I got into photography. This not only got me out of the house. It gave me a new and perhaps even more exciting identity. I was no longer the “invalid”. I somehow became a photographer. People were much more interested in talking about photography than work anyway. I had been working with marketing databases and really that was very boring and not me anyway.
Fast-forwarding just a little and getting back to the here and now, even though most of my work is unpaid at the moment, I can also get just as lost in my work as the next person. I write poetry, songs and stories while having breakfast with the kids and switch off and go into the zone. I can chat and chat and chat to my friends instead of focusing on the kids at times as well. I can also place myself in a stranger’s shoes and sometimes “understand” them better than my own family or close friends. That doesn’t make any sense to me either but it happens. I struggle to get the basics done and yet write, paint and play my violin. I can’t remember the last time I went to the beach even though it’s only metres away although I do indulge in a hot chocolate and a chat with my friend in at the boutique at least one morning a week. It’s also been a long time since I last fed the ducks.
I do put in a lot of time with the kids but like anyone I could always do more…but I could also do less. Moreover, it’s not just about doing either. It’s about love and being there. That is as much a spiritual connection as it is physical. You know when you are loved. Well, maybe not. Things do get lost in the translation. Love is a lot more complicated and tricky than any of us ever believed possible when we walked down the aisle to “Here Comes the bride” or gave birth to our beloved offspring.
I remember what my GP told me not long after our son was born. It’s about being a good enough parent… not the perfect parent. This applies to your spouse as well. As much as we’d all like to be perfect and I am really, really hard on myself at times, I have to remind myself that good enough is sufficient. I don’t have to be Supermum or Superwife… just me in all my quirky, technicolour glory. Most of the time, I can’t pull off being somebody else anyway. I trip over both feet and land face first in the mud.
So many of us are really struggling to find a meaningful work life balance whether that is in paid or unpaid work. But no matter who we are and what we do, we all need downtime and the opportunity to be free range or we risk becoming battery human beings. I ask you whether any amount of money or status is really worth selling your soul?
Lastly, we all need to respect anybody and everybody in unpaid work. We are all equal . Whether we are paid or unpaid for our labour, doesn’t reflect our character, our values or our contribution to our family, our community or the environment.
I would particularly like to elevate mothers who generally make many, many sacrifices not only to bring up their own children but also to volunteer and contribute to the community even through doing the reading at school or helping out on canteen. Many are doing this in addition to some form of paid work. Yet so often, I hear people putting mothers down. It really is a disgrace. Without our mothers, we wouldn’t have no people anymore.
I would also like to note that I do feel this post was somewhat “inspired”. I wrote it this morning in one go after breakfast and it’s barely been edited. I thought it should pretty much be read as is and readers could make their own conclusions and comments.
PS. You won’t believe this. Speaking of being inspired, after just writing about taking time out to feed the ducks, my husband was just putting out the garbage and called me out the front. There was a pair of wild ducks at our front door. It was all a bit freaky to be honest. I write about feeding the ducks and then there they are like a home delivery service. We have lived in this house for over 12 years and I can’t remember ever seeing ducks here before. It’s all a bit freaky if you ask me!
Taking time out to feed the ducks.
If any of you are familiar with the work of writer and cartoonist Michael Leunig, he often incorporates a duck into his work. I think he even has a rather quirky duck with a teapot on its head. This moment seemed very Leunigesque. It is after all 10.00 o’clock at night. What were they doing here? Were they looking for a bit of a last minute takeaway snack?
Yes, I fed the ducks a bit of bread and the dog is currently doing circuits round the lounge. Somehow, I don’t think he is looking for friendship.
Good night and best wishes,
You can visit Michael Leunig at http://www.leunig.com.au
PS After having the ducks turn up last night, I ended up with even more serendipity today. A friend called up needing some scenic beach photos so I actually ended up walking along the beach in the sun with my camera. I have had quite a stressful morning with our son and that was exactly what I needed.
Self-portrait at the beach… another touch of serendipity.