“When I retire from work, I will finally live the life I’ve always wanted.”
Employment. Earning a living. Our life’s work. Career. Vocation.
Retirement. Freedom. Doing what I really want. Finally free.
What’s the deal with our relationship to work? When I was young, I was told to get a good job, earn a living, then retire and live a life free of work. I would listen to the adults around me and wonder what it meant. As if the only work we do is for another in order to receive money. Where does this idea come from? For if it’s true, then the human being doesn’t do a lick of work before getting that good job, and then after sixty, doesn’t work again.
Anyone who thinks paid work is the only work to be done in life has never been a homemaker. Or a child. Because homemakers and children know, being alive is work.
For children, work looks like play. It begins with learning to walk, talk and think. For three years after birth we work, work, work. Never still, moving, tasting, touching, smelling and yelling! The idea that being alive is just a nine-to-five effort is unthinkable to a growing child. Sleep is the only time that work doesn’t happen. After age three, children play in order to gain social and intellectual skills. Build it up, break it down. Climb the trees and throw the apples. Chase butterflies and jump rope. All of it is work. Granted, it’s not drudgery, but why does pain have to be a part of the definition of “real work?”
But we don’t let children remain in this state for long. As soon as they’re old enough, it’s time to stop playing and start working! Welcome to the adult world—doing what you hate until you’re 65. Then you get to play again.
But do you? Just because you no longer go into the office, doesn’t mean work is no longer necessary. As a homemaker, I haven’t gone into the office for 16 years. But I’m busy from sun up to sun down. 24-7. Raising children is work. Cleaning the house is work. Managing the family schedule is work. Paying the bills is work. All of it is work. Unpaid, but work none-the-less. And the only part that I’ll ever retire from is the raising of the children. It seems that if I follow conventional wisdom, I’ll need to get a 9-to-5 job in order to retire from homemaking!
The point here is that work for some reason has become a dirty word. In addition, so has play. We resent those who don’t do enough work, and we resent those who make us work. We dream of the day when we’re free from work, yet the work of life never ceases.
Life is work. And work isn’t evil.
Labor is a part of the human condition. If that weren’t true, we’d all be Harry Potter. Magic would take care of everything. Even if we automate most of our work, we will not find ourselves free from the work of the body. We need to eat, sleep and exercise. Our immune systems depend on all three. Thus work is required to prepare and acquire food, to keep a safe place to sleep, and to move our bodies. This work doesn’t go away, until we die.
I don’t believe I’ll ever retire, whatever that means. My life has been a constant stream of work, and I feel blessed by it. Some is paid, most isn’t. But all of it is work. I can’t escape it, the only thing I could do is ignore it. But I don’t fear work. Actually, I love it. I’m happy to clean, cook, write novels, manage schedules, write code, raise my children, love my husband, keep in touch with friends, help out at school, build community, read up on current events, shop for healthy food, do the laundry, care for our pets, garden, spin, learn new things, plan vacations, and work hard at keeping my body fit.
Many would look at that list and say, “Yes, but you chose it. You don’t have to do any of it, the way a career demands.” To that I say, wrong. My choice at eighteen years of age had actually been to work fulltime as a software engineer until I couldn’t get out of bed as an old woman. Eventually though, I left the office and stayed home with the kids to balance our lives and provide quality childcare. The work of the home then is something that felt thrust upon me at first. But now it is the rhythm of life.
The work of life must be done, just like a career. Sure we can pay others to do some of it (cook, clean, baby sit, etc.) and we can ignore eating well, sleeping and exercise. But eventually, our bodies and relationships catch up with us and that work we’ve been ignoring can no longer be ignored.
In the end I’ve decided to love the word, WORK. To work is to be alive. To be alive is to be blessed. I see no beginning or end to this. The time to live the lives we love is always only now. To wait until we no longer have to work, is to wait until the moment of death to finally begin to live.
Seems strange to me.