“So Lin, what will you do when you retire?” My friend Steve, then an intensivist at the Texas Medical Center where we both worked knew my answer. He just wanted to see what happened when I said that I didn’t ever want to retire in front of the group of burned out physicians and administrators we sat with. His eyes twinkled while he waited for me to begin speaking in praise of work.
Back in those hundred plus hour weeks I balanced a more than full-time job with finishing my doctoral dissertation. I knew that Steve had a point each time he would exhort, “No one wishes they had worked more as they lay dying.” My life was way out of balance and my personal life was unraveling.
But work was something I knew I needed. Forever…or at least until I was physically or mentally incapable. But I could not find the words to explain why. To him, or for that matter, to myself.
During those years of atheism and agnosticism, sacred was an alien concept like all ideas contained in the vocabulary of faith. This, along with everything else changed upon conversion to Christian Catholicism. In this culture where any notion of work as necessary for human dignity is mostly absent, I think, and therefore write in praise of work, more than a little.
Three reasons: Humans are wired for work; idleness gets into trouble, and mindless, even mundane tasks can be hugely fruitful.
Wired to work? Yes, a fact, but acceptance of my premise requires some reflection. Consider boredom for a moment…how it feels, how it looks. When you feel it. When you see it in others, your children, friends or just someone passing by, it’s instantly recognizable…and distasteful. Even repugnant. Like this woman.
Our minds, psyches and very being require stimulation. Learning, challenge, activity…physical and mental work…”eustress.” If deprived of it, we turn into her.
Along the lines of boredom but more dangerous, too much time on our hands leads to destructive behavior. Too much TV, too much food, alcohol…you get the drift. St. Benedict goes so far as to define idleness as a cancer of the soul. Most of us work less for the money than for the satisfaction of the work performed.
Sound crazy? Think again about how quickly the rush from the raise or promotion disappeared. But how lasting was the thrill of learning the new skill, creating the design or completing the degree.
enormously fruitful. Once again, we need to do adjust our thinking to make it happen but when we can do so, the satisfaction can be surprising.
This spring, my usual teen male helpers who are young, strong and in need of money were not interested in helping me clean up my yard. I knew had many hours of heavy labor ahead of me and dreaded it. Until I decided to do an hour a day. No more. Since I like to workout, I convinced myself the weeding, pruning, raking, filling and dragging the garbage bags out was a superior workout. Now when I look out at the streams and plants my smile is huge. I did this.