Exploring why we work

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It was a new feeling, sitting in line, waiting for our names to be called. My husband and I almost never do Sunday brunch. Why bother? we've always argued. We can make food that's just as good at home, and we hate to stand in line. And, well, we just have so much to do.

But this morning was different. My husband suggested going out this morning.

"I just thought we could spend some time together," he said.

Normally I'd protest and tell him that we usually spend our Sunday mornings in the house together; him, typically browsing online, and me squeezing a blog in between emails. But inherently I know that this form of togetherness isn't quality time, and despite all that I had to accomplish, we both needed to go out and have breakfast--even if we could cook a better one.

Our weekends have become the place where I park everything that I didn't get to the week before. Every Sunday I'm shocked that all of the little things I pushed to this day add up to more than 12 hours or work. And the usual weekend things that I normally accomplish on Sundays are, ironically, moved to a weekday evening.

The wait wasn't long. We sat down and were served coffee.

"It seemed like we needed to go out today," my husband said. "You've just been so busy."

I agreed, and added, "You know, I don't plan to work all the time for the rest of my life. I work now to work less later."

As I said this, I questioned my rationale. I sounded like an alcoholic who claimed she could stop at any time. "I'm drinking now, while I can, before my liver gives out."

"You could be hit by a bus tomorrow," my husband said.

I realized that I needed a new reason for why I work.

Throughout our lives we work for different reasons. Ideally we work because we are driven to make change in the world; the money is incidental. Or better yet, we get rich making change in the world. Sometimes we work for a specific goal--to save for a house, or to afford a child's education. The goal helps us set our sights on something beyond the work itself. If we get frustrated with the work we can say, "Well, I said I would do this until my son starts school," and the feeling of control over a currently challenging situation diminishes a bit.

A friend of mine took a job a few months ago because of it's boringness. "I feel no stress or pressure," I get my bills paid and can leave the office at 5pm, ready to do things that I really love." She realized that her passion was not something that she would be paid for, so she found something relatively painless to do for pay that created a foundation for her other life. Some people can maintain this arrangement for years, though it can't last if the passions that we meant to fund through our less-inspiring work gets lost, or we start to pour the energy we had for other things into our jobs. Personally I know I'd fail in these circumstances. If I took a job for the sake of "getting by" on my way to something else, I would become sidetracked. I would want to achieve in this less-desirable existence.

I've worked for all of the reasons I mentioned, and as I work through these issues of work and motivation, I realize I have no answers about the right way to work. In early 2005 I took a career equivalent of backpacking in Europe for an undetermined amount of time. I learned my strengths and weaknesses, and what kinds of environments work for me. And I also found a project that has become all-encompassing, something that currently overflows with so much possibility and things that I am passionate about that it has spilled all over my well-laid plans for balance. To my right is a pile of clothes I remembered to take out of the dryer at 1 a.m., I may not get to folding them this week. In front of me Post-Its mix in with the TV remote, some beverage coasters, and yesterday's mail.

By nature I'm an orderly person, but there is no delineation anymore. And yet I've received just what I silently asked for. My mistake was assuming that getting what I asked for would mean instant coordination of everything else.

For me, the new mix is taking it one day at a time and prioritizing as I go. Today the laundry will wait. Brunch, it seemed, needed to come first.

Jory Des Jardins also blogs at Pause.

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