My dad is a complicated man that I don’t write about much, in part because it takes a lifetime to figure out our relationship with our family, and in part to respect his privacy. However, I know one thing. My dad works. He works long. He works hard. And working and providing is his means of showing love and commitment to a family.
For as long as I can remember, my dad has worked what’s most often called a blue collar job: as a machinist at a factory. He works 12 hour shifts, and is on his feet the majority of that time. He looks at work as a necessary part of life, where enjoyment is not a requirement. For my dad, work has always been borne out of necessity and social and familial obligations. And without people doing jobs like his, our factories could not run, and some of the most fundamental substances in our day to day lives would cease to be made and distributed.
Conversations with him about my work woes are not unlike those I have with one of my favorite priests, another southern man of about my dad’s age. Both of them have told me a number of time over the years, “If work was fun, they wouldn’t call it work.”
I’ve been thinking about them- and people like them of their generation, who are either unwilling or unable to retire- as I consider my own generation and the predicament in which we find ourselves. There is much popular rhetoric around “doing what you love”, “following your dreams”, and “finding/following your bliss”, yet many of us are stuck with student loans, poverty, and frustrating, fruitless job searches in our field. And for lots of us, retail jobs, service industry work, and entry level jobs outside our field are the only immediate and short term solution. They are the blue collar jobs of this age: the hard work that everyone needs done, few acknowledge or praise, and even few commit to doing.
So, while we may not be working in factories and the like as often as our parents, many of us still do dirty work, even though we want/are qualified to do something else. If you are in that situation: working in a service job, or on a cubicle row, or in a retail store, in order to meet your needs, listen now and listen good.
You’re doing what needs doing for yourself and/or for your family. You are working hard to meet needs of yourself and people you love. You are meeting vital needs within your community, without which many wouldn’t have the goods, services, and conveniences they depend on. And you need never be ashamed of that.
Obviously, if your job is damaging to your health and well-being in some way, it is prudent to come up with an exit strategy that makes sense for your needs [I had to do this recently, a decision that prompted my getting serious about my mental health, for which I am very grateful]. But it’s likely that your job is just somewhere you need to be to pay the bills and get/stay out of debt, and if that’s the case, don’t lose heart. Those goals are worthwhile and accomplishing them, even if it is through something commonplace, is worthy and wonderful.
Your career is just that, nothing more. If you have a career that does not have a creative outlet, you can still make time. Your job does not make you a sell-out by default. If your career does not align with your calling, this does not mean you have replaced one with the other. There is always someone in your peer group or your community who needs help, or a group to whom you can volunteer your time. There are ways of following your bliss and finding joy that are practical and everyday. If we focus on finding them in the everyday, we can learn to truly nurture and sustain our joy, rather than injecting it for a short-term rush through a couple of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. If we look for it, we can find humility and simplicity in hard work, and that opens the door to a freedom that diversion cannot always afford us.
So, if you have ever sold me something in a store, poured me a drink, made me a coffee, served me a burger, or cleaned a home or business that I have visited: thank you for what you do. You are intelligent, valued and amazing for your hard work. You are the legs your community (and society) stands on, and I hope you know you rock for what you do. If you are a stay-at-home or single parent, your job is work and it is invaluable. If you are a student who has not been able to use your degree, your education will never lose its value, and whatever job you are working now is important.
Whatever your work is, it matters. Whatever society or your peers or anyone else tries to say to shame you into thinking your work has no value does not matter in the slightest. There’s no shame in a hard day’s work, and whatever you need to do to ensure your needs are met and you are able to share your free time with friends and family is worth doing. You are appreciated and your job, and the community you live in, wouldn’t be the same without the work you do. Thank you.