Monday, February 9, 2015

Work: valuable, good, and suitable

Sometimes a discussion of work can be a bit confusing because several concepts become conflated.  What is valuable work?  What is good work?  What is suitable work?

Valuable Work

Most work has value.  I exclude most bureaucracy and NGO work, obviously (but that's a different post).  People tend to have less respect for work that they consider "beneath them" - picking up garbage, sweeping floors, mowing lawns, and what have you.  For some reason, many people consider manual labor to have less value than mental labor.  Those people are misguided.  Consider what life or your physical environment would be like if no one would do those jobs.  Their value lies in meeting a specific need. 

Unglamorous manual labor can be drudgery, but like most things, you get out of it what you put into it.  Its personal value to you depends on how you approach it.  It can offer an opportunity to build character and to build valuable work habits that will pay dividends for the rest of your life.  I credit my time in a pizza restaurant bussing tables and washing dishes with teaching me to approach a task in a fairly organized and efficient manner that lets me do it better and more quickly.  Drudge work needs to be done.  You don't have to enjoy the mechanics of it, but the approach to it and the completed effort can be immensely satisfying and personally profitable.  Don't waste those opportunities because the only one you're shorting is yourself.

Take mowing lawns*.  You could just sweat, push a mower, and end the day tired and dirty.  Or you could learn to maintain small engines, interact professionally with customers, learn to schedule work efficiently, learn to schedule a maintenance logistics stream, and develop an attitude impermeable to the vicissitudes of weather.  Like anything, you get out what you put in.

Good Work

Good work means doing a job at least to a minimum acceptable standard.  Some people complain that someone did the bare minimum.  I've never quite understood that.  Whoever specified the bare minimum decided ahead of time just how much needed to be done to be acceptable.  But that minimum needs to be done and needs to be done correctly.

My kids probably recall fondly my directions on sweeping the kitchen floor: I would tell them to sweep however many times they thought was necessary** so that when I swept after them, I couldn't get a 1/4 cup of material in the dustpan.  I set that minimum standard, given their age, the nooks and crannies in our kitchen, and the uneven texture of our floor.  So when they met it, I was satisfied, even if I got just barely less than 1/4 cup.

On the other hand, sometimes the minimum standards are obviously too low.  At that point, pride in your ability to work well should take over, and you should meet your minimum standards.  Experience, honesty with yourself, and observation will help you develop those over time.  Are you easily capable of doing more without costing someone else?  Do it.  However, for example, if you spend all your time polishing a bathroom sink so you can see yourself in it, but the floor is still messy, you have not met the minimum standards for a bathroom.

Suitable Work

Suitable work for you, challenges you, provides you an opportunity to give value to others, is something you can do well enough to meet its minimum standards, meets your financial needs***, and leaves you enough energy at the end of the day to fulfill your other obligations to your family, your church, your community, and yourself.

You should not choose work that lets you coast.  Someone with lesser skills than you needs that job, and you will probably not be adding enough value to the world to cover what you use.

You should not choose work that uses you up, either.  We've all heard that people on their death beds never say, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office."  I frequently fail on this one.  Having been through tough financial times - layoffs, medical problems, etc - I don't want to have them again, and I have a hard time saying no to paid work.  I personally need to work on this one.

Work is necessary and commanded****.  Work well, young Padawans.

Parenthetical and asteriskical notes:

* Please!

** I think it's at least two.

*** Remember - needs and wants are not the same thing, and the world will try to induce spurious wants in you to make you work for them instead of working for yourself, your family, and people you value.  Also, some extremely valuable work receives no direct remuneration: motherhood, teaching homeschool, making a home, etc.  Remember - needs and wants are not the same thing!

****Genesis 3:19 - "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return."