Like most young people, I often slept late in the summer, played baseball in the park, and frequently enjoyed lying on my back, listening to the radio while staring at the white puffy clouds overhead. Inevitably, at least once a month or so, some adult would tell me something along the lines of “Enjoy it now, because life will be much different when you have to go to work each day.” or “This is the best time of your life.” Now, I don’t know how widespread conspiracies are carried out — there must be some hidden network to make sure everyone is on message — but I’m here to say that such assertions do not match my experience. I look back on my childhood with great affection, but here’s the truth: It is loads of fun to be an adult with an adult job.
There is something within us that likes to be useful. Self-determination theory tells us that we all long for relatedness, competence, and autonomy. We get this largely through our work. Whether you are a software developer, a retail store manager, an insurance representative, or any of holder of a good, honest job, I’d wager that when things go well, when you are at the top of your game, you get a deep degree of satisfaction from a job well done.
When I go to the grocery store and reach for my favorite food (and I do love food), I am glad that I can work to afford such. When my car breaks, I pay for it knowing that I earned the money just for such occasions. And when I buy a silly T-shirt of my favorite rock band, I know that it’s okay because I worked hard to pay for it.
Most of all, when I see the accomplishments of my daughters, I know that paying for their education was worth all the hours of preparation for my career, and all the late nights I spent at the office.
If you’re reading this, work is most likely a part of your life. It’s okay if you want to propagate the myth to children that life will never be better than childhood. But they will find an enormous satisfaction when they join the ranks of the work force. We can keep that just between us!
Now, for Labor Day, one of my favorite poems that speaks to how wonderful it is to make a contribution.
To be of use
by Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.