Sometimes I sit in a meeting a wonder what we all would have been doing for a job 50 years ago. The important industries in North Carolina back then were tobacco, farming, textiles, banking, and insurance. It can be equal parts unnerving and inspiring to think I might have been doing something in one of those industries. The fact is, the education that do many of us enjoy was built on the money made from those things.
There’s a famous quote (of unknown attribution) which says, “Opportunity Is Missed Because It Is Dressed in Overalls and Looks Like Work.” Someone from the past who worked on a tobacco farm would have laughed to hear me describe anything I do to be hard work. After all, I help intelligent people understand how to use software from the comfort of my office. This makes it all the more incumbent on me to recognize the opportunity I have.
There is more to life than work. There is more to success than work. But work also isn’t a punishment. There are people who would love to be where we are right now. One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Prefontaine: “To give less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” As Labor Day approaches, let’s remind each other to sacrifice nothing.
Here’s a favorite poem of mine related to this subject:
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.