What I was going to say
I had a post almost ready for today. All I had to do before I put it up was to add a little flair here and there, clean it up a bit, and then be done.
It was a post about work and the prevalence in our culture of an unhealthy relationship to it using as illustration my own experience of struggling to find a better way.
I was going to start by discussing what I see as the three main philosophies we have about work. First, that it’s drudgery so we should just accept and try our best to enjoy our free time. Or second, that we should find work we love so it will never feel like work. Or third, some hybrid of the two like work adjacent to what we love so it itself never becomes a “need to do.”
Then I was going to say that for most of my life, I have prided myself on being the hardest worker. One who has had three jobs at various points and who got through pharmacy school also working full-time. It made me feel special and I have received a good deal of respect for it - from colleagues and bosses to teachers and classmates, and friends and family.
I was even going to describe how while in school I had a random, autoimmune-type episode which caused flu-like symptoms, severe joint pain such that there were mornings I had to crawl to the bathroom to reach the ibuprofen, and edema in my ankles and feet so bad that my skin felt like it was on fire, stretched as it was beyond its normal capacity.
And through this whole nearly six-week ordeal, I didn’t miss a day of my rotation, which did not go unnoticed by my instructor who just happened to also be my favorite instructor. She commended me for not using the illness as an excuse to miss class.
I beamed about it then; now I realize how messed up it was.
Especially considering the very likely possibility the whole thing was brought on by stress.
I was going to share that because of all this when I started in my current position - a position that no longer demanded me to work as hard as possible to earn respect - it was disorienting and unsettling. I had the additional time so many say they want, but it didn’t feel like a good thing. I had no idea what to do with it and I felt guilty for having it.
Who was I, after all, if I wasn’t the hardest worker?
I was going to wrap up by writing how it’s taken me years to undo the damage that had been done. That it’s taken the painstaking work of simultaneously breaking down the notion that all I had to offer professionally was working myself to death while building up my confidence personally that I had a valuable place in the world that wasn’t just doing a job.
It hasn’t always been easy and it hasn’t always stuck. With an ebb and flow, sometimes I struggle more and sometimes I struggle less. But more often now, I’m able to turn my attention from just the amount of work I do to doing work I feel amounts to something.
All of this is what I was going to say until I read it back today.
Suddenly it sounded so hollow.
I couldn’t help thinking that yes, my struggle has been real as are the similar struggles of so many others, but how can I not acknowledge what a privilege it is to have this struggle?
I think it fell apart with these words specifically: “Like many other areas of our society - from our healthcare system to ongoing social inequities, to the importance of leadership in a crisis - the pandemic has highlighted gaping concerns in our relationships to our work.”
How sad this statement made me.
That it took this pandemic - which has affected all of us, albeit disproportionately, rather than just the oppressed in our society - to make more of us see things that have always been there.
That while I have lamented the pressure of the respect I “earned” from my work ethic, others would give anything to be acknowledged for their work ethic as individuals rather than say, as their race.
That it is mind-bogglingly unfair that my biggest struggle is my relationship to my work while others literally don’t have work to pay their rent and buy food. I don’t even know how to wrap my mind around how scary that must be.
That this reality, though certainly exploded to previously unseen proportions, is not new because of the pandemic and what a tragedy this is.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating guilt or that any of us minimize our struggles, whatever they are. But I do think it’s important to at least start with some perspective. To validate everyone’s unique experience, but to see realistically how they all fit in the broader picture.
What to do with it then I honestly don’t know. I’m going to keep trying my darnedest though to figure that out. There’s a lot of smart ideas out there that I’m paying attention to for one. I keep hoping that the more I listen, the more I learn, the clearer my own path to action will become.
Because here’s what I do know. I know I don’t want to give up on striving for a balanced life of work and I know I don’t want to stop searching for work I care about…
I just also know I want everyone else to have the opportunity to do the same.