What do you associate with this word? What does work mean to you? Do you relate it to joy and exuberance?
Ever more often, it appears to me that I do not like the word “work” too much – at least not in the sense of what I perceive it to be understood by most: work versus leisure time. Work versus life. Work as something serious, heavy, straining. The dry spell between holidays.
Life is life. It includes everything that we do, are, experience in those countless moments stringed together making up our life, including work. How can we seriously want to delimit such time from our lives? How can we seriously be concerned with a “work-life-balance” (with work on the one side and life on the other)?
Several people have told me that they enjoy their work. Yet I have met very few that actually radiate such joy. Many have told me they wished for a different life (if circumstances were different) – that is when I usually recognize a distant sparkle in the eyes of those people.
At least work is good enough so that we can moan about the stress we perceive of it, and about our unfair colleagues and bosses, the lousy pay, etc. Interestingly, it seems to be the same in Germany and in “always relaxed” New Zealand – as my most recent empirical study shows. Everyone has too much work on all the time. It forms part of the good manners. And it creates a very peculiar atmosphere, in which I find it hard to feel or create livelihood.
When I was helping a friend set up her art exhibition one sunny day, and another friend said to me at the end of it that this had been quite hard work, I was rather perplex. I had not perceived it as hard work! I had actually enjoyed it! I told her so as well. And it had an effect on me – I have the impression that in our culture something only gains value when it was “hard” and, better still, also “work”. Hard work is something we can complain about and at the same time it makes us valuable members of our community.
While writing this I realise that the delimitation of work and joy is rooted pretty deeply within myself. Maybe that is not too much of a surprise considering the history of the German word for work (which I grew up with). It seems to be related to hardship and strain, maybe even slavery. The French word “travail” more drastically goes back to a torture instrument!
Maybe it is time for a new concept of work and a new word for it. I believe a new concept might already be evolving – and we can help shape it. Can we find a new word to describe an activity we enjoy doing, which is not “just” a hobby? Do you have an idea for a more holistic word that no longer delimits work from life?