When Did Work Start to Suck? (or has it always?)

Toddler and I at Hoos Brews today, the place empty, and she starts asking me for a real-time play-by-play of everything the kind woman behind the counter is doing – “Emptying the soup bowls,” I say, diligently. “Scooping ice cream, I think.”

“What she doing?”

“Making a smoothie, maybe.”

The woman notices, and erupts: “Enjoy your childhood, because this is work, and it sucks!”

“Yeah,” I say, sympathetically. “To kids it seems like so much fun.”

“You just wait,” she says.

And so I start thinking about my daughter’s play activities – imitating cleaning, imitating cooking, making things, pretend shopping… her playtime is all about going through the motions of what I do, what adults do, most of it perceived and experienced as drudgery… rote, boring tasks…

But what makes domestic chores burdens – and what makes a job feel like compulsory torture?

Part of it, I think, or most of it, is the compulsory piece – the fact that you have to shop, you have to clean, you have to Bring Home the Bacon, to survive – you don’t really have much of a choice. Most jobs require that you follow someone else’s rules and procedures, subverting your own ideas and questions, your own style your own imagination your own rhythms to a hierarchy that often doesn’t seem to deserve its power.

Would working in an ice cream/coffee shop be fun if it was play time? If you could do it fearlessly, lovingly?

Would your job be fun if you didn’t have to do it everyday? If you could do it your own way?

Or is it that people tend to be doing jobs they don’t like in the first place, at all, ever?

Because I don’t think the answer is that things are “hard.” Hard work that you love, that you find challenging and rewarding, can be a heck of a lot of fun. I loved studying for the SATs, for instance. I liked mastering the analogy portion of the test. I also enjoyed sweating while swinging a hammer to help build latrines at a women’s music festival. I also loved writing papers in school, having to think out hard issues and find the right words to explain and clarify my points.

On the other hand, I hate doing financial paperwork. I hate data entry. I like the challenge of typing fast. But I don’t like having to be on time to a 9-5 job. I like when I get to question how things are done and develop new, better ways to do them. I don’t like when I have to go through the motions someone else invented that feel slow and redundant.

Meaningful, engaging, fun work that makes one feel like a whole, worthy, respected, happy person – what does that require?

Why does my two year old love sweeping and mopping and I hate it??? And what do I do to reclaim my joy for the mundane and to help my child retain it as she ages?

Answer me, people!!

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8 Responses to When Did Work Start to Suck? (or has it always?)

  1. E says:

    I think kids love doing those things because to them, we’re the rock stars of their world – they want to do what we do, no matter what it is. And they want to be around us as much as possible when they’re that young. I remember I always wanted to help my mom balance her checkbook – putting the checks in sequential order, helping her account for all of them, sharpening the pencils. Now, I never reconcile my checkbook – I just check it online & I’m done. But I still love putting things in order…so I guess that was the carryover for me.
    I just wish I had a rock star in MY world to imitate!! I could certainly benefit from a job I found fun & interesting!! 🙂

  2. Marijean says:

    I think all jobs, at certain times, suck. However, for me, I needed to search and switch jobs a few times before I found one that made me feel like a whole, worthy, respected, happy person. Part of that, of course is that this job for the most part, gives me the freedom to do it my own way. It’s not the same job everyday, either, so I never feel that drudgery. Also, after my early years of working every single day, I still relish weekends off.

    As for Jos, god bless her, she just may be one of those rare people who love to clean!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    For me, there a few things that affect whether something is work or fun. First- whether you HAVE to do it or not. If I could decide when and how much time I would spend at work I think I would enjoy it more. (I do enjoy my job but it definitely gets old at times.) So, if today is a day I feel like working then great. Or, if I put in a couple of hours and then feel like going to do something else (without unfinished work hanging over my head) that would be great.

    There are also fun tasks in my job and ones that I hate. Being able to delegate (or just not do somehow) the ones I hate would be nice as well.

    My other factor would be how many other things I need to do/how busy I am. If I had absolutely nothing else going on in my life then I think work would be even more fun- something to do- and I would want to do it even more.

    So- your toddler gets to “work” when she feels like it, but doesn’t have to. Plus, she doesn’t really have the stress of needing to get a million other things done (and this task is just one of many that she NEEDS TO GET TO!) She also can skip the “jobs” that don’t look all that fun and do something else.

    I also agree with E who said that our kids want to imitate us. Defnitely plays into things.

    Not sure how all of this helps you reclaim having fun mopping, but hey- you asked! =)

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Oops- I meant to say that these things affect whether work is fun, not whether something is work OR fun. Although I guess the two are kind of blending and the line isn’t all that clear….

  5. Amanda says:

    Emma bagged stuff at Old Navy this wkend and had a blast. Store was closing and I ran out to store to get card to buy flip flops and she waited w cashier. When got back, she was bagging clothes with a big smile on her face.

    Too polyannaish to suggest to just smile every once and a while. and take joy in the small things. like the coffee pods you get a work for free or….in the case of tonight here, the free chocolate klondikes:)

  6. Amanda says:

    OK, so this is the title I mentioned today at Kohrs!!

    Glad we didnt hang out longer, so much fun almost forgot I had to go into work early. So much for a nap:)

  7. Nancy says:

    Kids love the mundane stuff ’cause it’s all new to them! ! ! Any kind of moving sweeping motion is fun, isn’t it? Hah ! As it was said earlier, it’s never that bad when we get to decide when and/or if something gets done.
    So, how to reclaim a joy for the mundane? Make it a game as a child sees it. Sing and dance, make up a song that describes what you’re doing and make up a dance move to it also….You’ll laugh your child will laugh and the laughing will just make it all seem less mundane in the long run.

  8. Mary Beth says:

    Can I get Buddhist on ya for a min.? I thought about this issue soooo much about 4 years ago, when I found myself with a new Master’s degree, a whole lotta debt, and still hated my dang job. I started doing a ton of work around accepting suffering, and trying to be it, and letting it dissipate around me. Would love to chat about this more….I know you didn;t get into Pema Chodron’s WHen things Fall Apart, and that’s kind of the root of my coping withthis type of suffering…..but maybe more talk could get the good parts of it out.

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