What is our Work?

What is the basis for human striving? Security? Happiness? Contentment?

These terms all mean something different to everyone. They’ve become so watered down, so overused, that you might as well just scrap them and use something else.

Might I propose “Work”?

And, not just any definition of Work. David Allen’s Getting Things Done definition of Work.

The definition goes: Work is anything in your world that you want or need to be different than it is.

This gets around the expectation that happiness will fall into your lap at a chosen waypoint. It undermines the expectation that the universe owes you anything. It keeps you from fruitlessly seeking through field and byre for contentment. It puts the ways and the means of fulfillment entirely in your hands.

Thinking about Work

Right off the top of my head I can think of some little things I want to change, (I want to do more yoga) and some big things (I want to feel more accomplishment and control in my work). One is just as much my Work as the other.

Now the thing about Work is that work is there to be done. If it weren’t, we’d call it a goal, or an aspiration. The very fact that you can define it as Work and put it under your control makes it attainable.

Let’s say that I want to make my footprint on the planet smaller. Maybe I’ll downgrade my house. Maybe I’ll carpool exclusively. Maybe I’ll reduce our trips to town to once a month. Maybe I’ll do none of those things, and instead focus on making locally-grown, fresh food and staples  available to all my neighbors. You do the Work that’s yours to do. And you don’t worry about Work that isn’t yours.

Don’t Think Big

Ever worked on a “big” project? That’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it? Suddenly the most mundane decisions took on enormous import. Why? Was it factors of scale? Prestige? Was it really a stretch project, or did focussing on how ‘big’ it was simply blow it out of proportion?

There are not very many “big” jobs. Your perspective is just too far out. As you get closer, you’ll see the distinct pieces. I have a ‘big’ construction project to do this year. It’s the first masonry project I’ve ever done. It needs a big crew. It needs heavy equipment, and good weather. That’s a lot of moving parts. But each of those moving parts is Work in and of itself. It’s not too unwieldy when you get closer. It breaks up into distinct stages, each with it’s own challenges and procedures, but none of them are undoable.

We’re Raised to Work

I don’t know about you, but I can work like a motherfucker, if I know exactly what I’m doing and why. I bet you can too. To have Work to do is almost a relief. It’s tangible, and more importantly, it’s doable. It might be hard to figure out what the most important Work is, but we can all figure out some kind of Work to do to make our lives a little bit better.

Let’s get to Work.


7 thoughts on “What is our Work?”

  1. I love the word ‘Work’ – it takes on sacred nuances to me – but is grittier and firmer than ‘calling’. but that might be due to the influence of this poem which I will now share with you.


    My work is loving the world.
    Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
    equal seekers of sweetness.
    Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
    Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

    Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
    Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
    keep my mind on what matters,
    which is my work,

    which is mostly standing still and learning to be
    The phoebe, the delpinium.
    The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
    Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

    which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
    and these body clothes,
    a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
    to the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
    telling them all, over and over, how it is
    that we live forever.

    -Mary Oliver

  2. Thanks, Erin. I tried to comment before and it crashed, so who knows whether this will come out eloquently or not.

    I like Work because it *is* so tangible. Most of the happiness advice these days is either vague (follow your passion! think positive!) or if tagible, not useful for enough people (volunteer! go back to school!)

    I hope this give people a useful framework to figure out how they can hit the moving target of a “happy” life.

    1. I think it does – as a framework – it evokes accountability as oppose to control. and that ‘right effort’ is it’s own reward – even when, despite doing your best, unwanted stuff happens anyway – work allows for the uncontrollable and unwanted stuff to exist without needing to ignore it or avoid it and yet still be anchored in something more – meaningful than wallowing.

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  4. <i>Ever worked on a “big” project? That’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it?
    Suddenly the most mundane decisions took on enormous import. Why? Was it
    factors of scale? Prestige? Was it really a stretch project, or did
    focusing on how ‘big’ it was simply blow it out of proportion?</i>Oh – so Yeah! When ya look at ALL THE PIECES, it becomes impossible to “pick one” to start with! ^That^ has been a recurring block for me, for especially in the last couple years – especially if ya substitute ‘vital’ or ‘important’ for ‘big’ … and let dinero$$ become the primary consideration. Love to you, for helping me see which ‘smaller pieces’ ARE doable, and then to do them! 

    1. I had to learn the hard way, so I’m glad that it’s helping you so much. That’s why I talk about all my stumbling blocks and failures. Even though people learn BEST from experience, if they CAN learn from other’s lessons, I figure it’s like sharing math answers. eh?

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