Gratitude for Work

My mother and sister and I have an expression. Sometimes when we are grumpy about having to work on any particularly hard day, we say to each other, “Ah, the sanctity of work. Remember, it is better than the alternative.” This is true on so many levels.

Work gives us a way to contribute.

It is a basic human need to want to contribute to something bigger than just the air, food, and water we consume. Abraham Maslow references these human needs as self-esteem and self-actualization. Patrick Lencioni calls it our need to do something relevant, which makes a difference in the lives of others. For me, it is the feeling that what I do when I work hard matters to someone, somewhere. Purpose drives us and fuels energy and meaning strong enough to compel us out of bed and towards work daily.

Work fills the day.

There are some days when life gets the best of us due to personal or life circumstances, and work gives us a potent distraction that facilitates a break from personal or life stresses, allowing us to recover equilibrium and gain perspective. My sister, whose personal life is full up with high demand from two special needs sons, frequently talks about how her job at a hospital helps her have a place to go for 8 hours or more a day where she gets a break from the rigors of her home situation.

Work offers relationships.

Even when we struggle with co-workers, having them around forces us to engage. Human beings crave belonging and connection, and for many work is a primary way in which we form relationships that matter. Work reduces isolation, and when we see colleagues, hear about their lives, and engage with them in shared tasks and accomplishment, we feel good. Even when they may not be our best friends, we look forward to seeing them and being with them.

Work stimulates our brains.

As humans, we like to be busy cognitively. It stimulates us to have to think. Some jobs also demand creativity, innovation, problem solving, and exploration, which without, we would sorely miss. Once we are done with school, work is the logical place for us to bring our powerful brains, and turn them on and into good use.

Work connects to identity.

For me, work is a huge, intertwined dimension of my identity. Sure, I think of myself as mother, wife, friend, daughter, athlete, baker, etc. but my sense of myself is also hugely connected to the work that I do, both paid and unpaid, that makes a difference to someone. When I lay down to sleep at the end of the day, it brings me comfort that I have used my assets to do something good or helpful, and it forms a solid part of myself.

We write often at Moementum about the challenges of ensuring that we don’t only become working beings, with little rest and play. But today, on the eve of Thanksgiving, the national holiday in which we celebrate gratitude, I give a nod to the sanctity of work. I am aware that for the few periods in my life when I was lacking enough work to keep me busy, I felt a bit lost. It has always felt good to have a place to go, and to get up and go there to do something good.

So, thank you, blood, sweat and toil. Thank you long nights and problems that make my stomach churn. Thank you planes, trains, and automobiles that take me to clients around the world. Thank you clients who need me. Thank you co-workers.

Work – sometimes you have your way with me and cause angst and stress that I regret, but on most days, you are a blessed gift. You give me another good reason to be, to think, to partner, and to learn. My brain appreciates your challenge and your conundrums. My heart values the people you introduce me to with whom I get to co-create. You give me purpose sometimes and a place to go sometimes. There is sanctity in work, and for those of us lucky enough to have it, it is a very good thing.

Jim Morris