by Kassandra Lamb
Another Labor Day has rolled around. For many of us this is just another three-day weekend, an excuse to have a cookout or make a trip to the department stores to grab some bargains.
Or we may look upon this holiday as the bittersweet end of summer.
But the day was originally set aside to honor people who worked for a living (which is almost all of us). Back when this holiday was a new thing, in the late 1800s, many more people did actual physical labor in their jobs than we see today.
Indeed, the word “labor” implies hard physical effort. We talk about a woman laboring to give birth.
But what about if our work is something we are passionate about. Then we may call it a “labor of love.”
Here are six things I’ve learned about labor during my lifetime:
1. Find work that you enjoy, and preferably work that you can feel passionate about.
There are lots of different vocations available today. Don’t settle for one that you can barely tolerate, if you can help it.
2. Accept the bad with the good.
Not all of the tasks involved in that work will be ones you like. I try to deal with the less pleasant tasks first thing, so I can enjoy the rest of my day without them hanging over my head.
3. Take time to experience a sense of accomplishment.
The next time you finish a task, stop and notice what that sense of accomplishment feels like for you.
For me, it’s a light feeling in my chest and I find myself smiling even if no one else is around. I experience this feeling, to varying degrees, every time I accomplish something, no matter how small. Even something mundane like changing the sheets on the bed comes with a small sense of satisfaction.
When the accomplishment is a major one, there may be bubbles of joy in my chest and the urge to jump up and down. I get that more intense feeling when I finish a first draft, and when I hit Publish for a new release.
Once you’ve discovered what “accomplishment” feels like for you, stop to let yourself experience that feeling every time you finish a task. Take the time to savor it; it’s your reward!
4. Realize that passion can burn out eventually.
We have much more permission to change careers today than previous generations did. Don’t hesitate to at least explore other options when what was once pleasant is now burdensome. I’m now working on my 4th career.
5. Don’t make what has come before wrong because it is no longer right.
Things we once felt passionate about can become mundane. Tasks that we once tolerated can become excruciating. But that doesn’t mean that particular passion wasn’t right for us back in the day. Things change; cherish the memories and move on.
My first career was as an administrative assistant in Human Resources (we called it Personnel back then). The tasks I did in that job would bore me to tears today, but I was excited to be part of the business world and to use my interest in psychology to help my employer hire good people.
When I hit the glass ceiling (which was a lot lower in those days), I went back to school and then became a therapist. I loved that work.
For two decades, I loved it, until I didn’t anymore. But that didn’t make what I had accomplished any less meaningful to me or my clients, nor did it change the fact that I had indeed loved that career for a very long time.
And then I loved to teach, until the other aspects of the job (like grading papers) got to be more trouble than it was worth. (I miss the students though.)
And now I’m writing fiction. I’m still passionate about it, but not as much so as I once was. It feels a bit more like “work” these days. Nonetheless, I suspect I’ll be at this until I’m old enough to finally be content with full retirement.
Each of my careers was fulfilling in its own season, and I cherish all the memories.
6. Balance work with play.
There is much truth in the old adage: All work and no play makes one a dull girl/boy. If work is nonstop—no matter how passionate we are about it—we can become dull shadows of our fully alive selves.
I learned this one the hard way. It’s easy for the business of writing, polishing, publishing and marketing books to become all consuming. I let this happen for several years until a vague sense of discontent had grown into a low-grade depression.
Now, twice a week, I make myself take time off from my business and writing tasks and go to the senior center to play cards or mah jongg. I call them my “old lady days” but really they are my mental health days
How about you? What are your thoughts about “labor” on this day set aside to honor it?
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.
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