Whenever I’m doing anything at all on my main computer and my son comes in to talk to me, he invariably says the same thing. It doesn’t matter if he’s coming to say good-bye because he’s taking off with Mama or if he wants to know if I can play. I always have music blaring. So I turn it off, take a knee, and ask him what he said. I already know, of course, but I want to hear it. So he asks me again.
“Are you working?”
I tell him yes, I am, and how much longer I’m going to put in.
“Oh, sorry, Daddy.”
I complete our verbal hug with a real hug.
“Don’t be sorry, I love you.”
How We Work
My boy works – calling it exactly that despite being only 3. He takes all the stuff out of a drawer (or three) and arranges it just so on the floor. Things have a definite place and order, but sometimes its not clear at all what that order is. Other times it is clear: size, color, material (plastic, metal, paper), or function (computer stuff, tools, old toys). But whatever it is, he’ll gladly take a helping hand getting the stuff out of the drawer, but never in arrangement. He won’t tolerate interruptions until it’s completed, he won’t eat much (but will drink) until it’s done, and it’s only about half the time he’ll be a collaborator in putting the stuff away.
He’s just like me.
No matter what I may think of all that programming and writing and emailing, each day I’m taking all my stuff out of the mental drawers and arranging them in whatever order the day calls for. I’d much prefer to complete my stuff on my own terms. I do it until the doing’s done, and when I’m not working I’m absolutely not working. No halfway commitments in either of us – we’re either completely focused or not at all. Mental light switches.
We’re just like you.
Whatever your inputs to work are, whatever your output is – you’ve got the jumbled mess of unsorted stuff in and you arrange it just so. You’re not building a business. You’re not creating wealth. You’re not doing anything of the sort. You’re… chopping wood. You’re carrying water. You’re moving things from one side to the other, creating order. Fixing it up and shipping it out. That’s working, when you take away all the higher-order adult translations of it.
To work, my son needs two things:
- A drawer full of stuff.
- A large empty area of floor.
- My drawers are calendars, email inboxes, and project management task lists.
- My large empty area of floor are the various websites I work on.
- Whatever you look at to see what to do next, assuming you don’t just invent it on the spot. Even if you just invent it, you’re looking inside.
- Whatever space you create order and content in, whatever sphere of social interaction you contribute to consistently.
Why We Work
Taking a step back from all the thoughts of sufficiency or of providing for our families, we work because we’re industrious. Right? I don’t dream of doing nothing in my flights of fantasy. I just dream of working on different things when specific projects or people prove difficult or unpleasant. If either you or I became independently wealthy, we’d find something to work on. It might not look like work – it might look like household chores, it might look like a vacation that includes two dozen countries, it might even look like meditation. But we wouldn’t be doing those things because we were seeking wealth or money or social interaction – we’d do them for the doing. We’d find a jumbled drawer and arrange it just so.
I think a lot of people dream of a time when they’ll no longer have to work. It’s a dream of fulfilling whatever made-up reason they think they’re working. I don’t think that anyone ever comes to a point when just doing nothing becomes the name of fulfillment. Whenever we take chaos and order it, we’re working – and we’ll always find something to sort.
Today, instead of working to get something done… work for the arranging. Work to take a mess and leave it straightened out, come in and be the fixer. Be the solver. If you’re just putting in time while you wait for your real work to begin, you’re missing the point. When you’re working and arranging, the things that are getting worked on and moved are just as much inside you as they are out in the world. Perhaps more so.
There’s no “right” order. Arrange it however you want. Move with how things present themselves, or rummage in the drawer to see if there’s any more green stuff. Whatever you feel like.
When you’re all done, put away your ordered piles if you feel like it too. If someone else thinks it’s a “mess”, they don’t understand what you’ve done and they can clean it up. The undoing of your work can be their work, and then you have a jumbled drawer again tomorrow. That’s awesome, just perfect.
Today, let go of the ultimate objectives. Let go of the structures and the reasons, and do it because it’s there to be done. Work until the doing’s done, then let it go. Work until the drawer’s empty and piles are sorted appropriately. Then go home and play.
Are You Working?
Yes, I am. For six more hours, then we can play.
Don’t be sorry.