It’s a nice day today. It’s chilly, but the sun in shining. It looks normal outside. Spring seems to be peeking through and coming up wherever I look. A fresh green bit here. A skyward carpet of white blossoms decorating the trees. A whisper of pink still bundled up threatening to burst out with an announcement of life. Amidst all these signs of winter waking from its slumber, the world is taking a vacation from business as usual. Because of a virus.
It’s an interesting time as things that have previously been considered unfathomable become fathomable. Especially when it comes to work.
I remember having a job that was particularly onerous once upon a time. I remember my boss wanting me to complete reports. I remember offering to work from home one day without office distractions to get the report done because more reports to complete would come along in no time with my work schedule. And I remember being told that if I didn’t show up at the office that the work that I did would not be recognized. I was told that I would be treated as though I had taken some time off.
So I delayed the completion of the report because if someone tells you that they want something done, but they don’t do anything to support you actually getting it done, it means that there are other things that are more important to them. I was forced to accept that I had unfortunately found myself in a job where showing my face was more important than the work I was producing.
It was exhausting to put effort into what is essentially a game with no winner.
I remember taking that feeling on. The one called guilt, as though I was indeed a lazy person looking to accomplish less than not much at home while supposedly working. Though my boss wouldn’t say it, the logic between the lines was black and white – I could not be trusted to do what I said I would. And I took that on. It reminded me of all the times that I’d worked and worked only to still feel like anything I did was never going to be good enough.
I faced the fact that I lived in a culture that forced work out of people rather than worked with how work flows. There were certainly a lot of rigidities about how I had to work as time unfolded:
When I had to work. Who had to see me working. When I needed to arrive by. When I should leave by. What was okay to complain about in my work. What was not okay to ask for that would be useful for me instead.
It’s a lot of work to learn how to navigate defences just to be able to get you work done.There was certainly a lot to do to please the ambiance of the office and so it became a pet peeve of mine – the ineffectiveness of how we design our greatest, and indeed our only, asset: Time.
This extra navigation work was part of the recipe for burnout that would follow in a year’s time. My body told me “no.” But before that I remember sitting in my cubicle feeling tired but on edge about how I was perceived while working. Wanting to rebel from the rigidities that seems totally stupid to me. Upset that my work wasn’t as valued as the time I spent sitting there trying to work when it just wasn’t happening. Trying little experiments to prove my perception wrong because this couldn’t seriously be how things really worked. Perhaps I was mistaken.
But I was not.
When most people act like this is normal and you don’t want to, you start to feel like you’re the weird one.
It’s almost surreal to be sitting in my airstream now surrounded by sun and trees, with my two dogs sitting so close beside me. Before the virus, this was my life and with the virus, this is still my life.
At some point nearly 10 years ago, I had decided that I knew my own worth ethic and my ability to show up and complete things better than anyone else could possibly know me. For many years, as I took the steps toward today, I have been thought of as unrealistic, crazy, and heretic for questioning the relationship dynamic that we have with work. Then, along comes an incredibly contagious virus to help encourage others to work in ways that are more friendly to what it means to be a human being.
Without the help of this virus, our orientation to work would continue to be put off en mass and indefinitely. Things that were never possible before are being made possible. We are ingenious when we are moved to be. And it’s a part of us that has been experiencing dormancy.
The wonderful thing about the creativity that we’re accessing en mass to work with while the world is under quarantine breeds more creativity. And that’s a really good thing for the world because it’s a lack of creativity that created the ruts of how we work.
When you think about it, it’s been a really long time since we re-imagined what work could be. We’ve gone along with old ideas that were created in times that no longer exist. It’s good to update our thoughts about the world, ourselves, and our work. And to continue to check in with ourselves from time-to-time (say every two years, to see if we like the changes we’ve implemented and made possible).
In this time of minimizing virus spread, we don’t have the “luxury” of not trusting each other to do the work we can. Keeping ourselves and our loved ones healthy and our health care available for those who find themselves in need is our priority. But we needed the leadership in our world to encourage that because on our own, in our day-to-day, we don’t do that for each other. Unhealthy egos only encourages the opposite.
We’re overdue for changing how to engage with work. Virus or no virus.
It’s something to appreciate about ourselves as humans, the fact that we have needs. And one of the needs that I like to work on helping people to meet is their need for contribution. It’s equal to all others and the pain of not getting that need met doesn’t go away. Nor is it satiated when other needs are met at its expense. And when a human being can’t meet their need to contribute, any one of us would feel helpless.
We don’t like not knowing what to do with our time, energy, gifts, and creativity. And if some of your time, energy, gifts, and creativity goes into re-imagining how you work, what work is, and why you’re doing it because the entire world is slowing down, that makes this time useful. Everything won’t go back to exactly how it was before because we know now that it can be different. So it begs the question of why we were maintaining what we did before when there were other ways to do it. We made work into what we know it to be and now we know that we can change how we work and that how we work can change.
It’s the end of work as we know it.
I wanted to make a note of declaring immense gratitude for those who are considered essential to helping us through this time. And my heart goes out to any and everyone that finds themselves with a loss of income.
I hope that you’re all taking care of yourselves and looking out for one another. We gave some carrot cake to a neighbour outside and in return received some raspberry pie. And talking to our elderly friends on the phone just the other day was received with such gratitude that I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for thinking to connect. No gesture is too small these days. People are feeling deeply. So dive in.
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