Most of us associate Labor Day with the official end of summer, but Labor Day was actually a holiday created in 1894 to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers. A creation of the labor movement, it constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
And yet our current culture largely gives labor and work a bad rap.
Typically, this would be “Music Monday” (the first Monday of every month) where I select a song that inspires me from which to craft my message. And I did try… really, I did. I searched my large iTunes library (nearly 10,000 songs!). I scoured the Internet and YouTube. I asked people I knew who were music lovers like me. But, I was hard-pressed to find any songs about “labor,” “work,” or “the workin’ man” which were positive tributes to it.
Oh, there were plenty which weren’t… think Dolly’s “9 to 5” (it’s all takin’ and no givin’), Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It” (nuff said!), Huey Lewis’s “Working for a Living” (damned if you do, damned if you don’t) or BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business” (start your slavin’ job to get your pay)… but finding a song that celebrated the fact that we, as free Americans, get to choose our profession, work, employer, level of contribution, and destiny was going to take more hours than I had to give. How sad.
I’d like to offer some different ways of framing the concepts of labor and work:
(1) Living and working “at choice”: The most empowering way to live your life is to know at the core of your being that you are always “at choice,” meaning you understand that at any time in your life, you have choices. Feeling like you live at someone else’s choice is the most disempowering way to live. You may not decide to change your current situation, but owning that choice is the most empowered way of defining it.
It has not always been this way in our country, but I believe today we all have the freedom to make our own choices. We may choose to stay with a company we don’t like or continue working for a boss we don’t respect or make a commute that negatively impacts our well-being for a variety of reasons, but nobody forces us to do it. There are always choices and, yes, consequences that accompany each one. In this country, we get to decide which consequences we will accept. Taking full responsibility for your choices and their subsequent consequences is the height of emotional maturity. Blaming others, including bosses, managers, coworkers, or clients is the antithesis of it.
(2) We are wired to be productive: Meaningful, satisfying, and productive work is to our lives what oxygenated blood is to our bodies. It keeps the life force flowing through our veins. Without it, we start the process of decline. Ever notice how many people who finally retire from work and don’t replace it with a hobby, cause, contribution, or some project to complete, begin to slowly (and sometimes swiftly) lose their will to live? Our life force is powered by our desire and our wanting to feel satisfied. Being productive gives us that feeling and moves us in the direction of that which we desire. Whether it’s a beautiful flower bed, the perfect heirloom tomato, a creatively thrown piece of pottery, a well-executed financial discussion with a patient, or a cutting-edge website design… we derive meaning and purpose from work. Without it, we would rest, relax and do nothing for only so long before we became bored and restless. It’s just how we are wired. It’s how our species continues to evolve and survive. So consider blessing not only your work but your own proclivity and desire for work.
(3) We live in the age of unlimited possibilities and endless resources: Say what you will about the millennials, but I believe they represent a generation who finally believes at their core that life and work should not be separate pieces of a whole. They are demanding and creatively finding ways to blend being happy both at work and at home. They are expecting that work will not only pay the bills but provide them with a sense of contribution and significance. I bless them because they are forcing baby boomers like me to rethink the way we have structured workplaces, compensation packages, and the rules by which we communicate and are governed at work. They have changed the entire conversation and professional landscape in ways that will shape an unlimited future for how we blend and balance our lives. There has never been a better time in the history of this country to write your own ticket in business, education, healthcare, hospitality, public service, or retirement. There simply is no reason to accept work long-term that does not support your life goals… nothing except our own limiting beliefs. It is possible to find the money, investors, platforms, customers, and resources to build your own business if you have a good idea, product, or service. It’s also possible to find amazing employees, coworkers, incredible bosses and spectacular companies to work with and for…. Places and people that make it feel not like mindless work but rather like a truly satisfying part of your life.
I love my work. Not every single aspect of it but almost. And I’ve given up some things to feel this way such as predictability, security, and anyone to blame for what happens in the end. But I wouldn’t trade any of that for the freedom, joy, growth, or ability I have to control my income, schedule, and my significance to the industries and people that I serve.
This week, consider reframing your internal and external conversation about your labor and your work. Operate fully “at choice,” embrace the joy in being productive, and if you are not currently satisfied with your work choices… cut yourself some slack and know that while you may have your reasons right now for continuing, you fully own your choice and you blame no one. And just begin to look for the openings and the potential to make a change for the better.
This year, celebrate Labor Day for all the reasons it is good and all the ways it serves us, our clients, and our amazing country.
“Let us realize that the privilege to work is a gift, that the power to work is a blessing, that the love of work is success.”
~ David O. McKay