I never gave much thought to work. I have and do work, of course, as most of us do. There have been many mornings (or afternoons depending on the job) where I’ve dragged myself out of bed while whining: “I don’t want to go. Work is no fun.”

Conversely, there have been days when the hours flew by and I finished up the day feeling accomplished and fulfilled.

There have been many things I’ve done that were extremely stressful and taxing, though I did them purely for my own, personal fulfillment. Does that make me a masochist? Last year, for example, I released my fifth studio album and for the fifth time in a row, I lost money.

Recently, I had a yard sale. According to my European friends, this is a uniquely American phenomenon. I filled a large portion of my yard with items I no longer wanted and labeled them with price tags. My daughter and I put a few signs on the busier roads near my house and my wife took out a couple of online classified ads. Then the three of us sat on our porch for most of the day as random people drove or walked or biked up to our house to pick through our belongings and haggle us over items we were offering away for 50 cents.

We ended making a couple hundred dollars while ridding ourselves of a lot of dead weight. At one point, I remarked to my wife that it was the most relaxing day I’d had in recent memory.

I’ve had jobs where I worked in the traditional sense. My first two summers in college, I would pick up large rocks at construction sites by hand and toss them into tractor buckets. I worked with hardened cowboys in the rocky, snow-tipped mountains of Utah who, by the age of forty or so, couldn’t get through a workday without a few cheap beers.

For six years, I was a short-order cook at a series of busy restaurants. Cooks are notorious for a warrior mentality and lifelong brotherhoods are formed under the crushing weight of the peak-hour rush. Knives become a blur, shouting and profanity becomes the common language and blood boils in the heat and stress as two or three guys pump out upwards of two hundred plates. It takes an amazing amount of concentration, efficiency and focus and there’s a certain addictive quality to it. Few cooks make more than $50 a day, if that. But you don’t have to look very hard to find someone who considers it his or her calling in life. I could always hold my own, but I was never one of those guys. And when I was offered management positions, I always turned them down. I considered it a temporary arrangement and if I was going to be there, I wanted to be on the front lines.

Nowadays, I can make a few hundred bucks in a day writing marketing copy for pawnshops and payday loan outfits from the comfort of my front porch. It’s really boring and one of the highlights of my week is writing this blog for significantly less. Another highlight is writing articles for a Berlin arts and politics magazine for free.

I Could Have Just Read Your Resume. What’s the Point? 

The point is: “work” is really complex. It’s a psychosocial phenomenon. If the previous stories prove nothing else, it’s that work is only partly about money.

Sometimes work is fun, and having fun is work. But work is never play. The difference is that when it’s work, you have a sense of accountability for the outcomes, and to yourself and those you’re working for. 

Take the yard sale example. I didn’t really care if anyone bought my junk. I would have given it to the thrift store down the street if they hadn’t. Yeah, I made some money—which was nice—but there was no real sense of responsibility. And as I said, it was ultimately a very relaxing day.

On the other hand, cooks make next to nothing but they work very hard. Furthermore, most of them take cooking very seriously. Let that comfort my more conservative readers who worry when they see that a tattooed cook with a mohawk is handling their food. I can almost guarantee that your order might be the most important thing in his life at that moment. I’m sure the same goes for most professions.

I’ve just begun to embark upon THEE’s Levels of Work framework. It’s still quite new, so I’m sure in a few months or so, once I’ve properly processed it, I’ll be able to write more specifically about things. But I’m starting to think of work as concept or phenomenon in a whole new, extremely fascinating way. Check back in the blog for more developments. And while you’re at it, let’s hear some of your work experiences.

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