Real Work

Stevens Hardware, Annapolis, MDReal work requires effort. Real work is made of pitchforks and wheelbarrows. Axes and hammers. Real work is physical.

Or, is it?

I spent the morning laboring with a pitchfork and lawn and leaf bags. The work was physical, somewhat onerous, repetitive, slow and methodical. I was picking up leaves from the gutter that have been sitting there since October. Despite the fact that I’d been lazy about getting around to the task, I was very alive. The crisp, damp air reminded me of my physicality. The sharp pain in my lower back reminded me that I was not young and limber. The earthy smell of the decaying leaves reminded me that I would someday become dirt. I was alive and keenly in touch with my primordial existence.

This afternoon I presented on a network access solution to a well-known university in Washington, DC. The work was mental, somewhat onerous, somewhat repetitive, fast paced and far from methodical. I was peppered with questions. I was thinking on my feet. I was very alive and yet it didn’t feel like work. It wasn’t physical, I wasn’t aware of the temperature of the room, nothing hurt.

Was this really work?

Of course it was work. I was not presenting on the solution out of a genuine love of the customer — indeed, I’d never met the customer before. I was presenting because it was the task at hand. I was going to get paid for it.

Does getting paid for performing a task make it work? Or, more directly, if you don’t get paid is it still work?

The answer to both questions is maybe. Sometimes, getting paid for performing a task constitutes work, other times, I believe, we get paid for things that really, when it comes down to it, are not worthy of cash.

So, what is real work?

At the end of the day, defining work is difficult. What I did this afternoon, was certainly work, but it was far from strenuous even though it was rewarding. What I did this morning was certainly work, it was strenuous, rewarding in some respects, but I certainly won’t get paid for clearing the gutters.

Though, I’m pretty sure the neighbors will appreciate it.

4 thoughts on “Real Work

  1. At its simplest, there’s no distinction. It’s all work. Below are the first four definitions that come up in – there’s plenty more. So, it may be question of what’s meaningful, valuable, enjoyable, gainful, productive, etc. work?

    1. exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labor; toil.
    2. something on which exertion or labor is expended; a task or undertaking: The students finished their work in class.
    3. productive or operative activity.
    4. employment, as in some form of industry, especially as a means of earning one’s livelihood: to look for work.


    1. The interesting thing was that somehow while doing my pitchfork work, I felt really good about it. Something about getting your hands dirty. This post didn’t do that experience justice.


    2. I get that – it’s not only the tangible results from physical labor but also actually using the body, not just the brain to get results


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