The Meaning of Work — A Love Song

The Meaning of Work, Verse #1 — It is Through Work that We “Find Ourselves.”

The Meaning of Work
You don’t learn about yourself or about life by reading books or by sitting in your room thinking big thoughts. You learn through interaction with others and by directing yourself to the completion of difficult tasks. You learn about both yourself and about life by engaging in work.

A life without work would be like one of those movies in which people stand around talking but in which there is no action bringing their ideas to a test. Work is the thing that gives the movie of life its plot.

The Meaning of Work, Verse #2 — Work is a Prayer.

I make an effort to pray. I often forget.

You can’t forget to work, though. There’s always work to be done. So it comforts me to know that work is a form of prayer.

Prayer doesn’t require words (I do think it is a good idea to put prayer into words from time to time, however). We talk to God and adore God and seek redemption through the work we do. Sometimes those who aren’t good at articulating their thoughts give voice to beautiful prayers through the work they do.

The Meaning of Work, Verse #3 — It is Through Work that We Demonstrate Our Love for Others.

My wife is not the “mushy junk” kind (I am, not entirely, but to a point). One of the things that causes friction between us from time to time is my desire that she express her love for me with words. She would rather do it by noticing that my coffee cup is empty and by refilling it before I even discover the need. She takes my desire to hear the words as a sign that I don’t appreciate her filling my coffee cup.

I do appreciate it. I want to hear the words too. I want it all!

I’ve come over time to appreciate her point, however. Actions speak louder than words. The coffee-cup thing is real in a way in which soft words are not. Work is the hard stuff, not the puffballs.

I like using words to express love and other stuff too. I think a good case can be made, though, that it is through work that we most effectively express love. Would you rather enjoy a love expressed only through words or a love expressed only through work?

The Meaning of Work, Verse #4 — Feeling Relief from Hard Work Is One of Life’s Great Joys.

Fulfilling Work
My wife and I once ran a marathon together. My fondest memory of the experience is the feeling that I had when sitting down to dinner with her after we finished the marathon and had showers and were able to sit down and relax. That was the best prime rib I ever tasted.

Everything tastes better and sounds better and looks better and feels better at the end of a hard day’s work. What would life be like without hard work? It would be a whole bunch less exciting and a whole bunch less fun. Life without work would be an empty promise.

The Meaning of Work, Verse #5 — The Feeling that Comes with the Completion of Work Well-Performed Is One of Life’s Great Satisfactions.

Work is better than sex.

I believe that.

Sex is overrated, in my view. It has its moments. They are fleeting. Work gives a good feeling that stays around.

The good feeling that comes with good sex is more intense. That’s why so many go on and on about it. But intensity is not everything. The good feelings that comes from good work go deeper and lasts longer.

If you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose between never again experiencing good sex or never again experiencing good work, I’d leave sex behind in a New York minute. Good sex is one of those great Beatles singles with outstanding songs on both the front side and the flip. Good work is one of those great Beatles albums, like Revolver or Yesterday and Today.

The Meaning of Work, Verse #6 — Work is the Battleground on Which Most Other Big Life Questions are Decided.

Bob Dylan has a song (“Workingman’s Blues #2”) on the Modern Times album in which he discusses (or so it seems to me) his failed first marriage and the role that his desire to advance his career played in bringing about that failure:

Now they worry and they hurry and they fuss and they fret.They waste your nights and days.All of them I will forget.You I’ll remember always.

After Dylan married, he spent several years off the road and at home with his wife and with the children that quickly came along. But his call to do the work that he does better than anyone else eventually brought a return to the touring and the affairs and the drink and the drugs. He (and his wife even more so) paid a price for his work ethic.

You can say he was wrong to put his work above his family life. I won’t say different. But I would add that he would be a different person without the work ethic. It comes as a package. Dylan is a person who loves writing songs and who loved a particular woman and who in time came to find it a problem to love both the writing of the songs and the particular woman as much as he wanted to.

We all face that sort of conflict from time to time. Work is the space in our lives where things get decided. The work we do is to a large extent what we are. So we need to choose our work carefully.

The Meaning of Work, Verse #7 — Work is What Makes Money Make Sense.

Meaning of Death
I often note that “death is real.” Without death, none of the stuff discussed on the Retire Early boards would matter.

A world without death is a world without time, a world in which the concepts of “early” and “late” lack significance. In a world without death, you could fail to save for the first thousand years of your life, and it wouldn’t matter much. You would still have many hundreds of millions of years ahead of you in which to enjoy the fruits of financial freedom once you got down to business.

Death gives life its spice. Death makes life matter.

Work does that for money.

Money is the stuff we trade our time for. Another way of saying it is that money is the stuff we trade our life for (since our lives are comprised of time). The reason why money questions matter is that money questions are “how will I spend my life?” questions.

In the end, you spend your life involved in some sort of work or another. Those who are financially free may or may not work for pay. But surely they work — they direct their life energies to the completion of meaningful tasks.

So the question that we are left to decide is — What sort of work is it that we will do? How much money you save determines what sorts of options will be open to you when coming up with an answer to that one.

Money management is life management. Work matters because work is the thing we turn to to fill up the hours of our days. Work is what it is all about, in the final analysis.

The Meaning of Work, Verse #8 — Work is a Way of Measuring Progress.

Are you a success? Have you “made it?”

The best way to figure that one out is to take a look at what sort of work you are doing. If you get up in the morning, spend a bunch of time doing stuff you enjoy, and then head off to bed again, you are a success by any reasonable person’s definition of the word. If you sit around eating bonbons and watching television sitcom reruns, you are a flop even if you have $10 million in the bank. It’s possible to have $10 million in the bank and still be a loser at the game of life, is it not?

Winners do work that counts. In their own eyes. If you think that delivering the mail is important work, and you deliver mail and feel good about yourself for doing that important work well, you are a winner. If you earn a seven-figure salary and hate yourself for the waste that you have made of your life, you are a loser. No?

The Meaning of Work, Verse #9 — Work is a Sacrifice.

Do the Work You Love

All lasting happiness comes from sacrifice. Ask a parent. Ask a teenager running laps to make the team. Ask a volunteer manning a help line at three in the morning.

Work is a sacrifice. That’s why we resist it and that’s why it feels good to give in to the call to engage in it.

The Meaning of Work, Verse #10 — Work is the Great Equalizer.

John Lennon asked that we “imagine all the people sharing all the world.” My understanding is that there are a few who indeed imagined that scenario and that the idea didn’t work out so hot in the implementation stage. Too many dead bodies piled up in mounds.

Still, we long for equality. We are not created equal in terms of skills. But there is some sort of sense of justice operating deep within us that cries out for equality.

We are equal in our need to work. We all need to work. Even the rich need something to do to occupy their time. J.R. Ewing worked, right? Bill Gates works. Martha Stewart works. All of those guys and gals.

That means that they struggle with the frustrations of work. And that they experience the satisfactions of work. And that they feel a need at times to move on to new sorts of work. Work is the great equalizer. The joys and sorrows of work are something we all have in common.

I don’t know what problem kept Bill Gates from falling quickly to sleep last night. There’s a good chance that it was a problem not all that different from the one that I was thinking over when my head first hit the pillow. Gates is a whole bunch richer than me. He ain’t so rich that he doesn’t need to work, however. The fact that there are a whole bunch of human needs other than the basic one of needing to cover the electric bill is what makes it possible for someone to realistically view Gates and me as being in some important respects “equal.”

The Meaning of Work, Verse #11 — Work Shapes Our Personalities.

Alienated Workers
Those who work are often under fire. That shapes your personality.

Those who work often feel like breaking out into song. That shapes your personality.

Those who work often can’t hold back from crying. That shapes your personality.

Those who work often can’t help seeing the humor in things. That shapes your personality.

The Meaning of Work, Verse #12 — Work Makes Us Rich.

You can’t become an effective saver without earning money. You earn money by going to work. All savers start out as workers.

You can’t become an effective investor without saving. So investors too start out as workers.

Getting a job is the first step down the path to financial freedom. Work is what makes it happen.

Freedom is not an escape from work. Someone who says that he loves financial freedom but that he does not care for work is confused. Freedom is the natural consequence of work.

I’ve got a new suit and I’ve got a new wife.
I could live on rice and beans.
Some people have never worked a day in their life.
They don’t know what work even means.

— “Workingman’s Blues”, by Bob Dylan