Funny, going through all those years of school until high school graduation, I remember thinking, “Wow. What will life be like without all this stinking homework? Awesome! That’s what it’ll be like! I can’t wait to graduate” Then, you go to college and wonder how you could have possibly thought that homework and class demands in high school were difficult because you don’t have time to go out with your friends and hang at all due to all the course requirements and working three part-time jobs to pay tuition.
Grad school comes along, and you knowingly shake your head at all the undergrads because they’re simply going through the motions, not really being expected to think and defend their ideas. “They’re so naive. Poor things. They think they’re working hard, but haven’t a clue. Look at me. I’ve actually been locked in the stacks at the library and have developed carpel tunnel syndrome from writing so much!” You think that once you have those three little letters after your name, all will be well. In fact, some sort of miracle is going to happen where you are now recognized for the genius you are, and universities will fall all over each other offering you tenure-track positions so that you can graciously impart said knowledge on their fledgling students and write thought-provoking studies supporting their research-heavy institution at your leisure.
You do, in fact, get that job, although the position doesn’t have all the frills you envisioned, and no one seems to be excited that you’re there. Instead, you work like a dog wishing you could go back to having the time to freely think and write about ideas like you did in grad school. Instead, you’re attending faculty meeting after faculty meeting, correcting a hundred papers a week, and condemning all high school English teachers for not physically beating correct grammar into their students before they came to college. You have no time for your own interests because you’re stuck teaching the low-level introductory courses that have 300 students enrolled and completing ridiculous teaching and research performance evaluations. Just when you thought you couldn’t possibly work more, you have children. Holy cannoli.
Now, you are working in a salaried position with bennies (i.e., waaaay more than 40 hours per week) and trying to juggle some sort of a stable home life for your kids. As a childless adult, let me tell you, you can go without washing laundry for quite awhile, and it doesn’t matter if you eat popcorn for dinner. With children, it’s not quite so simple. You actually worry about food groups or the nutritional pyramid or whatever it is these days and you try to provide structure with morning routines, preschool, dinners, baths, bedtimes, and so on. Wait a minute…when’s the last time I even read a book for enjoyment or went to a movie? (They still have those, right?) Then you remember that “this is the life,” and quickly thereafter wonder if the originator of that phrase had a career AND kids. Probably not…
So, where does this rant leave us? Present day. You begin to realize that work is both a purpose for humans and a black hole of industry. No matter what kind of work it is–homework, housework, childcare, or a job–it never ceases until you do. When I had a brief panic attack tonight realizing that I had not done the homework required for this new college class because I was on load seven of laundry after doing dishes, getting groceries, picking up everyone’s “stuff” around the house (about 50 times), washing the car, and so on and so forth, I wondered whether I was really committed to pursuing my passion. I mean, it’s one thing to “love” something you do, but a completely different story to be committed enough to work, really work, at it. *sigh* Do I have the energy for this? It would be so much easier to not add one more thing to my plate! (I think my husband and I had this same conversation before bambino numero due.)
But before I had time to really pity myself, I just sat down at the piano and started singing. Yes. I do love it…a lot. Before I knew it, an hour of solid rehearsal had passed while my daughter was running all over the house playing dress-up and my husband and son were cleaning and organizing the garage. And guess what? The laundry was still there waiting for me, but didn’t explode from me not getting to it immediately.
I guess the point of this exposition on work is to remind myself that work is important, but prioritizing work is more important. A body and mind can only work so hard, so make sure that what you are putting your efforts and energy into is worthwhile. If it is, then give it all you’ve got. If not, well, clean bathroom mirrors are overrated…