Work and Life

Brendan - Brookline, Massachusetts
Entered on December 15, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: family, work

My freshman seminar at St. Mary’s college is titled “World of Work”. In class one of the first things that we did was come up with a definition of work. We talked about coerced work, such as slavery, monetary work where you get a paycheck, and non-monetary work, things like cooking dinner for you family, and raising your children.

I would like to explore the different types of monetary work, which I define as physical, brute force work, and thinking or pensive work. I believe that to be truly happy with our work and our lives we must walk a fine line between the world of brute force work and thinking work. I have come to this conclusion based on the personal experiences of my family.

On one end of this spectrum lies my Dad. He has been a truck driver for the past 28 years. He drives 13 hours a day, 1,000 miles a week; delivering one and a half tons of meat every day, pound by backbreaking pound.

This life of hard work has kept my family from experiencing many of the joys of family life that we might have otherwise indulged in. We never went on vacations, and when the weekend rolled around my dad would often be so tired that we couldn’t even play games together.

My sister lies on what I consider the opposite end of this spectrum of work; She is extremely bright, and seeks out work where she can solve problems by learning and applying her existing knowledge. She is currently doing contract corporate IT for a hotel. Her work consists of high-level problem solving, a lot of interaction with people to understand what they want, and what problems they’re having with their computers. Her work is not without problems; at age 23 she has developed carpal tunnel syndrome, and repetitive stress injuries from typing, and lacks the motor skills and strength that my Dad has developed.

Ever since I was a little kid I unknowingly searched for a medium between these two extremes of work. I pursued technical theater, where I had to mix artistic elements of design, musicality, and esthetics with the physically demanding elements of building sets, hanging lights and running cables.

Most recently in my search for work that is both physically and mentally stimulating, I attended trade school to learn locksmithing. Out of everything that I have experienced, locksmithing, and the trades in general, come closest to median of brute force and thinking work. The first time I cut a mortise, or cavity into a door it took me three hours to slowly and carefully chip away at the edge of the door with a hammer and chisel, and unlike in the world of computers and technology, where correcting a mistake only requires the tap of a few keys, one split second lapse in concentration, one slip of the chisel, could destroy all of my previously perfect work and force me to start all over again.

Aristotle called this search for balance in one’s life the Golden Mean: the equilibrium between excess and deficiency. He called either extreme a vice. I would agree and say that doing either too much physical work, or intellectual work is a vice that will result an unhappy person.

As I was writing this essay I was asked why I was in college, a place strongly associated with intellectual work. I answer them simply, that to find the middle, we must know what lies on both ends. As I proceed through college, and out into the working world I hope to find work that allows me to live this happy medium between physical and mental work that I believe exists somewhere in the word.