Living to Work, Working to Live…
I’m unsure who coined that pithy phrase but it captures, in its own imperfect way, the dilemma many of us feel about the position of work in our lives; lives for which we have high expectations which ‘work’, most often, defies with its very everydayness.
The very suggestion of 9 or 10 hours at a work desk rounds down my neck and pulls taut my right shoulder muscle. The irony is, I’m good at work and its everydayness gives me a structure on which I thrive. I like the moments of interaction; the shared endeavour; presenting at meetings and bringing people together; the moment of lightheartedness when the conference call drops out and each person regroups a little, remembering where they are in their day and what’s next. The persistence of meeting after meeting buying a little sense of purpose.
I like planning and probing in my job managing programmes; the curiosity about why things sometimes aren’t working; the frustration that we most often spend our time getting in each other’s way, particularly when teams feel defensive. How in each culture, whether national or social community, there is both a richness to be learned and, occasionally, a listening for offence.
This work is coming to a close.
I was dashing across Stephen’s Green in Dublin the other morning, going into the office much too early at 7.30, when I paused. I found a park bench, popped my bag to one side, opened my palms and breathed in and out for five minutes. The sky was remarkable as I opened my eyes and I posted this image on Twitter, the first of three that day.
The tiny poster on the stake on the ground says ‘Please keep off the grass’, a reminder that even though this was a pleasurable moment for me, the beautiful plants and grass are a reminder that this too is someone else’s everyday, their work.
I walked on, noticing as I came towards the National Concert Hall a change in the cityscape; some hoardings removed across the road at Earlsfort Terrace. It’s not just the softness of the planting in a very linear flowerbed that I like, but the wildness of the flowers; a hint that the people inside that building (maybe also inside my workplace) have a creativity and wildness that the rigidity of architecture, processes and computer systems fail to entirely contain.
I have spent many out of the past roughly 25 years of work dashing from here to there, particularly when I went to work in London after a crushing period of unemployment, and felt I had to charge around to underline how glad I was to have work. I can remember a conversation trope I had with my mother more than once when I was a teenager about how much I wanted to get from A to B but without wanting to put in the hard yards to manoeuvre between them.
At some point, perhaps because of financial instability, I lost track of where B could be found and set out repeatedly on a series of paths from point A, in the hope I might find my place. Do you know, reader, where B might be? On the one hand, I want to say that it’s in me, that it is me. On the other hand, that reaching there will be my life’s work, for B is always evolving and just beyond reach. Isn’t that an exciting prospect?
I am hugely grateful to my workplace for the position I’ve been working in this year. Not financially, though that’s great for other reasons, but because they trusted me to work flexibly, the key to allowing me to flourish.
They say that when your luck is in, you should get a lottery ticket. At lunch, my big win was a ten minute slow walk along Dublin’s Royal Canal snatched from the midst of a busy call/meeting schedule. I kept trying to take a picture, but couldn’t get the lighting to work. Until I turned around and found this composition just behind me.
That lesson, to look up or around, even to put to one side the constancy of screens, is timely. In just a few weeks, I will start a PhD at Queen’s University, Belfast, and work will evolve once more. I have no doubt I’ll write in these electronic pages about how that is going and what new everydayness it is revealing. I hope you’ll come with me on the journey. I know that together, we’ll catch glimpses of our purpose as it disappears just ahead of us, around the next corner.