I love to ask this question because many people have different definitions – and different people value different types of work. I looked up the definition of work and here is the first one on the list:
Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
Personally, I love this definition because it encompasses a lot of things people do. Whether you go to an office, work from home, work with the kids, volunteer, etc. each of those are activities that involve mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
I think this is something that is important to talk about because I know that some types of ‘work’ are valued or seen as more important than others. And Anne Marie Slaughter’s recent article, The Work that Makes Work Possible in The Atlantic brings it home. [As an aside, if you haven’t read her recent book, Unfinished Business, I highly, highly recommend it!]
Caregiving is something that is not only taken for granted but I think something that is overlooked. What strikes me is that in the United States there is a lot of talk about children being our future and that we need to invest in them. But when push comes to shove, daycare and preschools are expensive – and they aren’t available everywhere. We don’t pay our childcare givers a lot of money and while there are debates about teachers and their value, they are highly underpaid. In this Freakonomics podcast episode, Is America’s Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem? there is a discussion about that fact that students in Norway/Sweden compete to get into teaching programs like kids compete to get into MIT here. It is highly competitive and taken seriously – and their salaries support that.
And then there is the other side of caregiving and that’s for our parents, the elderly, etc. The support system is weak there, too not to mention super expensive! I remember when my dad was helping his parents to find an assisted living facility in Texas and it was a challenge. The good ones had a waiting list and the middle of the road ones were okay but still expensive. I have friends who are currently dealing with that challenge here in Massachusetts and the monthly cost of assisted living is almost more than their mortgage!
So, what does all or any of this have to do with defining work? I think a lot (obviously, I’m writing the Blog post…). Take a moment and imagine that we valued caregiving – all of the time and effort and love that it takes to raise good, solid kids; all of the time it takes to care for our elders who still have a lot to share and offer; all of the time it takes to create and share art, books, dance.
Word can be defined very narrowly or broadly. I prefer the broader definition! Not only because it is more inclusive but because it fosters greater respect and community. And I will bring this home with a personal example. While I have earned degrees and contribute in the traditional ‘workforce’ I also contribute to society by working hard to raise boys who are strong, smart, respectful, generous, giving, etc. And I take that seriously. It would be awesome if the work I do with my boys was held as in high esteem as the work I do ‘professionally.’
We have the power to redefine ‘work.’
If given the opportunity today, right now, what would be your definition? How would you define work?
What does work really mean? I think it means a lot of things…how about you?