What is work?

Our little family has regular discussions starting with this question. If you had asked me, before living with the Beloved, I would have said “that which you do that you get paid for”. Had you prodded me a little, I would have added such things as housekeeping, child rearing and volunteering, but not much else.

Much to my earlier frustration, Beloved frequently told me he had to do work. After which he sat behind a computer screen and read news, looked at university websites, compared products he might be willing to buy and did other, less tangible, things that made me wonder when (the hell) he would open the company e-mail account and start doing this work that he told me about. This was not conductive to a mutual understanding of priorities. He felt I didn’t take his activities seriously and I felt he classified almost everything as work just to be able to prioritize it over fun-times-with-me.

In the spirit of peaceful cohabitation it became vital that we figured out what work actually means in this household. Beloved’s definition is, as you may have guessed, much wider than mine. If he’d see me here, blogging, he’d tell me I was working. Which makes sense, in a way. I’m honing writing skills, which make up a large and valuable part of my employable skills, experimenting with online community-building (although very little) and establishing my own voice as an author. Am I looking at plane tickets for a trip we’ve planned? Working. Reading up on an interesting course I may take when we arrive in the US? Working! Learning something about the basics of investing? So much working!

The closest I’ve been able to get to Beloved’s definition of work is ‘productive activity to enhance something that is a priority in life’.  When I applied that definition to my own daily schedule, it made a lot more sense to me that I felt that I was working pretty hard even if I could never put a finger on what I had been doing. Rewriting my resume? Work! Proofreading a letter of introduction for a friend? Work! Doing some research for a college fund for a little cousin? Work. Previously, I filed all these things as leisure, because they were things that I chose to do that did not directly relate to money in the bank or a cleaner house.

Defining all the arranging and planning and organizing in our lives as actual work is a good way to be nicer to ourselves, too. Spent two hours comparing hotels and another hour reading the fine print on car rental policies? That’s work, so you deserve a break. Much better than feeling the weird, guilty  sensation of needing a break from something that’s supposed to be ‘free time’ anyway.

Beloved’s definition of work makes me more understanding of why other people have social lives that are so much more exciting than ours, why some people can plan four commitments a weekend and still feel they’re refreshed and rested on Monday. They didn’t need to write four professors, fill out seventeen pages worth of forms, wrangle an investment bank into complying with a request and have three international phone calls of an hour each. They didn’t need to spend another night discussing quality of education to cost of living, career opportunities and parent proximity, because they’re not making a decision like this and don’t have to do the work associated with it.

As a language geek I am amused and intrigued that by defining one word differently, such large parts of my view on life have started changing. I take myself and our plans more seriously and value the time I sink into preparations and plans. There is less need to beat myself up for wasting time and not being productive, because I can view so much more of the things I did as valuable, necessary work. It also makes it easier to enjoy free time devoted to looking at pictures of cats, because I realize I don’t have nearly as much of it as I thought I had.

What is work to you, and how has that definition influenced your life?

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5 Responses to “What is work?”


  1. 1 Marijke June 10, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Yur Beloved definition of work is indeed a much kinder one. In his definition of work, I’ve spent half my Sunday working. In my definition of working, i’ve spent the whole day hanging out with friends, looking up articles for my hobby-project and writing stuff that has nothing to do with my studies. Djeesh, I’ve been working almost all day! That feels GOOD!

    • 2 thesmittenimmigrant June 12, 2012 at 8:19 am

      Doesn’t it? It makes such a difference of ones perception of life. Hobby projects deserve to be taken seriously too!

  2. 3 kahliabear June 11, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    It seems your Beloved’s definition of work–which I quite like, now that I retroactively apply it to my own workweek–is much closer to my partner’s than to my own. In our house, I am also the hotel-researcher and car-rental-fine-print-reader (as well as the business-license-renewer and Roth-IRA-finder) and I often don’t think of that type of activity as work (because, like you used to think, it doesn’t generate income)… until my partner says something like, “Wow! Thanks for taking care of all of that! It looks complicated & I appreciate all of the work you put into it.” It’s always nice when he says things like that, in part because he’s right, it WAS a lot of work, and because it’s nice to have that contribution acknowledged.
    Good luck reshaping your own idea of work! I think we could both take cues from our partners and I’m glad you brought it up!

    • 4 Kyla (@kahlia) June 11, 2012 at 10:01 pm

      Oops, it got my name wrong. Sorry about that!

    • 5 thesmittenimmigrant June 12, 2012 at 8:21 am

      You’re totally right. It’s so easy to forget how much careful reading and comparing goes into making decision sometimes. But imagine how much trouble we could get into if we didn’t get our facts straight ahead of time. Catching trouble before it starts certainly counts as work and we should be proud we do it (and yes, being validated for what we do is awesome!).


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