You Are Not Your Job

Work is the nexus of activity and identity for millions of people. The standard workweek in the United States is 40 hours—almost a fourth of the total time in a week—with many people exceeding 40 hours per week. And, however much we may try to avoid it, jobs bleed into the hours when we’re not on the clock, too. There are things to get done and commuting before work (with occasional time-stealing black holes of dread). Plans, commuting home, and various ways of unwinding and recuperating after work. And days off (from work) where we attempt to rest and play hard in the downtime before work starts again.

Time is frequently organized around jobs with periods of ramping up before and cooling down after. It can be difficult to start and stop work without any carryover. Especially at a time when work texts, emails, and phone calls can interrupt at any time. Thanks, smartphones.

We regularly describe ourselves in profiles and to other people as a teacher, a barista, a musician, a small-business owner, and so forth. Or if we don’t currently have a job, as unemployed, a freelancer, a job-seeker, or retired. We talk about who we are as the job we have, the work we used to do, or the job we wish we had.

The way we spend and organize much of our time, and how we view and describe our own identity, is in relation to work.

Work, of course, is the way people make money—the predominant way we conceive of and exchange value in the world. Few people are in a position to chose not to work. Homes, food, transportation, education, healthcare, and more, all require quite a bit of money. And so most of us are forced to sell a large chunk our time, energy, and talent as labor for someone else, with the result that a lot of what we do in a given week and how we think about our lives is centered around that work. It’s almost natural to identify who you are with your job—given how much time it entails and the value (income, primarily) you get from it.

A lucky few get value beyond income. Relationships that transcend co-worker, or character growth, or personal satisfaction. But the percentage of people who really like their job is very small. Most of us do not and will not work the job of our dreams. Instead, we sell ourselves to do some combination of tolerable tasks and sheer drudgery. If you define yourself by your work and you don’t find your job meaningful, think your company or job responsibilities are embarrassing or intolerable, or you don’t make enough money to actually live off, your sense of identity and self-worth are going to be pretty shitty.

If you are working your dream job—fantastic. You are indeed lucky. But even those who are could suddenly lose it. Strongly identifying with your job doesn’t leave anything else to define yourself by if things change. And we’re all familiar with real or fictional stories of the workaholic who ruins their life and the lives of others by doing nothing but work.

It’s as cliche as an inspirational quote book to recognize that life is much more than the money you make, the job title you have, or the business you work for. But the overwhelming obligation and influence of work make it difficult to keep perspective. We have to remind ourselves that there are other forms of value than money–forms that are rarely achieved in workplaces today. And remind ourselves that work is something we do rather than who we are. Life is not merely for laboring for pay until you retire or die—though it can definitely feel that way.

Life is for discovery and pushing the boundaries of who you are as a person. To do our best to live well in a holistic sense. We need to make our actual selves the center: our emotions, relationships, interests, and potentials. Not what we do to get paid. It can be difficult to do that, but not impossible.

Most of us need to get better at how we use what we call free time or leisure. The typical impulse when we have time to do whatever we want is to veg out. But leisure is not necessarily a lazy or unproductive thing (unproductive–there’s another work reference butting into the rest of our lives). Leisure, when it’s done well, has a self-enriching and value-creating result. Maybe you watch an hour or two of Netflix because you feel like you need it. But then you move on to messing around on an instrument for awhile. Or to baking or cooking. Hiking. Coloring. Reading. Building. Or some other activity that challenges you in healthy ways and gives you a rich sense of purpose and identity. The contrast between some repetitive drudgery you do at work and the deep flow and meaning you experience doing something like hiking or composing a song is striking. But the contrast doesn’t exist if you always choose to veg out instead of exploring your interests and potentials.

Free time is also for relationships. A crucial part of who you are is being a friend, a mother, a brother, a spouse. There can be a temptation to veg out when we spend time with others, too. Like going out to get mindlessly wasted together instead of doing something that actually deepens the bond you share. Maybe it’s a couple nice drinks in a place where you can have a long conversation. Or going to the gym together. Or cooking a multi-course feast and losing track of time enjoying it. Leisure is often better when it’s with others, and it can be a shared way of upholding and expanding identity and self-worth.

And leisure is also good for getting your emotional self and internal monologue on track. Much of it happens as a byproduct of doing the right kinds of activities with the right people. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to do some self-reflection or meditation. It allows you to process through emotions, anxiety, crazy thoughts and bad narratives running through your brain, and things in need of healing. For me, yoga is an important part of my free time. But if something like that is too much, maybe it’s as simple as sitting on the couch without any noise or distractions, breathing deep and slow, and paying attention to what comes to the surface. What kinds of emotions do you feel? What are your heart rate and stress levels like? What kinds of hurts do you notice? Meaningful free time includes healing and restoration.

As long as our economic and social structures remain as they are, most of us will have to continue to devote big pieces of our lives to jobs. But we shouldn’t define ourselves by them. While we keep a post-work future on the horizon, we can be more intentional with our free time. Then the right things are at the center of how we think about who we are and how we grow over time. You are not your job or the job you don’t have. You are a human being—more expansive and interesting than anything you do for a paycheck can contain.

This Week in Upgrades: September 5

“So long as the laboring man can feel that he holds an honorable as well as a useful place in the body politic, so long will he be a loyal and faithful citizen.” Those words from an 1894 House of Representatives committee report pointed to the welcome arrival of Labor Day as a federal holiday. Whereas previously, work in America was often characterized by 12-hour or longer days, 7-day workweeks, child laborers, unregulated safety conditions, and appallingly low wages, the late 1800s saw mass unionization and strikes to improve working conditions for everyone.

There’s still a long way to go to achieving the common good–perhaps a total rethink and remaking of the American Dream, achieved through more unionizing, striking, or other collective effort. But I hope that, at least today, many of you are able to rest from your hard work and enjoy the day as you please.

Tons of interesting things in the world and on the web to delve into on this holiday…

Maybe enjoy the day with some oysters? They’re surprisingly great for the planet and for you.

Be careful out there: bad driving is the primary cause of traffic jams. Just another reminder that we all suck at driving.

Looking for something to kick back on the couch and watch? Chef’s Table: France is très bon.

As someone who doesn’t even use Snapchat, this interview with a 14-year-old on how high schoolers use photo- and video-based social media was super interesting. I feel so old.

This is not how the voter-candidate relationship is supposed to look. Money in politics is an ethics issue for both major parties and their candidates.

Life on Earth may have emerged much, much earlier than we thought. Absolutely fascinating.

Hooray for print books (#bibliophile)! Also, could we maybe get to 100% of Americans having read at least one book in the last year? Learning and new experiences make the world go ’round, and you’re talking about a page or less per day to read one book in a year.

Some overzealousness with Zika wiped out millions of bees. Bees can’t catch a break, and we need them to.

A National Institutes of Health review confirms that non-drug treatments like yoga and acupuncture are effective against common pain. +1 for yoga.

Fracking just caused the largest manmade earthquake in US history. I’d say we need to be asking some more questions about an energy extraction process that does this.

Speaking of energy extraction, the fast-tracked Dakota Access Pipeline construction is causing all sorts of destruction and desecration of Standing Rock Sioux land. Protesters were met with pepper spray and dogs. Complete WTF situation.

Here’s a brief history of stop-motion animation. Such a cool art form. Want to see Kubo and the Two Strings.

Hope you have the best week possible. Thanks for reading!

This Week in Upgrades: May 16

Dang, Monday. Already? If you’ve gotta be today let’s make sure it’s good. Maybe a few more links than usual? Let’s do it.

For starters, we can be thankful how much commercial time Netflix is saving us. Wow.

It might also be good to know when peak road rage happens. Be an informed commuter and avoid the insanity.

Here’s exactly how cars ruined cities. But maybe hyperloop can save mass transportation?

France is moving to ban all after-hours work emails. This seems like a good start to tackling the work-life imbalance many people are living with.

Speaking of work, we could really use some of these emojis that show women professionally instead of just getting their nails done.

Also in the work realm, your weekly reminder that automation is in research and development to “completely obliterate” human labor. We definitely need a new American Dream.

Have a unique coffee order? We are in the midst of mass customization. What’s that all about?

Also in food, what can be done about food deserts?

This climate change visualization is indeed convincing. Time for solutions.

Other sad environmental news: honeybees are still in decline. No!

Is there a vicious cycle of jailing the poor in America?

A new study suggests yoga may help stave off dementia. Just another reason to practice it.

Have a great week! You’re gonna crush it.

Boyle
via GIPHY

 

 

 

This Week in Upgrades: April 25

Hello, friend. Is it Monday again already? I hope the weekend treated you well.

I spent much of it cleaning the house from top to bottom, which–though probably not as fun as whatever you did–always feels good to complete. There will need to be some How To Adult cleaning posts in the future. I’ve learned a lot about what not to do.

In case you missed it, American currency is officially getting a major redesign. Pretty awesome that Harriet Tubman will be on the $20 (though not everyone was thrilled). It’s interesting to see how bills have evolved over time.

This week we found out that nearly half of Americans could not come up with $400 for a personal emergency if they had to. There’s some serious work to be done to help the middle class.

In more uplifting news, this week also gave us this video of 7 girls on appreciating culture rather than appropriating it.

Season 2 of Chef’s Table is almost here! Season 1 was so good.

Is “a thing” a thing?

We need to get serious about soda.

Is this why we procrastinate? Seems to explain why we’re bored, too. More reasons to do yoga.

Solar-powered planes aren’t practical for commercial flight yet, but they’re its green future.

Similarly, we whiffed on electric cars in the past, but hopefully we can get it right this time.

Have a great week!

Back to the Future

Yoga: It’s More than the Pants

As a younger me, I did not in a million years think that I would ever get into yoga. In college, as many classmates and coworkers began to find their way into studios every week, I wondered what exactly was so appealing about methodical stretching and deep breathing. Yoga is bodily in the fullest sense. Practitioners often show up in minimal clothing, are in close proximity to one another, and fill up the room with sweat and the occasional aromas of flatulence, active feet, and old mat. To this day, I much prefer to do yoga at home by myself for those reasons alone. The introvert in me is entirely uncomfortable being that unfiltered with other people. Maybe that’s irreverent. I apologize to the hardcore yogis committed to judgement-free group work in the studio.

I’m decidedly low-key and solo. I haven’t received extensive instruction on the asanas–the poses. I don’t do yoga because I’m seeking spiritual enlightenment or a transcendent experience. I have a DVD and a mat in my living room at home that I take out a few times a week. Close the blinds and begin. And the DVD? It’s a “power yoga” course from the 90s that is so 90s: saxophone and synth dad-music, original VHS-quality video, and cutoff jean shorts for workout wear. Just watch some of this! The first dozen times I used it I went back and forth between calm focus and hysterical laughter. The most-sensitive-man-in-the-world intro still gets me every time.

I think when I see that unintentional comedy it helps me shake free of the crazy things that happened during the day. And then begins the stretching and breathing stuff, which is unexpectedly powerful. How can something so simple and mundane be so beneficial and transformative? I find myself grateful for giving the seemingly uninteresting practice of yoga a very open-minded chance, and the purchase of a random DVD to try doing it regularly on my own. Serendipity is a wonderful and amusing thing sometimes.

Now, I get frustrated at myself when I go a week without yoga. On vacation, I’ve gone into the corner room where we’re staying and played the same accidentally hilarious video on my phone just to make sure I do a little bit. Why is this?

There’s an incredible thing that happens when you push the pause button on everything else in the world a few times a week. The whole be present in the present mentality is overflowing with a sense of silly spirituality, but there are some profound things that happen to you when you eliminate busyness and distractions and just be for a little while. No phone, no work, no social pressure. I’ve come to realize how much I need that. Now I long for that recharge and clarity through the week.

Yoga also presents physical challenges that compel me to keep coming back. Even if you do the exact same set of poses each time, you can always go a little deeper. With each position, you’re working at the edge of increased flexibility, strength, balance, and calm. I would not be surprised to find that one of the reasons yoga is so engaging for mind and body is because it puts you into so-called flow. You’re challenged just enough that you can rise to the occasion, and every time you complete another session you feel a little stronger and a little more whole. I’ve been doing yoga regularly for a couple years now since stumbling into it, and I can honestly say that I have more energy, sleep better, have less body pain, and feel better prepared to tackle what the day throws at me because of it. That’s no small thing.

Give it a try. Get some cool ass pants if it helps. You feel like a rockstar with yoga pants on. Based on how often they’re worn in public, apparently a lot of people think they’re made for feeling like a rockstar when you go shopping. I can tell you that if you do wear them around town you’re probably going to feel even better in them if you actually do yoga. That incremental increase in strength, flexibility, and the rest, leads to an increase in body confidence as well. You feel good and look good. This is a whole-body thing in a very tangible way.

Get an awesome retro yoga DVD. Or sign up for a class in your neighborhood (if you can handle bodies without boundaries).

Whatever it takes to commit, I promise it’s worth it. We all could use a bit less stress and anxiety, exercise that we actually look forward to doing a few times a week, and regular recharge and refocus. To my great surprise, yoga is an excellent way to achieve it.