This Labor Day seems a fitting time to reflect on the nature of work.
What does it mean to work? Before March, many of us likely had a simple answer. You went to a location separate from your home and put eight (or more) hours on the clock. Then you left that location and went home for the evening. Every week or two, you would receive a paycheck.
So far, so good. So simple.
Yet now we have all experienced work as something different. Many of us spent weeks or months working from home. Some of us are still doing it. Yes, we’re (hopefully) still being paid for our efforts, but the work continues before and after hours, and sometimes it’s even squeezed into weekends and holidays.
And the work isn’t just about employment. It’s about managing the lives of our children, about navigating relationships with our family and friends, about figuring out the best possible way to stay safe as a pandemic continues to swirl around us.
Say it in unison, now: All of this is work.
All of us are working now, and while financial compensation is useful, it can’t fully make up for the toll of the continuing uncertainty. When will things be back to "normal"? Will it be this winter? Next spring? Next summer? Anytime in 2021?
No one knows, and anyone who tells you they have the conclusive answer is lying. That means that we’re all working with all of our might to survive these challenging times. That’s unpaid work, work without a certain reward, but work that we cannot avoid if we hope to continue functioning as people and citizens.
In short, life is work now. And perhaps we should have seen this coming — for years exercise and eating right have been presented more as obligations than voluntary choices. Even entertainment has been separated into "must watch" categories, as though your Netflix queue is yet another series of boxes to be checked.
It can overwhelm. But perhaps on this Labor Day, we can find comfort in the fact that we’re all experiencing this together. Even those who continue to report to another building for work have seen their routines change. Children are seeing their school years mutate in front of their eyes into experiments with technology and hybrid scheduling.
We are all working. We are all workers. And while we may not reap a giant financial reward at the end, perhaps we can find comfort in this shared challenge.