self-expression for the self-strong

Blue-Collar Zen

I grew up dancing on the poverty line. Both of my parents were hard workers in their own ways, and both of them taught me the value of a dollar – and the value of earning that dollar.

The three of us – my mom, my dad, and eleven-year-old me – built a two-story house on an acre of land. Just us. My dad designed the blueprints, and we raised up a house on a windy hill outside of town. I wired outlets, installed insulation (so itchy), painted walls, and nailed whatever needed nailing, plus helped clear the yard of broken branches, plant grass, and spread gravel for the driveway.

I know what work feels like. It’s not the capital-w-Work that people exult about like a vocation or the heart’s ultimate passion – it’s just work. It’s a series of things you do to get shit done.

And to me, work feels good.

It can be tedious, boring, exhausting, and unpleasant, but there’s still a zone I can find where it feels good. Sweating in the sun or freezing in the snow, struggling with fiddly details or hauling as much weight as my body can move, work feels good.

There’s a zen to that zone, you see. Where the discomfort is less important than the movement, the progress. Where one thing gets done at a time, smoothly, steadily, and it’s just like walking – one foot in front of the other, simple as that.

Mistakes can be made. Breaks can be taken. Distractions can turn the head. But in the end, there is a sturdy heartbeat in doing work, doing it at a sustainable pace, and doing it right and well. It’s a forward momentum that’s as good for the worker as it is for the work being done.

Even in the digital age, working with websites and emails and entirely virtual things, I can fall into the stride of work and make it feel good, feel right, feel hard-but-not-painful. Being in the zone keeps “busy” from being “stressful” and “productive” from being “burnt out.”

How do you feel about work? What do you do to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed when your plate’s overflowing?

5 Responses to Blue-Collar Zen

  • Yes, yes that. When we started looking at fixer-upper houses, I had to explain to a lot of my friends/coworkers that yes, I wanted to _work_ on a house we were going to own.

  • I agree with you in that work (with a lowercase w) feels good. And in reading this I was specifically thinking of physical work as opposed to say, typing a letter. But I can see how it could also apply.

    I love the feeling of a hammer in my hands, pounding rhythmically into a roof or of chopping away with my ax. And having a tangible result once work is completed is nice too.

    Nicely written. I have to say I’ve really been enjoying these little blurbs of thought. Very enjoyable!

  • Lyn,

    Man, you and my partner have the exact same view on fixer-upper houses. :D I dig it.

    Hi Elinox! Good to see you here. :)

    Physical work is by far the easiest (for me) when it comes to getting into the zone. I love manual labor. I love Getting Shit Done. And it’s taken some time and effort to begin to apply that sensation and zone to digital work, but I’m a-gettin’ there.

    I’m glad you like the posts so far! :D

  • I know. When I was growing up, I hated working with my hands. I was convinced it was just what people did if they couldnt get a job that used their brain.

    Then I had my brain injury (irony, i’m convinced, has an actual, physical weight to it, like being struck with a smith’s mallet) and suddenly, physical things were the *only* thing I could accomplish.

    And I figured out why people like them. I like them too. And fixer-uppers are the only house worth having. Otherwise, it’s just boring.

  • Shanna,

    I was convinced it was just what people did if they couldn’t get a job that used their brain.

    Yeah, I’ve seen that attitude a lot. It’s unfortunate; some of the very best, and most intelligent, people I’ve known have been those who do either hard labor or physical craftsmanship for a living.

    But I’m glad you saw the light– or the irony mallet, as it were– and learned to enjoy the work. :) (Not glad for the brain injury, mind. Just the opinion change.)

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