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?