Work Worth Doing

“Good work finds the way between pride and despair. / It graces with health. It heals with grace. It preserves the given so that it remains a gift. / By it, we lose loneliness: / we clasp the hands of those who go before us, and the hands of those who come after us; / we enter the little circle of each other’s arms, / and the larger circle of all creatures, passing in and out of life, who move also in a dance, to a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it except in fragments.”
— Wendell Berry, What Are People For?
This essay was originally published as the introduction to Good Work—Edition Nº 30 on
Ryland by Julian Lage

When work is a choice, why the hell do some people choose to do it? Why would someone with $2M, $50M, or $800M in the bank choose to do the kinds of daily tasks most people think of as chores, or necessary evils?

Only when work becomes a choice do we realize the thing about work that is worth choosing. Too late, we realize it was available to us the entire time. It’s been like Navi in Zelda: “Hey, LISTEN!” But we weren’t.

This isn’t to say everyone should be passionate about what they do for a living. And this isn’t to say that you’ll find the joy of good work at your job. It’s about discovering the moments in your life when you feel a sense of relief at facing a problem, sitting down at the keyboard, or otherwise setting sail. It requires work, real effort, to figure out what, if you had the choice to work, you would choose to work for. To discover whether there’s anything you do—whether you get paid for it or not—that gives you a sense of relief.

I think a lot of us would find similarities among the things we choose. At least, I imagine that work worth doing gives us the chance to experiment and play. I think it’s done in the hope of bringing something to others in collaboration or gesture, or else it’s built on the work of others, and so it’s an antidote to loneliness, even when you’re alone.

What kind of work is worth doing? What do you—or what would you—choose to work for?

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