In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. – Proverbs 14:23
Every Labor Day, I think about work.
The morning-drive radio personalities have made it a weekly mantra to remind us all how many days we have left lost in the dark woods until we finally reach the Emerald City on Saturday and Sunday.
They reinforce the notion those two days will at long last make us forget about the five days of drudgery we just endured. If you have ever known real drudgery, two days every five won’t be enough to make you forget it. So how about three days? Well, let me know how you feel on Tuesday morning.
Our popular culture often denigrates the meaning and lasting value of work as merely a means to end and our economy has forced many of us into work we would not ordinarily choose to do.
So by the time Labor Day comes around again, many of us only follow the radio people’s suggestion to get away from it as much as possible.
I’ve had my share of lousy weeks at the office. And I’ve headed out of town on holiday weekends. But whatever I’m doing on Labor Day, I still think about work and what I was taught about it.
When my brother and I were small, my family lived in a Chicago suburb.
Dad, a bricklayer, often worked weekends building backyard barbecues and decorative walls out of brick and stone. When he came home from his job during the week, he took over caring for my brother and me while Mom, a nurse, cared for patients at a local clinic.
From early ages we watched our parents, neither of whom had college degrees, work hard and long and then after that, still muster up enough energy for us. Even though their jobs were physically demanding, each of them was glad to be doing what they did.
We learned later that before we were born, they had already begun working extra hours and jobs to pay for a lot and the building materials for them to, with the help of some tradesman relatives, build their first house.
Then, no one had yet heard of Dave Ramsey, but even so, by their mid-30s my parents owned their home outright, paid cash for each of their two cars and never bought anything on credit, waiting until they could afford it.
And so no moss was allowed to grow beneath me: I was 14 but said I was 15 to get my first job, working weekends at a restaurant toward being able to afford a car by the time I went to college.
Each job I ever had taught me something. Some of those things were ennobling and some were lessons on what to avoid. As a teen and young adult I dealt with scheming co-workers who thought I was plotting to advance ahead of them (actually I couldn’t have cared less) and incompetent managers who only knew how to yell rather than lead.
Later on I had the privilege to have met co-workers who did my job the way I someday wanted to be good enough to do it.
My brother and I were taught that work gave you a sense of dignity, especially if you did the job right without unnecessary extra steps. “Work smarter, not harder,” Dad often said.
It’s wise not to define oneself solely by one’s work, but it’s just as wise to include work in that definition. The reward of a paycheck, of a customer satisfied, of a boss impressed, of a world made a little better by our work: These things give us a feeling of purpose. They buoy us through life, which as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, that is, merely a series of weekdays and weekends.
We may dream of a life of complete leisure through immediate accident, such as winning the lottery or the mega-ultra-super-jackpot. But if it really happened, after so many champagne cocktails and jaunts on the yacht at some point our souls would cry out, “What have you given?”
Whether you are the employee or the employer, at the end of each day there is nothing like the satisfaction of having worked, for your good and for some greater good as well. So rest easy on this Labor Day, but do not despair about Tuesday.
It is why there was Monday.
Read Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Reach him at email@example.com.