Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Work worth doing

Whenever I've had the chance I used those 3 words to express my aspirations for my own children: that they find "work worth doing." I've tried to model that kind of thinking for the many parents I've worked with as a teacher and school head over the years--a sort of antidote to more prescriptive expectations we parents sometimes express. Here's an example from the book Plato and a Platypus Walked into a Bar:

"Mrs. Goldstein was walking down the street with her two grandchildren. A friend stopped to ask her how old they were. She replied, 'The doctor is five and the lawyer is seven."

The joke makes me smile until I think about the way we parents can pressure and deflect the aspirations of our children. Reminds me of the young man who quit medical school after two years to become a teacher--when he realized he was pursuing his parents' dream rather than his own.

"Work worth doing." Actually, I'm not sure where I picked up that phrase. I don't usually speak in sound bytes, so I'm sure I borrowed it from somewhere, though I've not really seen it anywhere else---until today: here's a little feature about Sandra Day O'Conner and her key to happiness:


  1. I agree that work worth doing is the key to happiness. The reason is that a person who finds joy and value in their work gets to experience joy and value each day of their life. And what would work that is not of value feel like? Certainly not anything near happiness I would assume.

    We should be careful not to assume what value, or the phrase "worth doing", means to each person. A job that pays menial wages and is repetitive manual labor can bring value to a person in a way many wouldn't understand. For example, assembly line work might offer a sense of order that perhaps the person at hand greatly values.

    After reading the comments on Project Happiness, I think that personal relationships also are key to happiness. Personal relationships fulfill the desires for joy and value. Relationships offer joy and value but are temperamental and not as reliable as the experiences generated from a work that is worth doing.

    With work, one can find order and a sense of fairness and objectivity that can be hard to come by even in the best relationships.

  2. Deidre,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments...and for the perspective on "...worth doing." Montessori said that all work is noble. She saw that it takes every one of us contributing our work to make the whole of society function. There is a wonderful interview of a bricklayer in Studs Terkel's book Working. The bricklayer took great pride in pointing out to his children all of the buildings he had worked on. An individual must perceive the value in his own work. And each of us must understand that each person's work contributes to the whole. As a parent, I hope that my children find work that they value and love.