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work ethic

I mainly honor it in the breach.

I grew up feeling I was lazy and that whatever I did was not enough. For some reason I have always liked to work undetected, to have my work done before anyone could catch me at it. I did not like people giving me approving glances or in any way applauding my industriousness. Was this pride? That I did not like to be seen working? And yet did want my work to be noticed? Even the noticing, though, was suspect. I didn't want people to point out what I had done, yet I wanted them to know I had done it, to acknowledge that I'd made an effort.

I think a part of my not wanting the notice is that I always felt there would be something off about my work. Something not quite right. It was many years before I could listen to someone criticizing my work and take it non-personally, simply try to understand what I needed to do to fix it. I got rather good at this in my jobs, my "career" as it turns out. I was also good at it when I was learning piano. I would listen carefully to what my teachers would tell me and would make what changes were necessary, rarely resisting the direction. It was easier, somehow, to accept this kind of learning than other kinds that are perhaps less structured or certain.

I remember, for example, working on a piece of music that included a section that repeated. I followed the markings and played the repeats both  exactly the same way. My teacher pointed out that it would be good to vary my approach, play the second one differently, louder, softer, slower, faster. I didn't hesitate to take this direction. I had not understood that music markings are not necessarily recipes that must be followed exactly every time. Understanding how much room I had for my own interpretation opened me up enormously. In fact, when I played piano I felt that I was revealing things about myself that I could never tell anyone in words. In front of an auditorium of people - a rare occasion for me - I could reveal my deepest dark thoughts and greatest joys and never be embarrassed. Quite a liberation. I do feel sadness for a road not travelled, the music performance road, but I must be realistic. I was never a virtuoso. I had to work like a dog to learn the notes. When I learned them I could play well and was worth hearing but it took too long, in comparison to performance artists, to learn. I would not have done well on the road.

So on the road I did travel I carried with me this long-ago sense that I could never do enough and it plagued me. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Only in my last real job did I get past it, and only because of the warm, supportive atmosphere I worked within. For the first time I really came into my own. And yet ultimately I didn't do that much. What I did was usually decent enough, but I didn't push myself, and I did feel guilty about that. I have always had rush times and slow times. The rush times feel good, when I'm on top of my game and performing maximally. But I can not keep that up. I must fall back to my natural state, which is to...do nothing.

My sister Mary remains in that first group, the one that pushes and pushes itself. Honestly, I have only been there now and then and could not sustain it. Instead I let myself slip into laziness. Tomorrow is another day. Will it hurt to let it go this time? Why not just sit here and read? I can't quite get rid of the feeling of guilt but I'm working on it.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 6th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)
Interesting thoughts! While I want to do my work well, I am self-admittedly UNambitious. The idea of working 70 hour weeks to get that promotion so that then I can work 80 hour weeks? Not so much. I was on that track for a while, and happily am off it now.
Jun. 6th, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)
Well yes, that too for sure. I looked at those in higher positions and saw that they really had headaches. I couldn't see that as a positive. There are always those for whom this state is almost natural, who thrive in it, but I am not one of them.
Jun. 6th, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC)
I feel much the same way about my own contributions in the work place. I often wonder what I am doing that keeps me in demand, while I feel that I am out of my depth most of the time; always fearful that someone will discover that it is all "smoke and mirrors"
Jun. 6th, 2007 05:12 pm (UTC)
I suppose the upside is that when others find that it is smoke and mirrors after all, they will simply want to learn how to do those tricks themselves.
Jun. 6th, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC)
Are we working at the same place? I swear, I'm the same way.

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


Judith Lautner
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