One of the dozen or so words Coraline knows in sign language is “work.” Sometimes when I’m at work, Coraline looks at Sunny, tilts her head and asks, “Dada?” and Sunny says, “He’s at work.” To this, Coraline nods knowingly and makes the sign for “work.” It is, of course, adorable. Lately though, Coraline has been saying I’m at work even on my days off. Maybe I’m working on some project around the house, or maybe I’m going to visit my dad. She doesn’t really understand what I do for work, partly because she’s not even two yet, and partly because she hasn’t visited me at work for a while. She also says her Uncle Jonathan is working whenever he isn’t around. And she says her cousin, Ila, is working when she isn’t around. Ila is two. She doesn’t work. I think Coraline is a little confused about what work is. I think I might be confused about it too.
I just listened to an episode of Planet Money about why we work so much, appropriately titled: Why We Work So Much. This is something I’ve thought about for years. It seems that with the technology we’ve invented to do our work for us, we should be able to work less and enjoy life more. Back in 1930, Economist John Maynard Keynes suggested that by now we’d be working fifteen hours a week. My brother and I have often thought that a twenty hour work week would be nice. But what would I spend my extra time doing? I’d probably do more projects around the house. I really enjoy making my living space better, more comfortable, more efficient and economical. I’m in the middle of building a Murphy bed and I’m currently planning a kitchen remodel. I like doing those things. But then that’s where I have to ask myself a question: Is that work? Certainly people get paid to build furniture and remodel kitchens, and I certainly enjoy thinking about the money I’m saving by doing it myself. So if I spent less time at work, I’d use that extra time to do more work. Just a different type of work.
For me, I think work is any time I have to spend away from my family. There’s that old adage, if you find a job that you love, you’ll never work another day in your life. I really enjoy my job, but I still think of it as work. I still punch a clock. I still leave my wife and daughter to go to work. For me, that’s what makes it work. I think that’s how Coraline sees it to. Any time I spend away from her, I must be at work.
Next week I’m taking off from my clock-punching job so that I can help my brother-in-law and sister-in-law reroof their house. (We also live in their house, and my helping them with the roof is a way to pay them “rent.”) So I’m using vacation time to work on a different job. But it still feels to me like I’m taking somewhat of a vacation. Maybe just because I’m doing something different than I do when I punch the clock, or maybe because I get to spend this time with my family, working on the roof together. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I’m looking forward to some time off from work.