For most of us, that word is a sucker-punch to the gut, capable of provoking miserable groans, slumped shoulders and heavy steps, especially on an innocent Sunday evening. This was my experience of work for many years, despite my efforts to give it all I’ve got and focus on the golden moments. Work drained the life out of me.
Yet, in my experience as a Montessori teacher, I understood its significance to being human.
Through work, my three to six year-olds realized their potential. They chopped vegetables for snack time. They watered the plants and arranged flowers, taking ownership of the environment. Puzzle maps were deconstructed and labeled as they discovered the continents and countries. Six year-olds led sound games with the three year-olds using sandpaper letter boards. They negotiated floor space to make room for each and every rug housing the colored beads used in solving addition problems. And the art easel never saw a solitary minute. The room buzzed with work. Every day.
We called this action work. It was how the children participated in the life of the classroom. Work became associated with exploration and creation. Through work, a child lost himself in the bubbles while scrubbing a table. Through work, a child mastered the lines of the letter ‘f’. Maria Montessori said, “The child becomes a person through work.” Work is how we realize ourselves as well. It is our participation in the world. Work is not meant to be such a nasty word, but one that brings us to life.
Now, each step along the way may not be easy or enjoyable. Some work may be far less than satisfactory—or frankly, it may be soul sucking. Thank goodness it’s not about the kind of work you do. It’s about who you are when you do it. When you understand that you become who you are through work, then work becomes an end in itself. You are committed to showing up for its own sake.
At the moment, there are some parts of my experience I’d rather not have to deal with. There are days when I don’t want to step on the elevator and travel 31 stories up into the air. But I want to be the person who shows up. I understand what work can do to a person. The least I can do is give work the chance to do its work in me. Like the children caught up in the wonder of writing their first story, I can give myself over with the same commitment to the task at hand.
Do the work.