Within a 36-hour period I had three perspectives on the role of work in one’s life.
Coming up the Alleghany Mountains on my motorcycle, I saw an amazing vista that went for miles. I quickly turned my bike around and pulled off to the side of the road next to an unmanned bike that looked like a version of what Peter Fonda rode in the movie Easy Rider. Quickly, the friend I was traveling with pulled his bike up alongside mine.
As I got off, I saw a tall, lanky man in straight-leg jeans and black motorcycle boots turn from watching the grand vista and begin walking back up to the bike that I had parked alongside. We exchanged pleasantries, then he said to my friend, “I haven’t put more than 300 miles on my bike this year. I just needed to get up here to get perspective.”
“What perspective did you get?”
“I am working too hard,” he said with certainty.
He climbed up onto his shiny chopper, fired it up, and raced up the road and over the horizon with the checkered bandana around his head flapping in the wind.
Later, we came upon a tiny town with no more than four stop signs, a few shops, and what looked like one restaurant. We made our way to the café, located in an old home atop a hill. On the front porch were a few rocking chairs looking out over the town. We pulled open the creaky screen door to find the place bustling with locals and other travelers who were just passing through. After we ordered and got our food, the owner, a woman in her late forties with a shirt embroidered with the café’s name, “Brick House Café and Deli,” came to check on how the meal was.
She said, “You came during a big media week. We have been featured on Rachael Ray and in a couple of newspapers.”
“How long have you owned the place?” I asked.
“Just a few years. Both my husband and I had corporate jobs in Philadelphia when we got ‘rightsized’ out. We both looked at each other and said if we were going to work this hard we might as well work for ourselves. So we looked on the Internet and found this place. The rest is history,” she said.
A few days later I was with a volunteer in Detroit who had just gotten back from the Kentucky Derby. I told her the story about the guy getting perspective from looking out over the vista and concluding he was working too hard.
She said, “I think of it differently. There I was sitting at the Kentucky Derby with a drink in my hand, a cigar in another, watching one of the best sporting events in the world, and I thought to myself: ‘THIS is why I work!’”
Work helps all of us meet many of the responsibilities we have: kids, food, rent or mortgage, insurance…etc. However in my view, regardless of the occupation, those who are happiest are clear about the role of work in their lives. For me, my work is the way to meet my family responsibilities and fulfill a calling. I happen to find great meaning and purpose through my work. It isn’t much more complex than that. For others, work is a means to an end whether it is family obligations or allowing the pursuit of a passion. What is most important is to make sure there is clarity on why one is working. Work without clarity can become a heavy weight.
I think it stopping at a vista to get perspective is an important thing to do. One question we can all ask is “Why do I work?”