After a recent trip to Africa, I have been thinking a lot about the value of work. I have been thinking about why we work and what work really means. Personally, I try not to let my work become my sole identity, although, I know that is very difficult, especially when we spend so much time doing what we do. I also think that work cannot be just about the money, because many of us deserve much more than we earn for the work we do. It is nice to have a regular income and financial independence, which might be more than enough reason for someone to take a job, but there are many other benefits of working.
Doing a good job helps us to contribute positively to society, meet new people, feel valued and keep active. Work involves the use of energy – some jobs are more mentally challenging, physically demanding or both. Work can be paid or unpaid, and I believe that voluntary/unpaid work can be just as satisfying if we put in our best. There has been a lot of praise in recent years for stay-at-home parents and the amazing work they do raising children and managing the home. This is not to say that parents that work outside their homes do not raise their children or manage their homes too, but there seems to be more expected from stay-at-home parents in this area. There are also many people who have sacrificed fancy careers and job prospects to do charity work and volunteer in places that cannot afford to pay them well. Whatever job we do, it is worth taking time out to reflect on why we are doing it and what it really means to us.
We will all have seasons of life where we need to take a break, recuperate or even slow down to re-strategize. In fact, everyone needs a break from time to time, and I believe it is best to plan those breaks, rather than waiting till we break down with exhaustion and have to stop. I am always so grateful for Christmas week because it forces most of us to slow down or stop. I have to admit that I sometimes find it hard to ‘do nothing’, so I find it useful to plan a relaxing or social activity for my breaks. Rest is good, but it becomes a problem when it is our permanent state – before death! Even the human body shows us that we lose what we do not use. Our muscles, brain and talents work better when we use them.
It really breaks my heart to see people being idle and wasting the precious time we have on earth. You could decide to blame the government, your circumstances and everyone else for lack of good jobs, but the only person you can blame for idleness is yourself. You do not need anyone’s permission to do something useful with your life. I have been very inspired over the years by people with physical and/or mental challenges who choose to see beyond the excuses and do whatever they can to contribute to society. It may not be a well-paying, first choice or glamorous job, but they choose to use their functioning limb, mind, ‘good days’ or talent to do something good. There is always someone in a worse situation than ours. If we decide to stop focusing on our own challenges, we just might be able to find a way to help others with whatever ability or time we have.
I was so sad to hear how hard it is to get local volunteers to help out in the deprived school I visited, when there are so many ‘jobless’ young and retired people in the country. Even if money has now become the motivation for many, doing voluntary work might help us see different needs in society to inspire ideas for viable businesses. Could it be that we do not truly understand the value of work and service, or is there a lack of drive, humility and/or compassion?
I know there are so many of us doing the best we can everyday and wishing we could do more, but I hope that this inspires anyone who has somehow slipped into a lazy mindset to look around them and find something useful to do this year. Whether we work at home, or outside the home, we should aim for excellence in all we do. We just might find that when we decide to serve and help others, we will actually be helping ourselves. Find something worth doing, and do it well.
Afiniki Akanet is the author of Life Without Coffee (Choosing Happiness Over Stress) and founder of Forte Charity for Inspiration. Afiniki.co.uk