Since Covid-19, some people enjoy the variety of working from home.  They feel better about the “drudgery factor” related to their daily job.

In a recent survey from getAbstract the majority of respondents said they’d like to continue at-home work, at least part-time, even after their offices open back up.

When you work from home and you’re tired hunched over a computer, you can stretch out on the couch for a ten (thirty?) minute nap.  During my career as a high school English teacher, I didn’t have the luxury of working from home–and like many teachers I had a tendency to overwork.

I became wall-eyed from grading student papers.  I’d spend hours editing their writing.  I suffered through one inspired metaphor after another: “Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.”  

My friend Ed, who was the school psychologist, noticed how drawn and fatigued I looked.  He was very philosophical about work and working. “Chop wood, carry water,” Ed told me sitting in his office. “That’s what most jobs are about–tasks that have to be done.”  At the time, this sounded like Buddhist bunkum and I told Ed so, but he just smiled. How could he compare my educational career to chopping wood and carrying water?  I made a difference.  I was significant.  Besides, teaching required skills.

Ed’s comment about wood-chopping seemed so demeaning, I wanted to argue with him that many people felt passionate and fulfilled by their jobs.  What’s the meme you hear from people who love their work?  I can’t believe I get paid to do this.  They have trouble retiring because they can’t imagine a meaningful existence without going to work.

Later, I realized Ed was just trying to encourage me to pace myself more, and keep my career as an educator in perspective.  But I never forgot his phrase “chop wood, carry water.” I now think I underestimated this idea.  Whether you work from an office or at home, whether you’re a bank president or a welder, no doubt your job is comprised of several repetitive, menial tasks like filling out paperwork or sharpening your tools.

When I think about it, most of the work I’ve done in my life has been chopping wood and carrying water. How many beds have I made, dishes have I washed, and meals have I prepared in a life time? I spent way more time doing these kinds of activities than breakthrough research on why Johnny still can’t write a decent metaphor.  And actually, it’s the simple tasks of living that helped me learn to be more accepting and patient with the difficult work I later did as a teacher.

Some people are actually happier doing mindless, wood-chopping work.  And others risk getting burned-out performing work that requires passionate intensity.  My friend Steve was a postman for more than thirty years delivering mail on the same routes over and over again, but he liked his job because he said it wasn’t taxing: he didn’t have to think.  Mike, on the other hand, a gifted woodcraft artist, abruptly quit carving wood last year and moved to Seattle.  His comment: “The art took too much out of me and frankly, I began to dread it.”

Working from home is nothing new. We’ve all done this for years, we’ve just never acknowledged the importance of home work before.  So, during this pandemic my best words of advice:  chop wood, carry water, stay calm, and carry on!


Image credit:  grading student papers        Image credit:  chopping wood 


3 thoughts on “Home Work: Nothing to Grumble About

  1. When I get burned out with various types of intellectual work, my go-to routine job to fantasize about is painting walls. I love the zen of mind-numbing work at times, but that would likely change if I had to do such work full time.

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