I often wonder what I do every day. How is it that the weeks fly by? I talked about this in an earlier post, about what it means to lead a useful, productive life. A big part of this is connected to my at home work, otherwise known as the home office. I actually have a mostly dedicated room for my office. We have two rooms on the first floor in the back of the house. I selflessly gave the larger room to my husband, which he quickly filled with multiple shelving units, file cabinets, tables, and file boxes. In my “office” I have a futon couch on one side for guests, and on the other a small antique desk, a bookshelf, and two Container Store cubes topped with office organizers. The space is so small I had to replace my desk lamp with a floor lamp because I knocked the lamp off one day trying to get something off the bookshelf.
Despite my tongue in cheek description, this space is actually cozy, functional, and relatively uncluttered. The top of my desk does get covered with papers quickly, and I often get behind with my filing. Ok, so who likes to file? The walls are painted a soothing shade of medium blue, I have two windows, and if I get tired I can lie down on the couch. I also have two lovely Indian carpets in light colors. So what am I missing?
I don’t actually spend much time in my office. My desk is small and my chair is also small and not that comfortable. I like to sit in the kitchen and look out over the deck. I also like to sit in the living room and listen to the sounds of the pond gurgling. Where is the office? Where does work get done?
Perhaps the real question is, for someone who doesn’t have an office, what does it mean to work at home? In a sense I am always working at home. I walk the dog and make breakfast, and read the paper. I do errands and pay bills and keep up with people via email. I manage my finances, and look after some of my parent’s affairs. I plan vacations and weekend day trips and rake leaves. I watch webinars and engage in volunteer activities and coaching. In the fun category, I read and knit, explore new places, and try out local restaurants. Is any of this work? It takes effort to get these things done. I do research and write and reply to emails. If you asked me how many hours a week I spend working I am not sure how I would answer.
What is my work worth?
In the office we measure work by things like completing tasks, accomplishing goals, and demonstrating improvement. We are rewarded with compliments, pay bonuses, and bigger jobs. This is the public side of work. We never question these rewards. Are people happy with them? What if instead of a bonus we got a week off from work? Or a longer lunch hour? We value these rewards because they are an acceptable and positive way to show that your presence is valued. We are so used to these forms of reward as a way to validate our worth that without them we may feel worthless. I have had jobs where my boss regularly thanked me and told me “good job” and others where this was a rarity. Did I perform better in one job than the other?
Perhaps a better question is to consider what the office represents. It forms a vivid reminder that I still have a working life ahead of me. I no longer receive the public face of work: the paycheck, the praise, the bonuses. Instead I get my value from supporting organizations that make a positive impact, and by giving my time to volunteer work. I feel very fortunate to be able to live outside the office and still make a contribution. My office exists everywhere I do. It is the place where new ideas germinate and old ones flourish. My office reminds me that I still have work to do. It binds me to the outside world and nudges me to look inward. I spent my working years growing as a leader, building teams and executing strategy. If at the same time I became a better person it was an accident. No one ever wrote in my performance review that I should be kinder and more generous, or suggested that I should be a better listener or more humble.
As we approach Thanksgiving I am reminded that wherever we live today, we should cherish what we have and the people we have in our lives. I encourage you to get outside the office and take up the work you still have left to do.