Why Work Matters: 10 Reasons to Celebrate Labor Day

Don’t ever look down on somebody who rides the bus to the end of the line.

Posted Aug 27, 2018

  1. Just as every great job has a terrible hidden cost, every terrible job has a wonderful, if small or secret, payoff. My husband worked at a deli when he was in high school and while he hated standing on his feet seven hours a day cutting fatty meats and cleaning the floor when the day was over, he was able to eat well for the first time in his life. I did inventory at Barnes and Noble when it was just one big bookstore in Manhattan. It was long before computerized inventories: we wrote titles down on small slips of paper and went to the warehouse to retrieve the corresponding books. It was then I learned new novels had a shorter shelf life than Snickers bars. Let’s say it changed the focus of my literary ambitions. Working at a bookstore was as important for my training as a writer as getting a Ph.D.—and I even got a discount on the textbooks.
  2. My friend Heidi gave birth to her daughter on Labor Day. She tends to take things literally.
  3. A lot of people who really need the day off have to work on Labor Day. If you work in retail, for example, you’ll be told to show up on Labor Day because it’s one of America’s biggest cash-earners. If you know how to run a register and/or deal non-violently with customers who say “Whaddya mean, I might need a different size? I’m a 6. I’ve always been a 6. This is clearly mislabeled. I want to speak to your manager,” you’ll be told to be there for a double-shift.
  4. Every young person should have had a job for an extended period of time where he or she needs to show up on time, in clean clothes, fully sober, wide-awake, in a convincingly cheerful mood (faking it is fine—nobody cares what your real mood is because it’s not about you) and prepared to complete whatever task is assigned. This is not about being exploited; this is about learning how to separate your public life from your private life. It can be done at a factory, at a not-for-profit, at a supermarket, in the armed services or a roller-rink. The idea is to learn to slough off the whiny self that moans “I don’t feeeeeeeeel like doing this today.”
  5. Just because you dance around your house doesn’t mean you’re a dancer. I’m sorry. It means you’re somebody who loves dancing and perhaps, with training and discipline and an audience, you could become a dancer. But being part of the guild entails being consistently evaluated by others in your field and having your work publicly displayed over time. I brush my teeth two or three times a day, but that doesn’t make me a “dental practitioner.” I made a lanyard once, but I’m not a “weaver.” When it comes to talent and achievement, it takes more than a dream to make your wishes become your work.
  6. Speaking of dreams: We’re told you should follow your dreams and become financially independent–as if these two were compatible. Building a career based primarily on your inner-promptings without establishing a structure upon which your economic security can rest is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater but grasping the rubber duck: not smart. Figure out how to make your rent and pay your bills. Don’t pick the world’s pocket in order to finance your dream. Better to be awake and find your true, necessary vocation.
  7. Just because your work is arduous doesn’t mean it isn’t futile. Sometimes it’s not good to be your own boss.
  8. You can’t “Retire Before You’re Thirty!” any more than you can “Age With Dignity Before You’re Twenty-Two!” That’s just silly talk.
  9. There’s no “Owner’s Day” for the same reason there no “Men’s History Month.”
  10. There are people who labor their whole lives but are never rewarded with success. Not every dog has its day; some simply work their tails off. Don’t ever look down on a man or a woman who holds a job and rides the bus to the end of the line.