The real ‘real’ work

I want to be free from the considerations of my conditions, from the restrictions of my impairments. But I cannot rely on this, or wait for this, or even expect this. I know this. I remind myself again, to instead do the best I can do within these limitations, within these bounds. I have to adjust again (continually), alter, and change my expectations, my mindset.

To wish for something else would be like the duck wishing it could sing like the magpie, all the while ignoring the fact that it can swim. I can’t sing like a magpie, or swim, or fly for that matter- but I can write and so I do.

I wanted to go back to work. That is what’s prompted this writing, this reflection. I wanted to get an ordinary job. One where you get paid to be there for a certain number of hours. One where you have a clear role to do and tasks to complete. I wanted to (want to) return again to the legions of the gainfully employed. To be so typical, so normal. I hold this (being employed and having a ‘real’ job) up as a symbol- a sign that I am well enough, that I am functioning within normal and expected parameters. But truthfully, I am not. In my mind, my psyche, I have attached layers of meaning to work- they are not all true and it is time for me to tear some of them down. Time for me to free myself from them, to free myself from my restrictive and internalised prejudices and beliefs about work, value, and worth.

Sitting and sifting through my feelings I found the following biases and false beliefs

  • That paid work equals real work
  • That not having work means you are not trying hard enough, or working hard enough
  • That to be successful you need to have a good job and an income
  • That having a job equals being worthy

Now I know that these beliefs are not correct- I know that they are flawed- yet still they pull at me. Pricking at my skin creating feelings of disappointment and shame.

I started my recent job search eager, and keen, but also cautious. Wondering how I could do it, if I could do it. Pull off having a job that required me to sit up at a desk, to talk with people, to attend meetings, to leave the house, to perform.

But I wanted to do it, to earn an income yes, but also to help me feel better about myself. I saw it as a chance again participate in the role I am comfortable with- that of employee. I also saw it as a chance to challenge, to push for flexible working hours, to encourage adjustments in workplaces. To make a space for myself to belong, to work. I thought I could do it, and I thought it was the right thing to do. But now I realise I was mistaken.

I didn’t realise it when I recently started looking for work, but I think I part of why I wanted to get a job was to help silence those beliefs and to stop those twinges of self-doubt and guilt that I have about not being in the paid workforce. Rather than spending my efforts and limited energy on trying to get/ keep/ maintain a job, I realise I am better off challenging and hopefully changing this false perception that I (and so many others have) that paid work is ‘real work’ and inherently more valuable or worthy than other work I may do.

I am a writer- I remind myself again- that occupies me, consumes my spare energy, and takes my focus and time. Writing is work. What if I didn’t write though, would I still be just as worthy, just as valid? Surely I would be. And what if I wasn’t sick, what then? So many people, for a multitude of reasons are not in the paid workforce- some by choice, some not. Does it matter, should it matter- no- a sense of self-worth should not depend on a wage, or on what we produce, or do. But surely it should be about how we live, our kindness, compassion, our integrity.

It does help though, that I can say that I write. It helps me push against the creeping doubt, the unhelpful beliefs. But still it’s hard. Why, because it is unpaid, and unrecognised? Maybe- the clue could be in the language that I use, speaking in economic terms, with references to the dollar value- self-worth/ worthy, valuable/ valued, paid/unpaid. What other language can I use, what words can I find to capture more accurately, to embody more wholly the sense of self I speak of- is it self-belief, or perhaps pride that I am talking about.

Writing about work makes me look at what I might rightly, or wrongly tie my sense of self-worth to.  Do I tie it to things that are worthy, good, meaningful and important?  Important to whom, to you or to me? What really do I feel proud of, and why? Perhaps it is just about doing the best I can do to be the person I hope to be. With or without a defined job, or role, with or without a wage, with or without an illness. After all, these are things can and will come and go, change and shift.

In writing this I also find myself reflecting on the many disadvantages people face in entering the workforce: gender, culture, disability, race, health, sexuality, level of education, or responsibilities at home. Paid work is not equally available and accessible to all- so it is neither fair nor logical to use it as a marker of value, or worth, or pride.

I know that working can help us feel good about ourselves though. And when I am well enough I’m sure I will relish the chance to participate in employment once more. But it is easy I think, to mistake having pride in what we do, with having pride in who we are. These things are, I believe different, one is about what we produce, or how we spend our time, and the other is more subtle. Pride in who we are is about something inherently us- something that exists without the trappings of roles, or jobs, or activity. This pride is more elusive- but I do believe it is real. And maybe tapping into this self-pride, is just important and worthy enough to be counted as the real ‘real’ work.


3 thoughts on “The real ‘real’ work

  1. Dear Jo

    Just read your latest blog which so reaspontates with me. All those rather odd ideas about what work is valuable and what is not. Have you read Marilyn Waring’s book – Counting for Nothing? If not it is probably good to have alook

    I hope you have a really great support network and i thought I would just say if you ever wanted to come into Borderlands and have a cuppa and chat please do. Just let me know which day to make sure I am around as I do not go in every day

    Much love and hugs Lesley

    Warm regards Lesley Shuttleworth Chairperson & Program Co-ordinator Borderlands Cooperative Limited

    e-mail: Phone 9819 3439 or 9819 3239 Mobile: 0428 488 215 website:

    “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” – Ernest Hemingway


  2. I have found myself debating this question with myself too. And for me I miss the relationships you build at work with your colleagues.

    I was always the “social butterfly” wherever I worked. I might not be as close to some groups as I was others, but I would still be involved with them. My network would be huge. But I never really realised that…. until I had to give up my career. Now I rarely see anyone, and I’m frightened to because I don’t have anything to say. My life isn’t interesting so I have nothing noteworthy to talk about.

    So for me it’s the social dynamics of the working life that I miss most.


    1. Social isolation is very real isn’t it, and it is hard when your world becomes so much smaller to know what to say to people. I’ve started going to rehab recently and chatting to the other patients at the gym, just for a few minutes before appointments has helped me to feel more connected again.

      Liked by 1 person

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