reflections on work
On meaningful labor and pleasure in the gig economy
“Wait, how many jobs do you have?” My colleague then proceeded to count the ones they were aware of, both of us laughing as they reached a final number. This moment has become a surprisingly common occurrence—in part because I have boundaries and thus sometimes it takes a while for folks to discover the full picture of my working life, but also because, I think, people tend to expect non-students to settle into a one-job life relatively quickly after graduation. Anyone who tracks working trends, of course, knows that this is not true of folks who are largely under-30, regardless of expectations to the contrary.
It is no secret that I’m good at finding side gigs. While it’s certainly a bad habit that can easily take up too much of my time, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it looks like to intentionally structure life in around such a diverse set of communities, goals, and responsibilities. There are always things at the core that don’t change: my baptismal vows, my ordination vows, my full-time work, my chosen family. But around the periphery is a constellation of consulting and part-time work, passion projects, and hobbies.
In fact, you could say that all of this array of shifting projects alongside my core commitments is, in fact, a series of hobbies that nurture different parts of me and my pluralistic vocation.
One of my favorite shows that most of my friends are sick of hearing about is The Repair Shop, where expert craftspeople in the UK restore treasured antiques. And one of the loveliest things about this show is hearing the stories that people tell of their loved ones who made or found or inherited a beloved item. One of the themes I keep hearing is how a piece of art was created by a person who worked in a completely different industry. Perhaps it’s a wooden chest, or a small mechanical toy, created over weekends and during time off. And seeing the heart and soul poured into these items by the original maker is a reminder to me, however small, that it is good and valuable to have an array of joys and avocations.
Of course, the danger of all of this is that our capitalist system might dictate that every part of our lives needs to be about hustling and making money and climbing ladders. As someone who grew up working class, I can never quite get away from my need to make ends meet, to pay back the debt for education that would have otherwise been out of my reach, to use some gigs to fund the hobbies that don’t pay for themselves. And there are other factors—one very important conversation that I’ve recently seen happening is how challenging it is for a person who is not partnered to assume all of the standard living expenses that most expect to share between two (working) people.
For me, I am finding it less urgent to try and *make it* to a job that will sustain a certain standard of living in a certain area that will be my only job. Let’s be fair—I don’t think that everything I do needs to be a money-making venture, but I also don’t think that my full-time work will (ever) satisfy all of my expansive vocation. This ends up looking like, in practice, a delicate balance of my core commitments, side gigs, and passion projects. Some weeks, I find the balance between all of those things, and other weeks are taken up by a particular work project, or by my need for rest and indulging in friendship and cooking or gardening.
While I don’t think this approach to life works for everybody, I find a great deal of joy in it right now. There are obviously some fields where this is more possible—for me, my balance depends on having a relatively boundaried full-time job with benefits that is academia-adjacent which demands exactly 40 hours a week. Other full-time jobs obviously require more hours, and a less predictable schedule. While my part-time work is fulfilling, not all part-time jobs are.
Ultimately, I think the point of this essay is to suggest that rest and self-care and not-working-too-much isn’t really dictated by the number of projects that one takes on, but where all of these pieces fit into life, and where they sit in balance with one’s core commitments. With care, intention, and a great many boundaries, it is possible to enjoy the richness of a pluralistic vocation—both in work and play and rest. Perhaps we can continue to work to reflect this nuance in the many ways that we talk about meaningful work and busyness, and avoid reducing ‘work’ and ‘self-care’ into mutually exclusive terms which never really get at what we mean by these things anyways.
Wishing you a good and gracious Monday, as you reflect on your vocation, and as we continue to consider what is truly necessary during this Lenten season.
Happening this Week
i. Lots of gardening! Saturday was a group effort of getting the neighborhood gardening bed ready, and seeding some cool-weather leafy greens. This week I’ll be seed starting and probably being slightly too hopeful about what will fit in the garden this summer.
ii. This weekend ended up being an unexpected beach weekend (thanks to a friend who graciously invited me to crash their beach vacation!). Today, I’m giving thanks for rest, the mighty force of the natural world (“planets in their courses”, etc), and the ability to work remotely.
iii. No publications, but finishing up some projects, so more to come from my various platforms soon.
iv. Finished up The Lake District Murder by John Bude this weekend—another solid read from the British Library Crime Classics series.