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Reflections on Work and Labor Day

Here I am working hard at signing books, in this case, Rock Climbing Arizona, at Falcon Guides booth at the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City in August 2004. We gave away a lot of books during those busy days.

Last week was Labor Day. A celebration of the worker, the worker who is all of us, the worker within us. The worker bee, the cog in the machine, the essential worker. The people that do the work that others do not want to do. It’s a time when we should be thinking about all of those workers, as well as the work we do in our lives.

Questions of work: Do we work to live? Or live to work? Would we rather pursue a life of leisure and pleasure? Is our work our life’s work? Or is it merely a way to make money to do the things that we would rather be doing? Is our work so absorbing and so much a part of ourselves that it ceases to be work but instead helps define who we are? When does work we love to do cease to be work?

When I think on these things, I consider the thoughts of the Dalai Lama: “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

For me, life and work are intertwined. Work is essential to who I am.

My father worked hard to provide for us, his family, my mother, and us six children. I know he wanted to do something else with his life besides lay bricks and later be a successful contractor, but his obligation as a father required that he work. And work he did. He emigrated to America after serving five years in the RAF in World War II to provide a better life for his family and give his children the opportunities for a better education and life than he had as a young person. He worked, and I never saw him complain, although I am sure he was unhappy with his lot. I learned from my father that work was essential.

For me, I have worked my whole life. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon tucked into my cheek, but instead, I learned the value of work and the value of hard-earned cash. I started working for my father when I was 14 on summer vacation, doing odd jobs on his job sites; cleaning bricks with acid, moving bricks and blocks, learning how to set up scaffolding, and the secret formulas for making mortar. He paid me a buck-fifty an hour and didn’t ride my skinny ass. He also gave me time off to go climb mountains and rocks and go to scout summer camp. Years later I was in the bricklayer’s union as an apprentice for a year and found that that work was not my life work. For one thing, too damn back-breaking. Working a sort of mindless job, however, had its benefits, like unlimited time to think on lofty things and daydream about other things.

The main thing that I learned about work is that I’m not cut out to work for other people, to work under the thumb, to work for a boss, or have to answer to The Man. Instead, I’ve worked since the late 1970s as a freelance writer and photographer, in between stints of doing what has to be done to eat and survive.

And, of course, I wrote, wrote, wrote. Hundreds of articles about everything under the sun from climbing and camping to business profiles and parenting advice. Maybe a million words, probably more. I wrote and mailed a lot of query letters and proposals, always with a SASE. I’ve been sorting my old papers lately and last week I came across an inch-thick file folder filled with rejection letters. Ironically, some of those rejections were from publishers passing on books that I later wrote for Falcon Guides, some now in fifth and sixth editions.

We Become What We Dream. Those five words have been my mantra, both for life and work, all of my years. Dreams of both work and pleasure are intertwined in those words.

The first step to doing anything is having a Dream. Only then can you begin to actualize the Dream, make positive steps towards fulfilling that Dream, and perhaps in doing that you can begin to fulfill your destiny as a person. A lot of success is believing in yourself and your talents and always pushing forward, always asking questions, always writing and shooting photographs, or doing what is important to you. Not to anyone else, but to you alone. You can't listen to the nay-sayers.

And now, when my peers are retiring from the workforce, I feel in many ways that I am just beginning. Every day I feel that I am starting anew, that yesterday is dead and gone and tomorrow is just a hazy dream and that today is the only day that counts. Words to write. Deadlines to meet. Manuscripts to edit. Photographs to make.

Right now, I can't wait for tomorrow. What am I going to do? Sit and write in the morning? Take a hike up my pandemic peak as the snow begins to fall in the afternoon? When you don't answer to The Man, time, the most precious of all, is your own.

I’m not done laboring yet. Hold those horses, pardner, I ain’t riding into that smokey sunset, yet.


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