Everything is not my job…

I have this thing I do where I assign myself tasks. Jobs. I talked it about it before when I wrote about my blog’s anniversary and how I am always mindful to not make the blog a JOB. I’ve been good about that so far as the blog, but I had to keep the thought in mind; otherwise I slip there too easily. My nature is: “I must,” “I should,” “I better.”

I expect a lot of people live like this, with a list of things in their minds that have to get done. That should get done. That they either are, or feel responsible for. When I was young, in my early twenties and on my own, someone once said to me that life, in his theory, was 25% maintenance. I was impressed. I’d never thought of it like that. Now I think the figure is too low. Because really, when you consider that most people work at jobs in service of maintaining the other aspects of their lives (exempting those people who truly love their jobs – all 18 of them), you’d be including the paid work in addition to all the other tasks one must do to maintain a life.

What I’m talking about, naturally, is maintaining a good life, because sure enough, lots of people don’t do all these maintaining type activities. They don’t work or they don’t take care of themselves, or they live in chaos and squalor. They let things go. It isn’t pretty. We have all seen it. Their homes are in disrepair. Their bodies are in disrepair. Their children are in disrepair. It’s a mess. And we/I think: Jeez-o-flip, I’m glad I don’t live like THAT. Things aren’t THAT bad. And I don’t EVER want to live like that.

People will say, some of them anyway, that these types of “jobs” or “maintenance” or “tasks” aren’t important. It’s just better to enjoy life and if things don’t get done, oh well. They say a happy family is better than a clean house. Or partying with your friends is more important than looking for a job. Stuff like that. I get that we all have different standards, different priorities, but I look sideways at people who live and say things like this; I don’t entirely believe them. Do they really feel okay with a life in disarray?

But back to me. I walk around looking for jobs to assign myself. Oh sure, that’s not a conscious thought. But when I’m honest I see that’s what I do. Out in the world and in my own quarters. Why is everything my job? I ask myself this. I don’t always have an answer. And what do I mean anyway? I mean that I see things that need to get done, or that I think need to get done. And tell myself to get on it. These aren’t necessarily BIG things (like getting a Master’s or traveling to Italy or running for office or starting a business) but it isn’t the size of them that I’m really referencing here but the perspective.

Earlier this year I put this note on my mirror (I since took it down):

IMG_20170116_085058_kindlephoto-5471828

Maybe some people look around and think “wow things are great”, or think nothing at all. I look around and notice things that should be done. I don’t want to say this is entirely a BAD trait. I’m conscientious, I follow through, I’m reliable. I’d say I’m “proactive” but that’s not true across the board so let’s forget that one.

I have considered whether I do things so that other people might think or say, “isn’t that nice, look what she’s doing”? And the honest answer is no, it isn’t for other people’s eyes. In fact, I do things despite other people watching, despite a certain degree of self consciousness at times (one that has lessened with age and experience). The standards I am shooting for are my own, they are internal.

To be fair, the standards in my head were no doubt shaped by my mother. My mother saw life as an endless series of jobs. It was all work to her. She (along with my father) went and had herself a big family but by the time I came, she took little pleasure in said family, if she ever had (up for debate), and saw it as a huge source of work. Everything was a job. She even complained about family vacations and trips because of “all the work” she had to do to facilitate them. (Oh yes, this made everything, including trips, FUN for her offspring >>>sarcasm.)

My mother suffered. Oh, she suffered. She made sure we all knew – or at least her later children after which she had become thoroughly embittered on the business of raising a big family – how much trouble we all were. And everything about running the household – which was her primary focus (she had paid jobs mainly when we were older, but not a career per se) – were jobs. Unpalatable tasks.

The thing was she disdained pleasure and had scathing words for those who partook of it or focused on it. So it wasn’t like she’d have been whooping it up but for the big family and the work it entailed. In her view,  people who relaxed were LAZY. Children who played were lazy and spoiled. No, thankfully, she didn’t quote that saying about “idle hands” and the “devil’s workshop” but the point was clear enough.

My mother assigned herself jobs, some seemingly pointless and in fact, by the time I was a teen, I challenged her on it. God knows I’d heard her complain often enough about all the work she had to do, so I figured why shouldn’t she cut some corners? Especially insignificant ones.

One of the rare moments I ever influenced my mother stands out. We had a one floor house with a sort-of-finished basement and, eventually, a full bathroom on each floor (I remember a time when the downstairs bathroom had no shower and a curtain not a door). In the basement there was also a bedroom that was usually occupied by one or more of my brothers. But for the centipedes, crickets, and thousand-leggers who also occupied the basement, it was a pretty sweet set up. There was, in addition to the bathroom, a full size refrigerator (that always had beer in it), a TV room, a washer and dryer, and a “separate” entrance, i.e., a back door. AND it was about as far away from the fighting and chaos that was a regular household feature, as one could get and still be in the house. Not too shabby.

Anyway, my brothers didn’t use that washer and dryer, as it was my mother’s domain, and she washed the towels that were folded and stacked in the basement bathroom for my brothers’ use. She would bring said towels upstairs after washing and drying and carefully fold them on the dining room table. I’d watch this, knowing how she was, and finally said, why do you do that? It’s not necessary. To my shock, even now, after that she started just taking the bath towels out of the dryer and, skipping the hauling upstairs for careful folding routine, instead stuffing them onto the basement bathroom shelf. I couldn’t believe it, this token nod to rebellion and the easy life. It’s not like my brothers were going to care. They had clean towels that magically appeared. So what they weren’t nicely folded. (Trust me, she was never going to make them wash, dry and fold their own towels no matter how old they were.)

My mother did not teach me to look for “jobs”. No. It was obviously something I absorbed. But I took it further, out into the world with me, where she hadn’t. I think, in part, it’s because I developed a much stronger sense of self than my mother ever had, and a willingness to act if I thought it was called for.

The thing about a trait like this is that it’s been good in a lot of ways. I kind of feel like if I don’t assign myself jobs, I won’t do anything. And I get to reap (many of) the rewards of things I do. It’s when the tendency overwhelms me, when I “pile on” in my own mind that it becomes a negative force. I mean who wants to steal all the pleasure out of life? Isn’t the point of maintaining a good life so that you can step up and take the rewards too? I am surely not all-work-and-no-play. Please don’t think that. Far from it. But I am my mother’s daughter: in my unconscious mind, the rewards must be earned first. Chores come first. For me, the real task, the ongoing one, is teasing out which “jobs” really need to be done and which are manufactured in my own head. Everything is not my job.

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12 thoughts on “Everything is not my job…

  1. Anne Mehrling

    I’m trying a bit or retraining. John has a hobby that takes him away several days a month. When he is gone, I forbid myself to say, “I should. I must. I ought to.” One of these days I’m going to look forward to his going away.

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  2. Maggie Wilson

    I watched my mom work like a demon – she wasn’t a single parent of three, but she may as well have been since Dad spent his time in the cellar hide-away, unemployed. She cooked, sewed, cleaned, laundered and a dozen other chores, besides working full time.

    I resented that she enlisted the kids’ help, me more than my brothers, because women’s work you know. Plus, I was the eldest and needed the training. [eyeroll]

    Like you, I confronted her one summer when I was in my teens. I scolded her for her using her vacation time to paper the dining room walls. “When is it going to get done, if I don’t do it now?” was her reply. She had a point. But if I were able to answer her today, I’d suggest, “After you relax for a bit.” Because I think it’s just as important to program in down time as the rest of the items on the “to do” list.

    I am fortunate enough to have an industrious husband who feels like you do. He’s happiest when he can occupy himself in a meaningful way. I, on the other hand, put relaxing first. I am happy to let stuff slide – not to slobby status, but I am not as vigilant to the household tasks as he is.

    It’s funny – we always thank one another for taking care of this and that. He feels that I’m contributing equally to the load. I feel I’m taking advantage of his nature.

    A thoughtful and thought provoking post, thank you!

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      And thank you Maggie for a thoughtful, detailed reply. No doubt our mothers were both old school but there comes a point when it’s beyond the pale. I don’t think my mother would have wanted to be seen “enjoying” herself for a couple reasons.

      Girl children in our house did housework chores too. The grunt work ones my mother trusted us with anyway (but they were never done to her standard, whatever that was). You definitely got the double whammy as female and oldest. Maybe that led to wanting to not go at it so hard when you had the chance?

      That’s really nice you and your husband compliment (and complement) each other. Maybe he measures your contributions differently than you do. Sometimes we underestimate as women and don’t value as highly things – whatever they are – we’re good at or that come naturally to us.

      I so agree in the importance of downtime and it would be very misleading if it sounded otherwise. I tell myself there will always be more chores; you never catch up for good.

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  3. vanbytheriver

    We absorbed so many messages, the sense of responsibility, doing a job well, making a contribution… all becomes part of a work ethic that can serve us so well. But that is not “all there is”. It is so sad to think that you didn’t see the playful side of your mother, or if she even had one. There must be residue there from her own childhood ?

    My mother often bemoaned her life, her sense of being overwhelmed. As kids, were led to believe it was all our fault…being a mother of 6 ruined her dreams. But, thankfully, there was a part of her that surfaced, the part where she spoiled herself a bit, enjoyed her life and friends outside of that big family. I think it saved her often, and we took a lesson from that.

    The towel incident was a perfect example for you. She was willing to let things go, she just needed someone’s permission. You provided that… very perceptive of you as a teen.

    I love your post-it note. You should honor it, often.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Our mothers have similar strains for sure but yours had ambition mine lacked. My mother had a pipe dream or two that had no basis in reality (one that was nonsensical was “taking in foster children”!!). She loathed her marriage but stayed in it, kept having children because the church said to (know that I have a very low opinion on both counts…). Playful would not describe my mother but she did take some pleasure in the company of her grown kids, some anyway.

      I’m not sure I conveyed it well enough but in addition to an old school work ethic, I just took too much internal responsibility for things, starting young. I worry about stuff that is not my job or has nothing to do with me.

      Thanks for your comment; we have good conversations.

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      1. vanbytheriver

        My mom had to have surgery to stop having babies…that same church ethic that almost destroyed their marriage. My dad confided in me that when she told him she was pregnant for the 6th time…he cheated on her. It got complicated.

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          It has to be weird to have family secrets like your father’s told to you (both ever and after the fact). My father’s claim-to-fame was that he never cheated (I didn’t hear this directly so far as I recall) but given how poorly he treated his wife (she gave almost as good as she got) and kids, I don’t know that it’s saying much.

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