It’s interesting how something can be on your mind and then you find that others have been thinking about it too. I’m not the only one who has been reflecting on work! In the early days at Samunnat I’d often ask the ladies if they were enjoying their work. Always, they said. It was new and exciting and we were learning, chatting while we worked, playing with new ideas. Then as things progressed and we were making hundreds of the same kind of bead, bowing to market choices, working to deadlines, discussing overtime rates, I worried that it would seem repetitive, boring…work like. I wanted them to be able to Do What They Loved.
But my initial enthusiasm about notions like Do what you love didn’t fit with my experience of reality. When I was in paid employment, I loved my job, but there were days when it was tough…busy, draining, boring, repetitive, frustrating and stressful. I had to accept that there would be days a bit like that for us at Samunnat too. I knew that the people breaking rocks on the side of the road, or porters carrying loads on a trek did not find creative fulfilment in their work. Being terrifically creatively fulfilled at work is a luxury reserved for a select few. If everyone was to Do What They Loved it means there should be people who LOVE stacking shelves, cleaning toilets, doing crap jobs to keep the wheels of society turning. As James Shelley says You can only do what you love as long as someone else makes sure the toilet isn’t backing up.
I also realised that sometimes, emphasising to people that they love their work makes them very vulnerable to exploitation. Early on, the ladies would offer to work extras days because they loved what they did. We said that loving what you do doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect a fair day’s pay. You work and you get paid fairly. Loving what you do is a bonus and does not mean you get paid less or should do more than you are paid for or is reasonable to expect. The ladies love that they have a job they can do with dignity. They love that they can create something beautiful and earn an income from it. For them, work is work. It is fulfilling and creative but essentially, and this is the priority for them, it feeds their families and educates their kids.
For a while when we returned from Nepal I felt like a failure that I wasn’t earning a living from my art. Perhaps I wasn’t loving it enough? It is almost embarrassing how much of a relief it was when James Dillehay suggested that my income did not have to derive from my art. I wish I had read this earlier too:
Do what you love is great advice if we interpret it as, “Make sure you make time for the things that matter to you.” If you love writing, make time to write. But please: Do what you love regardless of whether it’s your career.
Because writers [or creators of any kind], it’s okay to make art that doesn’t contribute to your bottom line. And it’s okay to pay the bills via work that just pays the bills. Meanwhile, make sure you’re also doing what you love.
(At first glance the accompanying photos of my latest discovery for the Colourful Journey might seem totally unrelated to the content of the post but the people working here at a nearby Nepali lokta paper making business were happy to show me around. Slightly surprised by my interest but happy enough. Some of these people make 600 sheets of paper a day each and I doubt that this is particularly creatively fulfilling. They are relieved when the sheet of paper turns out well, they were pleased that I like it and proud, but most of all, they were glad they had a job where they had a steady income, where a husband and wife could both be employed and where their kids could potter around nearby. They had a job where they worked decent hours and were able to do the other stuff that keeps a Nepali family chugging along. The observant reader will notice a fire in the background. The entire village ran to the scene, one man carrying bucket of water. Eventually, a good 20 minutes later, a fire truck arrived. The first I’d seen in the country. By then the fire was basically out but it was good to know they existed.)