There is a moment that is shared with no one other than yourself. You have been given work to do. Everyone has been given a job at some point in their lives and left alone to do it. From the early days of childhood most of us experienced this through a simple request of taking rubbish to the curb. As we get older we seek employment, of course, and then are given jobs regularly. A typical work week consists of working 5 days a week. During those 5 days most of us are given a particular job to do and it is expected to be completed with a certain degree of quality and within a duration of time. That is the focus in this writing but I will come back to it. In a week, when working 5 days, we have 2 free days. We are entitled to do whatever we wish on these days. Whether or not we realize it we also typically assign ourselves jobs on these days. Washing our clothes, cleaning our car, taking our dog to the vet. There is a strong probability that at some point during these free days we carry out a job that we have given to ourselves. We give ourselves deadlines too, and just like the work week, we expect a certain degree of quality in our work. So we have two scenarios of being assigned work. 1. Being assigned work by a supervising authority. In general, we are employed by this authority. 2. Being assigned work from ourselves. In both of these situations we have a certain degree of quality of work that is expected and a time frame that it is to be carried out. For example, in taking the dog to the vet, we have to be there before they close. Many times we have other things that we have assigned ourselves that day as well, and thus we give ourselves a time-frame that we must carry out our self-assigned “work”.
Now that we have covered the assignment of our work, let’s address the quality of it. In the setting of being employed most of us strive to meet the quality that is expected. Sometimes we strive to exceed the expectations. We also try to finish the work in a time that is expected of us. We do this for several reasons, but in the end it is for one reason. We want a paycheck. Of course we would like a promotion as well. We enjoy for our efforts to be recognized, but for what reason ultimately? A larger paycheck. So we do our best or for some of us, just get by under the radar, so that we can continue receiving the paycheck. What about the work we give ourselves? Why do we try and reach the goals of quality and timeliness when we assign ourselves work? A number of reasons. The most obvious is that if we don’t get to the vet before the vet closes Fido doesn’t get his hair trimmed. Basically, we have to carry out our work within a certain amount of time or the work will not be completed due to powers beyond our control. Make it to the vet before they close or you no longer have the option of going to the vet. I think that is obvious, but I think there is more. If we don’t make it to the vet, if Fido doesn’t get his shot, than we become disappointed in ourselves. If missing the vet is an unusual circumstance, it is not a repeat occurrence that we do not make it to places that we intend to go, than we tend to go easy on ourselves. Just like our employers do. We let ourselves off the hook, but not without the firm acknowledgment that we “slipped up”. The second time is different. We might not let ourselves off the hook so easy this time. If we don’t make it to the bank to cash your paycheck before they close, along with missing Fido’s vet appointment, than we might start to analyze our lives, ourselves, and begin the long and stressful journey of “figuring out what is wrong”. In short, we beat ourselves up and soon we need to place blame on something. “I just don’t have enough time.” “If I didn’t have that dog than I wouldn’t have to go to the vet. Then I could make it to the bank.” I think it is clear that there are reasons we place a degree of quality and timeliness on the work we give ourselves. When we meet our expectations we remain confident and positive about ourselves. When we don’t, we don’t.
Now for a bit of twist. There is a third kind of work and this one is a bit peculiar. This is the type of work that is given to us by someone without any expectation. There is no degree of quality and there no time of completion that it is expected, more specifically the job isn’t even expected for you to complete. For instance, you are at a friends house. Your friend is typing a hand written paper onto the computer for school. Suddenly your friend is called to pick up their spouse who is having car trouble. Your friend tells you that they will return in a moment, but before leaving they express the importance of the paper. Dusk is approaching and your friend tells you that if you feel like it you can help out with some of the paper that needs to be copied. If your up for it, continue where they left off. They leave in good spirits and the door closes as they leave. Now you know this person pretty well, and they tell you that if you don’t feel like typing the paper it is no big deal and you know that it is no big deal because of the level of your friendship. You are totally off the hook if you don’t want to do the paper and you know it. Here you have been assigned some work with no expectations being placed on you to complete it. You have some obvious options. 1. Do nothing. 2. Help a little, but only enough to feel good because you “helped”. 3. Type the rest of the paper while your friend is gone. You make your choice. The paper either gets closer to completion, doesn’t, or gets finished. Your friend remains your friend regardless. If you help with the paper they are moved by the gesture, however something else happens, and it happens to you.
Let’s say you decide not to do the paper. You continue to watch tv at your friends house until they get back. They do finally return and everything is fine. Nothing happens. Everything goes on as usual. What if you choose to do a little bit of the paper? You thought, “Hey this is a really good friend of mine and I should help them out.” Or maybe you would feel guilty if you didn’t help and so you do just enough to ensure that you rid yourself of any chance of guilt. After a little of work on the paper you go back to watching tv. Your friend comes home, they’re a bit flattered, and you feel a little bit good about yourself and most certainly don’t feel guilty. Now let’s look at the third option. You type the paper. Now here is the tricky one. Why would you type the rest of the paper? It’s not to avoid feeling guilty. You could have gotten away with just typing a little. The small gesture would have been more than enough to your friend. Perhaps it is because you value your friendship. Ah, now it gets interesting! You really care about your friend and you feel like you would do anything for them. You have even told them this. Of course you will type their paper and so you type the paper. As you dot the last sentence with a period you sit back and something happens. You have reinforced whatever it was that drove you to type the paper. It could be a promise to your friend a long time ago that you would always be there for them “no matter what”. The paper needed typing, they are your friend, and so you typed it. Friendship has been reinforced. Oh but wait, what if it is something else entirely? What if the reason you typed the paper has nothing to do with your friend or your friendship. What if it is a selfish reason? What if at some point in your life you decided that you didn’t like who you had become, or were becoming? What if you had a fear or saw a movie that inspired you? You thought you wanted to change. YOu didn’t know how, but at some point you made up your mind and that you would jump at any opportunity. What if you made a pact with yourself not to let anything meaningless get in the way of this pact? Television for example. You saw an opportunity not to benefit your friendhship, but to benefit yourself. The job was never expected of you to complete, the tangible reward was never yours to gain. Yet you still do the best that you can do in any given situation not for anyone else, but for you. Suddenly you get up from tv and you type the paper. You lean back and stare at your work. Your friend comes home and they express gratitude to you. They thank you for being such a great friend. You respond warmly to their appreciation, but inside something else is happening. Maybe your realizing nothing within you has to be a constant. Maybe you’ve reminded yourself that you can be anything that you want to be.