Click on a Theme below to go to a summary of the four posts about that Theme.

Work, Additional Subthemes

Subthemes: Money, Labor, Task, Job, Career, Profession, Vacations and Holidays, Unpredictable Journey

We have worked our way through four art genre, each in a post that considers subthemes of “work”, as that term connotes employment. The founder and chief executive officer of an influential empire of newspapers, a rural resident stops his cart horse one winter evening, a refugee from stultifying workin’ for a boss in a city quits for an easy-going life on the river, and manual laborers backbreakingly prepping a floor.

Here we consider briefly not what the selected poem, painting, picture and pop song connotes about labor but other elements of work that are less apparent in the particular pieces of art.

Money: Money is the root of all work. That is an overstatement, because many people work not to maximize their take home but because they believe in their cause, such as government servants, not-for-profit employees, artists of all stripes, clerics, and many others. But not chasing eye-popping income hardly means they are oblivious to the need for money. Everyone needs enough to live on. “Takin’ care of business” means fending for money to live.

Labor, Task, Job, Career, Profession: English recognizes gradations of work for pay with a variety of terms.

  • “Labor” brings to mind migrants picking lettuce in the San Fernando valley or dockworkers unloading cargo.
  • A “task” implies a short-term work activity such as repairing a clogged drain.
  • A “job” suggests punching a clock, minimum wage, negligible benefits, high attrition but dependable hours for repeatable work and a paycheck. Here is where unions hold sway.
  • A “career” carries with it the notion of a job performed over a number of years, such as Willie Loman the salesman. “She is a real estate broker.” “He freelances sports articles.” Those are occupations.
  • A “profession” means advanced education, regulation by the state or a trade group and certification with higher prestige. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, architects number among the professions.

Careers and professions can define a person’s self-conception as well as their social status. All these terms occupy the gainful side of the work ledger; on the other side is death, disability, or retirement. What this taxonomy leaves out is the huge amount of crucial, unpaid work done far too much by women – “housework”.

Vacations and Holidays: In the Western world in the last century or so, workers in full-time jobs receive vacation time for which they are paid by their employer. Those who work for themselves face a challenge when they take time off or the nation pauses for a holiday because their income that day disappears or drops later. If you are paid only once the floor has no varnish, you make nothing if you take off on Bastille Day.

Aside from paid time off, in the midst of a work day, most people experience ebbs and flows of the volume or pressure. In Frost’s pastoral poem, the cart driver and his horse both indulge in a short snow break.

Unpredictable Journey: The work we currently do, whether paid or unpaid, depends on the vagaries of our past. How we make money is influenced by childhood enthusiasms, chance encounters, mergers or bankruptcies, an academic major, pandemics or spouses, a help wanted ad, the suggestion of a peer or parent, all the outcome of decisions we made that altered our work course. Job leads to job, or at least in the United States where people change careers, not to mention employers, on average between three and seven times during their working years [Note 1]. We too often look back and revise our history to justify how we came to make our living, but that reconstruction glosses over the myriad contingencies that contributed.

  1. Experts estimate how often people change careers during their lifetimes. This figure usually ranges from between three and seven times, based on data collected by the United States Department of Labor.
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