Do the Work

by Tom Swift

Recently, I moved my writing desk from one room to another. The desk went from the living room, through the kitchen, into a small room labeled as a bedroom in the house plan because possibly you could get a twin in there (though, sorry, little room left for a nightstand and a dresser is out of the question.) The total distance the desk transversed was about forty feet.

This might have been the most significant thing I did all week.

Eighty-five percent of this distance was a smooth slide across the floor. The other fifteen percent required me to shoehorn the desk around and between the back door and the steps that lead downstairs. The space between these two entries is easily tighter than the width of the desk.

I wish I would have timed how long it took me to traverse this canal — raising and lowering the height of the desk, seeking angles that generated sufficient force but not too much, using every inch of real estate but not a centimeter too much, as I did not want to leave evidence of the journey on the walls (too late). It would, no doubt, shock you how hard this was for sensate-world-challenged me.

After, mercifully, I reached the other side, stood the desk up, and wiped the sweat off my brow, the first thing that came to mind was a book I read in grad school, back when I knew so much more than I do now.

Oh how I railed against the Handbook for Constructive Living by David K. Reynolds when it was assigned in an inter-disciplinary course I took on the topic of the Self. (Even just the title — ick.) I went back just now and reviewed my notes as well as a written contribution I made to the class discussion. Such derision. Such snark!

It’s been too long to give an honest review of the book in toto, but, in my memory, the author seemed to have a rudimentary view of the mind. He discounted the very real challenges some of us have faced reconciling the complexity of our confusing combo platter of thoughts and feelings. He also projected an altogether dismissive — one might say hostile — view of every person now or ever employed in the mental health field.

So why did I recall this book, read eight-plus years ago, that I didn’t like then — heck, hated then — and have heard or read mentioned directly or in print absolutely zero times since?

Because amongst all the chaff the author did make a single point that has stuck.

That point is this: Do the work that needs doing.

We often look for answers or inspiration — we look to solve the future — in order to clear the way, in order so that we may do the work. We get it backwards; do the work, then you will have energy for the neurotic rest. Or, even better, the barriers before you magically lower. The work makes you taller.

I run within circles of people, sensitive, thoughtful people, who strive hard to be good and do right and heal wounds and cause little or no angst, and I have a couple of decades of self-reflective answer-seeking under my belt and, well, sometimes the best thing I can do is move a desk. Sometimes I have to roll up the proverbial shirtsleeves. Sometimes I just have to do the work.

Not feeling well? Hurting? Frustrated? Angsty? The cure might well be not in meditating or journaling or lighting incense and trying to become one with the universe but rather in just doing the work.

Now, what is the work, exactly? Good question. I don’t think the answer comes easily for most of us. It certainly has not for me. For some, therapy — formal or informal therapy — might be necessary work. It has been for me at times and very possibly it will be again. But that is not what I am meaning in this context when I use the word work. In fact, I mean not-therapy.

Work: the thing you need to do to honor and live out your purpose.

Your art. Your business. Your contribution.

The reason you are here. The thing you must do.

Again, I’ll be the first to admit it’s often easier said than done to know always what that is and distraction is omnipresent. Too, the same task could be a distraction or part of the work. It’s not always easy to know. Some of this is in the eye of the beholder. (I would say you know it when you feel it but that could just be what works for me.)

I would say also intention is key and having some strong connection to the larger vision (purpose) is essential.

Was I put on this earth to move that desk?

I wouldn’t say it that way. What I would say is that that I had decided, in lieu of the changing world in which I found myself — like many, the pandemic necessitated that work-at-home arrangements be made — that moving the desk was the right thing for both my physical space and my headspace. Yet, knowing it would be a chore, and involve some cost — I had to upgrade my internet service; long story but the alternative involved cords through the kitchen — I had put off the move. The longer I did the more this got in the way of the work (personal work — purpose — not so much the work I do for pay).

The move created a better space for me to do the for-pay work that sustains me. And made me feel more content and capable to take on the rest.

Moving furniture around a room could be a distraction from doing the work that needs doing.

In this one case, for me, moving this one piece was a necessary part of the work.