Preface: We’ve been “sheltering in place” for most of the past year, due to the Covid19 pandemic. The layoffs and business shutdowns which affected so many hit home for our family in mid March, 2020.
My husband headed back to work this week, albeit a temporary, no idea for how long kind of work schedule. I have a few issues with his employer and his union, truth be told, feeling one is a bad actor in their pandemic responses, and the other is largely ineffective, compassion and mālama for staff sadly m.i.a. on both fronts. While his own admiration and respect for them has taken dramatic hits, my husband remains loyal and as supportive as he possibly can. I’ve urged him to retire; he says “no, not yet” and his similarly mistreated boss begs him not to. He was considered, and was treated dispensable through most of the past year despite his 30-year history with the company. Yet now, he knows they need him.
Why does he persist, pushing away disillusion and any pull of disgruntlement?
He likes to work, and he wants to work.
We need to work
I’ve heard more back-to-work stories from others, and while much in our pandemic riddled, forever altered world has changed, each story has given me the same reflective pause in response: I think about how much work encompasses. I am reminded just how much the ability to work means to us no matter the obstacles, and despite how much we might whine about needing work-life balance in better times.
My husband is not alone, not by a long shot. We humans like to work, and I daresay, we need to work to feel complete.
We thrive in the industriousness of work, and we prosper as we grow in our mastery. We welcome the partnerships, networking and social interactions work will push us into, for more often than not, we’ll stretch and make strides in those too, helping us to thrive even more.
Read: Sunday Mālama: We Learn Best From Other People, and Lōkahi Teaming: Who do you work with?
Work is a rite of passage
It was more than 5 decades ago (yep, I’m that old), yet I can still vividly, fondly, and thankfully recall when I got my first job, because my dad allowed it to happen. I was considered ‘still too young’ for that decision, and for a lot of other things back then…
Every manager has a story. This is mine.
I began my working career on O‘ahu behind Fort Street Mall’s F.W. Woolworth lunch counter when I was 15 years old. That was when Woolworth’s drugstore design included diner type service, but there were no booths or tables. Customers would sit on red vinyl-topped swivel stools bolted to the floor and set around U-shaped bays of counters, one bay with 12 seats for each waitress. The menu was in a laminated card held by this metal grid at the far end of the counter in front of you, a grid curved in at each end to corral your salt and pepper, sugar shaker and ketchup bottle. To your back was the rest of the store, with racks of greeting cards, sewing notions, fishing tackle, or baby food nearly within arm’s reach.
There weren’t any hostesses. Customers walked right up and sat wherever there was an empty stool, the counter was wiped clean, and the waitress looked calm and sorta friendly. Job performance was really easy for the boss to measure. Back then your tips went into a locked box, and he’d count them out for you when you clocked out; good tips meant happy customers. If your bay was usually busy and you were found to be honest, you were an employee he was going to keep. It didn’t take me too long to learn my early lessons on satisfying repeat customers, and keeping the balance between making them happy and turning each stool for more money in the till.
—from the Introduction to Managing with Aloha
I was an example of a child going to work to help the family, catching the bus to my job after school and doing my homework on my dinner break and late at night. I was often called in on weekends as well, and I had to give up after-school sports (I had played softball, and volleyball as a setter) yet I was the envy of my siblings and many of my friends, for I was a wage earner; I had newfound independence and a smattering of young adult credibility they could only imagine—I worked.
After that, school changed for me as well, because my attitude about it shifted. Subject matter, like math, suddenly became relevant; useful. My teachers seemed to treat me differently, with new regard, maybe because I asked better questions.
To be a worker was turning into quite the profound experience. It didn’t even matter that I never saw a paycheck—my boss made it out to my dad, adding in any tips I earned and dutifully turned in to him at the end of my shift. Still, I knew I was earning my keep in a certifiable and measureable way, and that was more than good enough for me. I was becoming a true adult.
I started acting like one.
We work on work here, fully understanding how important that is: The work we devote our time and attention to will spill over into every other aspect of our lives. It’s personal, and it’s pervasive, so we work on making it good.
—the mission of the Managing with Aloha philosophy
The thrill of work
That first-job thrill of work never wore off for me. I don’t think I was misled or charmed in any way, nor did I win any workplace lottery, for I’ve had bummer jobs and bad bosses since then as well, enough to well experience the differences, and constantly seek better.
I did seem to win some blessed-by-fate lottery when it came to my parents and upbringing, yet I daresay that most of our life skills are learned at work. If not first learned, they surely get honed there, sharpened and focused into our most useful and trusted tools. Tools which will serve us well, just as life skills are supposed to.
Read: Skills for a Lifetime of Work, and Sunday Mālama: Self-development hits home.
Work looms large in nearly everyone’s rites of passage, because work matters to us.
It matters for our livelihood—for earning our keep, and for feeling assured we have a way to rise up and get ahead. It matters in a major way when we marry and start a family, committing to supporting others as well. It matters in our friendships, in our reputations, and in our credibility with our chosen communities: To be a “functioning member of society” is no small thing.
Much more important, once our basic sustenance need are met, work matters in giving us the feeling that we are accomplished, and we factor into something which is important. Meaningful, and maybe even larger than ourselves.
The values we speak of here, are in part, and without doubt, our biggest workplace takeaways of all, for our convictions and beliefs happen in context. We don’t inherit our values, we choose them: Values represent the good in your life.
Ten years or so into the run of Managing with Aloha, I sat down with a brand new journal I had been gifted. I don’t remember the exact trigger, but faced with those blank pages, I started to make a list of what I felt I had accomplished at work besides my book.
Read: Core 21: About the Book.
I still have that journal, and as I look at those pages now I remember: I started slowly, in a halting, start and stop kind of way, and as my dated entries now testify, that particular listing and writing episode took more than a week of my morning pages before I moved on to something else. It turned out to be quite an affirmation for me, and I highly recommend the exercise to anyone feeling the slightest twinge of impostor syndrome—you are so much more of a working machine than you realize! Beyond your present worth, you are also an ever-evolving work in progress.
When I started the exercise, all accomplishment roads seemed to lead to Managing with Aloha for me, factoring into it, and culminating into my Ho‘ohana, my workplace culture philosophy as a whole, and the strong feelings I have, and assertions I make, about managers, managing well, and creating an ‘Ohana in Business. My journey to Managing with Aloha all made sense. It was sequential, and it was certainly consequential.
Read: Ho‘ohana: The Founder’s Mindset.
“I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us, like the assembly-line worker, have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.”
― Studs Terkel, Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do
At this stage of my life though, you know what interests me most about that list of my working accomplishments? The outliers, and random forays separate from Managing with Aloha. In my particular case there are fewer of those, but boy are they interesting. And they may be unfinished—there is so much potential there, should I choose to pursue it.
Retire? Not me.
There’s a popular saying which goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life.” I think we should update it, and shift popular belief to, “When you love working, you keep doing it.”
We do speak differently about retirement these days; retirement is considered an archaic concept by many, however I fear it’s for the wrong reason—we feel we have to work, rather than wanting to, and with a get to attitude.
We need to thrive in work. Everything is better when we do.
Good work is the work of personal performance and not of situations others create for you. If they do, consider it icing on the cake. You’re the cake, and you’re quite tasty all on your own. You have ALOHA, and you work on your HO‘OHANA.
HO‘OHANOHANO: You conduct yourself with dignity and distinction.
KULEANA: You take personal responsibility for the work you have chosen to do.
MĀLAMA: You take care of whatever you have to take care of.
ALAKA‘I: You are the leader of your own performance, and thus your work, and thus, your life.
Leading your life is something you were born for, and meant to do. The good work of making it happen is something you will not relinquish, nor should you: No one gets to be leader of your life but you.
Read: more here: People Who Do Good Work
So let’s ho‘o and get on with it.
My husband knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows he’s needed, and he knows he can make a positive contribution, for he does good work. He’s skilled, he’s confident and self-assured, and for him, work is a thrill. His attitude about it is highly contagious in the best sort of way.
I’m proud of him.
Read more here: People who do good work.