Sara Rubin here, celebrating work in a kind of ironic way—by taking the day off work.
The past two years have thrust work itself into the front and center of our consciousness, with an early divide between “essential” and “nonessential” work. There were jobs that could be done safely from a laptop at home—and many of those jobs are still being done virtually—and there were jobs that required workers to interact directly with Covid patients, putting themselves and their families at risk.
Through it all, our work has been a defining feature of how we experienced the pandemic. But even pre-pandemic, work was already a defining feature of identity in our culture. There’s a lot of academic writing about this topic. For example, from a recent paper out of George Washington University: “Work identity, therefore, is a multidimensional work-based self-concept reflecting individual’s self-image that integrates organizational, occupational, and other identities shaping the roles and behaviors of individuals when they perform work.” (Just a little dose of academic writing with your holiday morning coffee, sorry/not sorry.)
Academic language aside, I have long found the phrase “to make a living” a bit of a puzzle. Are we doing the living while we are working? Or is working the making, and then living is what we do while we are not working?
We all relate to work differently, whether it’s a “dream job” or “just a job.” We here at the Weekly have covered ideas of work and workers over the years with stories that run the gamut. Of course, a lot of these are pandemic-era stories; just a few months ago, we featured some unsung heroes of the pandemic, people like hospital housekeepers and farmworkers and bus drivers—some of those “essential” workers. We’ve also featured stories of artists who kept making art. “My whole life is deemed nonessential at this point,” aerialist Erin Carey told me a year ago. “It’s a weird feeling to not feel essential in the world.”
Back before the pandemic created such a stark divide, it was already happening. In 2016, we ran a cover story about the growing “gig economy.” (Check this coming Thursday’s paper for a story about the gig economy for musicians.) And in 2019 we looked at the increasing presence of artificial intelligence in the workforce. (That was part of a special Labor Day package about the future of work.)
Besides those broader pieces about changes in how we work, we’ve looked at specific workplaces and specific workers. This is just a short selection, but some of my favorites: The team that makes Red’s donuts, which is an all-night project; the hour-by-hour lowdown on opening day at sea for a crab fisherman (it begins at 3:12am); a first-person account of delivering newspapers (yes, it’s a Weekly distribution driver); a look at various “dream jobs” or “worst jobs,” from manure shoveler to beer taster; and stories about vocational training programs at Rancho Cielo, most recently on building tiny houses, and in years past, about their refrigeration technology program and their solar panel installation training.
Especially when it comes to training a future generation of workers, it’s good to remember that the way we work, and the way we relate to our work, is always changing. If you have a story about work, reach out any time. And for now, happy Labor Day.