Good Work Nº 48: Good work sucks.

A hand-curated newsletter devoted to exploring how we choose to spend the 90,000 hours that will make up our careers.
Rachel Jepsen
▪︎ 5 minutes read time

🎶 Homesick, by Kings of Convenience

This week’s Good Work is by Rachel Jepsen, senior editor at Holloway.

I suggest all courage is artificial.C.D. Wright, One Big Self*

I live in Iowa, and in the weeks leading up to our caucus on February 3, I’ve housed volunteers from out of state, bought beers and made meals for union organizers, photographers, nurses, musicians. I’ve been to town halls and rallies, I’ve donated, I’ve put up signs in my yard. All of that was good, but none of it was work.

The most important thing I could do was knock on the doors of my neighbors and talk and listen—in this small town, for a long time I was scared to do that. I kept putting it off. But meeting so many volunteers taking time off work and from their families to sleep on strangers’ couches and fight for what they believe in, I couldn’t give in to myself any longer, and have spent the days leading up to the caucus exactly where I should be: stomping the streets and sidewalks, chatting on the porches and in the doorways of my neighborhood. Good work is what you do when you recognize there are more important things than your own fear.

People say, “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life.” I think good work can be painful—I think sometimes it feels exactly like work. Sometimes it absolutely sucks. Though I’ve ended up having the time of my life as a canvasser, it wasn’t easy or natural at first, and it can be completely draining, physically and emotionally. That’s why good work is work that’s motivated by something beyond your own excitement to do it. It doesn’t have to be intuitive, or feel natural, or come out of some deep, lifelong yearning that you just can’t help fulfilling.

It’s scary to sacrifice your comfort. Whether fighting for someone else when you get nothing out of it yourself, or trying something you’re afraid you’re going to fail at, good work needs us to think about more than what feels good. Courage is never something we have, but something we make—if we had it naturally, we wouldn’t need it, so there’s no difference in the end between being brave and pretending to be. I’m seeing it every day. It’s how we get the work done.

This Week

  • The Art of Dying,” by art critic Peter Schjeldahl, is an astonishing, hilarious, devastating diary of a man on his way out. What better way to remind ourselves to pay attention to how we spend our days? From a December issue of The New Yorker.

  • Speaking of which, I absolutely love WeCroak, a simple app that tells you at five random times throughout the day that you’re going to die, and shows you a quote about death, life, dreams, the body, the soul. It’s a delight, a chance to ask whether what you’re doing or worrying about in that moment is really worth it. Some have called it “the anti-app.”

  • Emma Willard’s Maps of Time,” a fun, fascinating exploration of the feminist educator whose work “sought to translate big data into manageable visual forms.” Hat tip to Hope Hackett for sharing this one!

  • If you haven’t seen these yet, enjoy a fun Sunday night checking out Pierro Scaruffi’s collection of timelines, histories, lists, and other resources, everything from A History of Silicon Valley to A Timeline of Drugs. Hat tip to Andy Sparks for this neat find!

  • Are you prepared for the primary election?” A lot of Good Work readers live in California, and Californians are voting early in this year’s primary! Make sure you know if you’re ready and what you have to do.

That’s Good Work for this week. Looking forward to what’s next.

Rachel and the Holloway team

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