Is it Work or is it a Job?

Have you ever given any thought to the difference between a job and work? If we have a regular daily grind that we are rewarded financially for, in conversation we blithely say “I’m going to work” without taking the time to think about what that really means. I believe that having dissatisfaction in one of those areas (a job) doesn’t have to mean dissatisfaction in the other (work). Here is how I differentiate between the two:

A job is a series of tasks, usually directed by someone who holds a position of greater authority than your own. These tasks are intended to help an enterprise reach a certain goal. A job is a regular position that, if you’re lucky, comes with some sort of remuneration.

Work, on the other hand, is a thing that occupies your time, incorporating your interests, the things you love, and, if you’re lucky, will guide you toward a more fulfilled sense of self. Work is produced when you exercise your creative muscles, your curiosity and intelligence toward some sort of output that grounds you. This output centers you and helps you understand your place in the world.

I am thinking about this in the context of my professional life and my own feelings of inadequacy/feelings of failure. What I have one to understand is that as long as I use my job as the sole or primary performance indicator, I will never measure up. In a system that is designed to privilege a very few, I am incapable of fully being the person I am. If I can’t fully be myself, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to give my all to a concern that, by design, is not intended to benefit all people.

Coffee break (Gouache on watercolour paper)

What I have learned to do instead is to find work — things, experiences, and connections — bits of effort that produce items that bring me pleasure. I choose to engage in this type of work because it makes me happier and more fulfilled than a job ever could. I had to learn to divorce remuneration from measurements of success, because my mental, physical, and emotional well-being are far more precious than the number on my bi-weekly pay advices.

Perhaps this has been obvious to you for many years. I won’t beat myself up for not figuring this out sooner. I’m just happy that I’ve stumbled on a new definition of success that doesn’t leave me wanting.

After the Love Has Gone

I’m Cecily, I’m a librarian, and I’ve come to hate reading.

That’s not exactly true — my (barely) managed depression and (increased) anxiety have robbed me of the ability to process anything more than tweets, Facebook posts from the Hobonichi group, and texts from loved ones. Losing myself in novels and non-fiction is where I found comfort for so many years, but now it only adds to my already out-of-control anxiety and self-doubt.

I’ve found other pursuits in the meantime, like drawing and writing in my journal, but I miss the immersive experience of floating within a well-crafted story. Has this ever happened to you? What did you do to get back to reading?

My Distraction Sickness

Andrew Sullivan’s essay for New York Magazine seems especially timely, given that a few of my friends are taking hiatuses from social media at present.

I was, in other words, a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. Twitter emerged as a form of instant blogging of microthoughts. Users were as addicted to the feedback as I had long been — and even more prolific. Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating. I remember when I decided to raise the ante on my blog in 2007 and update every half-hour or so, and my editor looked at me as if I were insane. But the insanity was now banality; the once-unimaginable pace of the professional blogger was now the default for everyone.

This has been my reality for so long, I’m honestly not sure if I can imagine living any other way. I justify it by saying it helps me keep in touch with friends far and wide, but how in touch am I, really, when the majority of my updates come through the firehose of my Twitter timeline and are condensed to 140 characters?


A former romantic partner used to have a very active, very rich social circle that he kept in constant touch with through his laptop (and his phone, to a smaller extent). When I’d visit him in the Bay Area, his laptop was a third party in our bed. And I never felt like I could ask him to only focus on me, because those other people in his life were important too. What I eventually realized is that by taking advantage of the very limited time I had to spend with him and giving it to other people, he was showing me in no uncertain terms that I didn’t really matter at all.1 It’s now why I insist that current romantic partners put their phones away and silence any notifications while we’re together. As Sullivan writes:

Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully unplug. I want to get to a place where I can at least read quietly again, without sharing what I’m feeling at every moment with the ever-present dopamine injection that is my list of Twitter followers and Facebook friends. I want to hold hands, feel skin against skin, notice the way someone’s forehead furrows, and the way their eyes sparkle with laughter. But how can I do that in an unmediated way without being independently wealthy? But the distractions of my online life aren’t doing me any favours personally or professionally, and I think I could benefit greatly from sitting with the discomfort of quiet long enough for it to start to fit like a well-loved pair of slippers.


  1. I’m no saint here, either. The time I should’ve been spending with my spouse, I was spending it on the long-distance relationship and throwing my energies there. We live, we learn. 

Things I’ve Learned as a Manager

What Has Being A Manager Taught Me About Work?

  • Manage expectations, manage projects, but don’t manage time
    • Maker’s Schedule: fewer meetings, shorter meetings, more time for focused, uninterrupted work
    • Manager’s Schedule: for bosses. Highly structured, always know where you’re going next 1
  • Give people more responsibility, flexibility, and power
  • Stay out of the weeds. Less detail is better in most cases.
  • Create an environment where people can thrive
  • Always believe in your staff, especially when they don’t believe in themselves
  • My fundamental responsibility is to equip people with the tools they need to succeed.

What Has Being A Manager Taught Me About Myself?

  • I’m a better manager when my team feels empowered, listened to, and respected.
  • Managing people’s emotional frailties and personal problems will always be difficult for me, as I value privacy, and don’t want to meddle.
  • There is such a thing as being too aloof.
  • You will either learn to get over your own insecurities/imposter syndrome, or you will fail.
  • The line between too much process and too little is paper-thin: too much process and projects become mired in overhead. Too little, and people will lose their way.
  • Being a manager highlights the worst parts of my cynical, distrustful nature.
  • Being a manager highlights the best parts of my empathetic, ride-or-die nature.
  • I am happiest when I am leading — not managing — others.

Capture Bonding & Professional Respectability

Many of us have made a life of hoping to get chosen for jobs, chosen for awards, chosen for acceptance from people, structures and corporations bred on white supremacy. We’re hoping to get chosen by people who can not see us. Knowing that they hate and terrorize us doesn’t stop us from wanting to get chosen. That’s the crazy thing. Everything about this country told Grandma, a black woman born in Central Mississippi in 1920s, to love, honor and forgive white folks. And this country still tells me, a black boy born in Mississippi in the 1970s, to titillate and tend to the emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of white people in my work.

Kiese Laymon makes me want to hang up my keyboard and forget about writing on the regular. His piece for The Guardian, “Black churches taught us to forgive white people. We learned to shame ourselves” is no exception.

As I’m inclined to do, I try to relate articles like this with my experience as a black professional in a predominately white profession. My reluctance to put myself forward for jobs, speaking opportunities, or even acceptance from people is my way of staging resistance. Why participate in rituals and structures that aren’t designed with me in mind, and are only invested in supporting my success if I perform in such a way that makes me visible to them? This resistance often comes with a high price; visibility and professional accolades sometimes come at the expense of my own sense of worth.

We bond with our captors1, develop sympathy for them, and become convinced that their way is the only way. The indignities and traumas continue to mount, but we smile, we dance, we submit papers and answer calls for proposals, because the alternative is professional obscurity.

It is insanity.


  1. This phenomenon is also known as stockholm syndrome. 

2014 Year in Review

I’ve been busy, folks…

Professional

Courses I’ve Taken

  • Web Developer Track at Skillcrush, which included HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Ruby, Git, and Sinatra
  • HTML, CSS, Javascript and Ruby at Treehouse
  • Managing Small Projects at Lynda.com
  • Customer Service workshop at MPOW
  • Creating a Respectful Workplace workshop at MPOW
  • Problem Solving workshop at MPOW

Work Projects

  • Intranet redesign: guided the organization through implementing a new intranet (based on Thoughtfarmer)
  • Skilled Immigrant Info Centre redesign: this was quite the experience. In many ways, I think the project was a failure, but it was also an incredible learning opportunity for future projects.
  • West End Stories: minimal role; consulted on some UX, coached members of the Web Team on a few web development items, added some adminstrative work
  • Readers’ Advisory Social Media Pilot: worked with our Information Services division on a project to offer readers’ advisory via Facebook. Provided some coaching/information around social media best practices.
  • Reference Manual rewrite: worked as part of a team to simplify, modernize, and re-write the library’s reference manual (it was overdue)
  • Literary Landmarks: a work in progress. Coordinated the development of a website that will accompany the placement of commemorative plaques around the city of Vancouver that feature landmarks that have significant local and historical relevance. Site will launch in late January, 2015.

Personal

  • Met with the orthopaedic surgeon to discuss surgery options. He recommended a total knee replacement. I’m still waiting on a surgery date.
  • Started taking biologics for rheumatoid arthritis, and have felt most of my energy come back. Some of the stiffness and pain is still there, but it is drastically reduced.
  • Weight: the less said about this, the better
  • Was featured in Day One’s “The Way I Journal” series.
  • The Library Loon wrote a lovely piece about me for Ada Lovelace Day
  • Paid off my Canadian student loans
  • Paid off an outstanding tax bill to Revenue Canada
  • Was reported to the library board twice for things I said over Twitter. One was about “Nice White Librarians“(h/t to nina de jesus), the other was about public consultation in Vancouver’s most recent civic election, which someone interpreted as opposition to public consultation in library planning. I’ve intentionally kept quiet about this, but The Library Loon pretty much captures everything I haven’t been able to articulate. I’m scared to say anything to anyone at work these days, and a few personal friendships have suffered as a result. I don’t feel safe, and I don’t feel supported. These feelings of insecurity have really done a number on my mental and physical health.

This list doesn’t include any of the greater issues that caught my attention this year, like police brutality, marriage equality, the rise of civil disobedience (and how millennials and LGBT folks are leading the way in some very high profile cases), the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl, ad infinitum.

This is the part of the blog post where I should express gratitude for living through another year, and while it’s a miracle that this year didn’t kill me, I don’t know that I’m eager to see 2015, especially if it’s going to be anything like 2014. Still, the book is closing on this year, the world keeps turning, and despite society’s and my best attempts at the contrary, I plan to keep on keeping on for as long as I can.

Happy Solstice, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and a bountiful New Year to you all.