The crowd cheers & the confetti flies after the President’s speech at the DNC.
(9/6/12 by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters and MSNBC.MSN.COM)

Listening to various speeches from the Democratic National Convention over recent days, I noticed that in addition to the always-inspiring ‘Founding Values’ of our republic, there was another theme that was being hammered consistently from the very start:

“Hard Work.”

Again and again, the phrase “hard work” was repeated, and repeated, and repeated yet again. A lot. One speaker repeated the phrase at least three times in what had to be less that a minute.

I understand it from a communication-strategy perspective, and can guess why the mantra of “hard work” would be part of that strategy.

And since I’ve known more than a little bit of “hard work” throughout my own life, and saw much of it in my ancestral line and my communities, I get it.

Rosie the Riveter, by Norman Rockwell
[Cover of the Saturday Evening Post 5/29/1943]
To me “hard work” includes dedication, devotion, and the resilience to show up, to stand in integrity and stand for the most essential humane values; to follow an inspired vision, to persevere through the inevitable challenge, doubt, delays, opposition, and/or when the shit hits the fans as it’s wont to do from time to time.

At the same time, though, I get a bit disturbed when a word or phrase is repeated again and again until it becomes rote, mindless, automoton chatter.

So as I often do when my Uranian-flavored No-Bullshit Gene is activated, I felt nudged to dive a bit more deeply into the “hard work” mantra and more importantly, its roots.

The whole notion of ‘work’ is in metamorphosis, as it should be in a time of great transformation, and for many these days, the “hard work pays off” chant has been challenged to the core.

It seems pretty clear that “hard work” certainly does not pay off for some, at least in the way that we in the West have traditionally defined “hard work” and its promised rewards or ‘success’, and this has long been the case.

So it makes sense for all of us to hit the pause button on the zombie-like chanting of conditioned mantras — including “hard work” — until we actually know what we mean by them and whether we need to redefine or reclaim them.

Because as I know this from my own mantra practice: Mantras, like all often-repeated words or phrases, are incredibly powerful whether we’re conscious or not.

Zombies: The Night of the Living Dead
[Stills from George Romero film, 1968]
What’s more, we spend a huge percentage of our One Wild and Precious Life at, in and thinking about our work, so it makes sense that we wouldn’t really want to be sleepwalking or doing the Zombie Thing where it’s concerned.

Alas, this topic could be a book, and since it’s one of the many Issues Of Our Times, the Musing will continue.

In the meanwhile, to help stir the “Hard Work” pot where it might be a bit stagnant, here are several thoughts on the notion of ‘work’ for your reflection.

“Recall the kind of feeling you have when you succeed, when you have made it, when you get to the top, when you win a game or an argument. And contrast it with the kind of feeling you get when you really enjoy the job you are doing, you are absorbed in, the action you are currently engaged in … Notice the qualitative difference between the worldly feeling and the soul feeling.”

“Now attempt to understand the true nature of worldly feelings — of self-promotion, self-glorification. They are not natural, they were invented by your society and your culture to make you productive and to make you controllable. These feelings do not produce the nourishment and happiness that is produced when one contemplates nature or enjoys the company of one’s friends or one’s work. They were meant to produce thrills, excitement — and emptiness.”

[Excerpt from The Way to Love by the late Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J., shared in The Friends of Silence 9/2012 newsletter]


“I commit to bringing myself fully present to the work I do, whether paid or unpaid, holding a heart of gratitude for the ability to express my gifts in the world in meaningful ways.”

[From The Monk’s Manifesto.]

Happy musing!

I invite you to share from your reflections or questions in the comments (or if you’re exploring the whole notion of ‘Good Work’ in your own life and want to explore a session, send me an email).

Big Love on the Way,