Privilege Blog

Is Drudgery Inevitable, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:24am

Compiling 100 entries for the Pearl Source giveaway took longer than predicted. I started yesterday afternoon, lost steam last night, finished up this morning. Larks are like that.

I’ve announced the winner on the original post. Congrats!

I also thought, as I painstakingly entered the appropriate names into a spreadsheet (having reread all the comments to discern who was in the contest, who only telling a story, and who just making a cheeky remark (GSL of course)) about a conversation I’d had earlier with my son. Careers.

I guess today’s question is: how much drudgery do we need to expect and bear up under, over time?

When my best friend and I were jointly rearing our children, five between us then, we called ourselves donkeys. My mother had taught me a song,

“Sweetly sings the donkey, at the break of day.
If you do not feed him, this is what he’ll say.
‘He haw, he haw, he haw he haw he haw he haw.”

We sang to our children as we ferried the 962nd serving of noodles to the table. Cut-up fruit and vegetables first, so they’d eat color before beige. A slog. But I never felt sacrificial. I never resented my kids — because I experienced my love for them like a drug.

These days, some people advocate Follow Your Bliss, others, Deliberate Practice. While writers may flog their ideas single-mindedly — a book entitled “It All Depends” is unlikely to sell — those of us reading probably know that you can follow your bliss only to a point. At some juncture aren’t you going to need to put your head down and engage in deliberate practice?

I feel the same way about the Law of Attraction. Envisioning your desires helps in realizing them, but so does planning for risks and understanding probabilities.

Recently I’ve been enjoying Prudential’s commercials on retirement. I know, weird. In particular, I like the one which shows how people characterize their past as half difficult, half good, but their future as perfect. We acknowledge past difficulties, but predict no more to come. Bliss and Drudgery. You can Attract only so much.

This morning, I opened my email to find a reader had written to say how much I’d helped her. After a rough divorce, and reevaluation and understanding of self, she found help here and from other midlife bloggers.

Her email made me happy. A tiny bliss. I’d been useful.

Imagine a donkey on a trail in Greece caring more about good foot placement than the wine-dark sea to her left. Sturdy Gals care most about being useful. That’s why we make good beasts of burden, even when hills are steep and dusty.

Which brings me up short.

Maybe others feel about drudgery as I do about fighting? In other words, can’t do it. No matter the waiting sea, no matter the stable, no matter the hay. Child-rearing was different, I realize now, because I would have fought for my kids not minding that death. Huh.

So I can only repeat the question, this time in light of temperament.

How much drudgery do we need to expect and bear up under?

30 Responses

  1. I’ve been pondering this question in various guises. Right now a lot going on feels like a giant slog, and am looking forward to be on the other side of this mountain (I know, she saw another mountain). Am working on next stages, but in the meantime at least we have a vacation coming up. :-)

    1. @une femme, Which brings us to Maria von Trapp, a Sturdy Gal icon:). Thank goodness for vacations, but in truth, I have found now in my two retired times, that it takes at least 6 months to start to feel free.

  2. Lately at our house we have been doing what my husband calls “acts of service”. What does that mean? Doing things for others when we might rather be following our bliss. It is not easy–and we don’t see an end in sight. We have two elderly mothers (my mother in law probably in early Alzheimers or dementia), grandchildren to help with, and my husband’s law career which is not quite over. So–we find and take our bliss when we can (like today on the screened porch at our farm), not knowing what lies ahead–or how long the road will be.

    So–how much drudgery are we expected to hold up under? As much as it takes to fulfill our duties to care for and honor family members in need.

    1. @Susan, Ah. So without family, one is free to take any non-harmful path one chooses. Another question then is, how much drudgery will be required for the job that allows one’s service to be possible. Not to be answered right now, but it is another dimension to the question that makes sense.

  3. Such a good question, and I have no idea of the answer. I suppose it comes down to the why, at least for me. At the moment I am struggling with drudgery, although there have been times when I have accepted it without question. And so I think I’ll just muddle on.

  4. Both my husband and I come from a line of stock where people work till they drop (more or less). We are champing at the bit to start “something new” – (“retirement” seems like a word for old folks, surely not us!). Drudgery is inevitable and inescapable; without it, how would we have the impetus to find our bliss?

    1. @Loretta, I have found that retirement is its own kind of work, figuring out how you still manage to serve, engage, feel valuable, all the while having more fun.

  5. I think I enjoy a certain type of drudgery, and my family has always called me a “burro”. There’s an order to it that feels good to me. And yes, drudgery with children and grandchildren is like a great drug for me. Interesting post as I’ve (and evidently many others) have been thinking about this topic a lot.

  6. Next time just copy and paste the names into the spreadsheet without taking the time to re-read each comment. After your random number generator picks the winner, re-read that comment to make sure that it’s someone who wanted to be in the contest. If not, run the random number generator again. (Says someone who tries to minimize unnecessary drudgery.)

    1. @MJ, Oooh, let’s talk details. See, I find if I do that I miss names, and have to spend a lot more time in the check. So this go-round I printed out the page, and then checked all the names I’d completed by hand:). What I really want is an Export Commentor Names By Post WordPress Plugin!

    2. How about this? When you finish the copying and pasting of names into the spreadsheet, the number of names in the spreadsheet should match the number of comments (although I’m not sure what happens with replies, so you may need to account for those as well). If it doesn’t, then you can go back over the list and see what’s missing. But I agree, an export function would be nice.

  7. It is about perspective, isn’t it? One night, after an exhausting day, and facing another sink full of dishes I was also awash in self-pity. In some mysterious epiphany I thought of our neighbor, Ed, a paraplegic, who had suffered an inoperable tumor on his spinal column, and was confined to a wheel chair. I imagined how grateful he would have been just to stand at the sink- just to stand. Drudgery??? Now I just tell myself “remember Ed.”

    1. @Kathy D., And is that what we should say in careers, too? Where there is more choice? How do you think this might differ, if at all, with regards to paid employment vs. service and nuturing?

    2. @Kathy D., @Marie, Thank you. @Lisa,
      I think that we have to distinguish “what is part of the job?” For most women at home, dishes, vacuuming, ironing, food prep, etc…What can we legitimately get out of (I am blessed to have a housekeeper come once every two weeks, but still,..the everlasting dishes) and what drudgery is unnecessary. Though I can’t bring myself to it, I have a friend who has gorgeous bed linens but never makes the bed, and another friend who wouldn’t think of sorting socks or folding underwear when sorting the laundry. On a “real” job (forgive me, stay-at-home wives and mothers, I KNOW how hard you work, but I am speaking of a job where you actually get a paycheck) it is your employer who decides what is a must-do. You can take every opportunity to refine your work description to eliminate the unnecessary, but it is not your call. We have a friend who loves deep-sea fishing and doesn’t mind at all coming home to clean the fish that are fresh from the icy briny water in his cooler. Sounds like drudgery to me.
      And as for drudgery in service to others – someone once told me that fun is what we enjoy while we are doing it and work is what we enjoy when it is done. I aim for that joy, at the end of the task. What about you?

  8. I want to make it clear that I don’t equate helping our mothers with drudgery. I can’t think of any real drudgery in my life (other than paperwork–which I abhor). And, I actually like washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. I’m just saying that we seem to have very little time for ourselves to pursue bliss in the midst of a busy life. Having to be busy all the time is the real drudgery I guess.

  9. having just survived another cancer scare, nothing looks like drudgery right now. I know that feeing won’t last but I’d like to preserve as much of it as possible.TO truly live in the moment and cherish it all……..

  10. I’m taking this thought away from your post (and thoughtful comments): one man’s drudgery is another man’s bliss.” I am experiencing extreme drudgery right now: cleaning out my recently deceased father’s home that hasn’t been sorted out in 60 years. I can’t imagine anyone enjoying this, but we are keeping the recipients of his charity in mind as we pack up clothing for a homeless shelter and furniture for a women’s shelter. Our own fortune is so apparent, even as we feel the pain of what we must experience.

    Love the Homeric reference.

  11. Part of drudgery is about luxury, as in, it is luxury to be able to consider that one should not have to feel drudgery in a job. I feel that it is a privilege for me to actually like my job, as there are so many people who have no choice about the work they do just to put food on the table. For me to be able to think, “If I don’t like this job, I will find another one” is such a privilege.

    I have worked with illiterate women whose teeth were rotting out of their heads, even though they were in their 20s, who had subsistence farms and not an extra penny to buy shoes for their children and drunk husbands who beat them (when I was a Peace Corps volunteer). Any day where I feel whiny about being back in a cubicle and missing my window office overlooking the river downtown, I realize that I am still so, so lucky.

  12. Fascinating question. I can do fighting, no problem, but tedium (an offshoot of drudgery, IMO) is a deal-breaker. My past has had very good moments and very bad ones. On balance, I have been exceedingly fortunate. My future is likely to contain the same – though I’d prefer to believe it will all be fantastic, with no hitches. But the things I find tedious, I will not do. I don’t care if they’re expected by society. I have no problem saying no.

  13. There is drudgery in absolutely every job – even the most glamorous movie stars have to repeat the same scene over and over, making sure that they hit a mark, set the same eyeline, etc. I think that one of the biggest keys to happiness in a job or a career is figuring out which drudgeries drive you crazy and which ones slide off of your back.

    When I advise students about finding their “day jobs” (i teach comedy…) I always suggest that they start by making a list of what chores or job things they hate and which ones they don’t mind. The question really is what are the things you can “do all day” – for myself I don’t mind drudgery as long as I have autonomy. I could never be a waitress – I hated the fact that you are required to be “busy” at every moment (filling the straws, marrying the ketchups, rolling silverware). But I have been happy to have drudgery office projects (going through lists looking for duplicates) as long as I was evaluated on finishing the project and not whether I looked busy.

    1. Yes, a very good point. I was talking about this to my best friend the other day, and when I said, “I think some people just don’t like to be told what to do,” she replied, “Nobody likes it, right?” I surprised her when I answered, “As long as it’s by someone I respect, and it’s high level direction, I do.” She’d never considered that some people might actually enjoy working under authority. Your suggestion as to how to proceed, a list of what constitute personal drudgery, makes all kinds of sense.

  14. Drudgery…just the word gives me the heebie-jeebies. I’m a person who knows how to relax…a glass of wine, lounging on the deck overlooking the ocean in the late afternoon….and I don’t feel an ounce of guilt about it. My mom, especially, takes pride in her martyrdom for the cause of cleanliness, and I’ve even vowed to have her buried with her vacuum cleaner. Seriously. I get all sorts of comments about how I “don’t do maintenance,” but really, I do all sorts of little things daily so that I don’t end up with the drudgery of big chores. I’m the sort that can live with a few dust bunnies as long as everything is picked up. But there are certain things that And it weighs on me….at least until I pour that glass of Pinot Noir and head for the deck.

  15. It is a provoking question. Drudgery is losing autonomy to me. I did tough rape crisis intervention for years, and though it was a good fit & I never went home wondering if my work mattered, it was still hard work. It was never drudgery but it was hard on my heart.

    Now I care for 3 commercial gardening accounts in a beach side town & do a lot of smiling. Mother Nature has a way of grounding you, and although it gets awfully hot & humid during 5 or 6 months of the year it is never drudgery. I leave each garden knowing I’ve made a difference, and when flowers talk back it is only through growth spurts & blossoms.

    1. @Holly Rose, There’s something in this. I never feel that gardening is drudgery either. I think in my case it’s because there are so many different things to do on any given day, and because I can so easily just follow my nose and pick a task. Lots of flow. Also, nature:).

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