Labor(ing) Day (by Billy Coffey)

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I’m working. On Labor Day.

Ironic, isn’t it? That I would be working on a holiday that was instituted to celebrate the working man (and woman), I mean.

I’m sure I’m not the only one schlepping off to work this morning like any other day. We’re toasting the end of summer by sitting in offices or factories or standing outside building houses or putting out fires. Nothing wrong with that. These days, we’re lucky to have a job at all—a fact no doubt driven home by every boss everywhere whenever an employee vents some dissatisfaction.

Work is a part of everyone’s life at some point. I suppose that’s God’s plan. We hear the adage of idle hands being the Devil’s tools and read scriptures like “He who does not work should not eat.” Seems pretty clear—we’re not here to just hang out, we have to be useful.

Holidays are such because they’re meant to focus our minds on something in particular rather than leaving them in their normal, scattered state. Christmas and Easter are all about Jesus (or should be). July 4? Freedom. Thanksgiving is a time to focus on our blessings because there are always some, and Valentine’s Day is all about the people we love.

And Labor Day? Labor Day is all about what we do for a living.

For me, it means a private liberal arts college nestled among the Virginia mountains. I’m the campus mailman. Just me and the three student workers who may or may not bother to show up on a normal day. Working pretty much by yourself has its advantages, no doubt about it. Job security, for one. Not having to spend hours in small talk is also a plus, because I abhor small talk.

But working here also has its drawbacks. The campus post office was once home to three full-time employees instead of only one. To say things get a little hectic around this time of year would be an understatement. So if you’re wondering where the heck I’ve been for the last few weeks, the answer is under piles of Cosmopolitan magazines and packages from twelve hundred mommies.

The truth? I’d rather be doing something else. I took this job because I was going to be laid off from my previous one (which wasn’t all bad, since I got a novel out of it), and I took that one because I was burnt out from the one before. So while I’m walking my five miles a day with a smile haphazardly positioned on my face, I’m really wishing I were up in the mountains somewhere writing.

Chances are that when it comes to occupations, you’d rather be doing something else, too. I read an article a while back that said the best job to have in this country as far as pay, benefits, and perks, is a college professor. Since I’m surrounded by professors every day, I thought I’d test that theory. Over the course of a week I asked twenty of them if they were happy where they were or if they’d rather have a different line of work. To a person, they’d rather be elsewhere. Some wanted to write books, others to travel. Two wanted to be farmers. There was even one who confessed what he really wanted to do was become a bounty hunter.

There’s nothing too strange about that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that what’s rare in this life is to find someone completely happy with what he or she does to pay the bills. We all have our secret dreams and far-flung desires. It’s part of being human, I think. In our deepest selves, we’re always searching and never quite finding our place in this world.

Do you think this is true? I’d like to know, because reading back through that last paragraph left me feeling a bit pessimistic.

Maybe that’s just a symptom of having to work today. Then again, maybe that’s just one of those non-negotiable, hard truths of life.

So let’s celebrate this Labor Day with a little survey. Leave a comment below. Tell me what you do for a living, and then tell me what you’d really rather do for a living.

Let’s put my theory to the test.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

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