What Would Life Be without Work?

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Your brand new tuk-tuk.

Want to be your own boss? To avoid having to give part of the money you make to wholesalers, employees, suppliers, etc.? You could become a tuk-tuk taxi driver. Scrape together about $1,100 and you could be the proud owner of a new two-seater three-wheel taxi that looks a little like a golf cart with a cab and put-puts along like this: tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk.

You’d be out on the streets early carrying fares for pennies, and you’d probably stay out late taking in as much money as possible.  As a driver, you’d have to be quick, adept at staying out of the way of cement trucks, loaded buses, SUVs, and other vehicles that could easily flatten your little taxi. You don’t have much protection. But at least you’re not pedaling, like some drivers in Asia. And hey, it’s work.

Early each morning as we go out walking, there are men sitting on the curb or leaning against walls across the street from the new high-rise building that’s going up a block away. Early in the day, those men look anxious and expectant at the same time, hoping for a day’s labor. By midmorning, those who are left look dejected: no work again today. No income, no sense of accomplishment, no sense of worth.

We all need to work, whether we like to admit it or not. Life is not satisfying without work, and without work it slips away while we are not watching. (An observation: I have never known anyone that retired in order to enjoy idleness who then lived very long.)

Morales16Ap13_609When I was younger, there was a common stereotype of the lazy Latino. Anyone who would accept that stereotype does not know the people. I have never seen anyone who works harder than the Guatemalan laborer, or the 16-hours-a-day tuk-tuk driver, or the Mayan woman selling her tortillas, made at home well before daybreak, on the street corner from seven in the morning until her supply runs out. I know men in their 80s who still jump at the chance for a day’s work because they do not enjoy the income or opportunities that are available to retirees in the U.S. Life for some is very hard.

And yet few of us could ever be truly satisfied with doing nothing. Almost all of us feel the need to make some impact, some contribution in this world. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”

It was rather easy for me to walk away from regular office hours and meetings when I retired. It was harder to walk away from friends, so I still try to keep in contact. But what I could not give up was the opportunity to contribute somehow, so I still try to give my time to activities that will make a difference in someone else’s life.

Is it work? Yes, of course. But what else is there? What would life be without it?

 

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