The value of work

Women engaged in the World War II shipbuilding effort, San Francisco, 1943. Photo courtesy of

Blessed are those who enjoy their work. That’s my key conclusion when I reflect on the 500+ interviews I’ve done with employees and retirees about their work lives. Actually, “enjoy” is too weak a word. The lucky ones among us love our work, engage with it, feel a sense of mission about it. Sure, it sometimes makes us nuts. But for us, the value of work is right up there with family, friends, and creativity. Indeed, satisfying work usually involves those connections as well.

Edward Kleban’s lyric for “The Music and the Mirror” in A Chorus Line says it brilliantly: “Give me a job and you instantly get me involved / If you give me a job, then the rest of the [stuff] will get solved.”

It’s not about glamour. I’ve interviewed people who got emotional about jobs the rest of us might consider boring or grunt work: Writing code for the Automated Clearing House. Handling admin tasks in a nuclear plant. Scheduling a fleet of commercial laundry trucks, or driving one. Nursing in an intensive care unit. Loading and unloading trucks in a household goods factory. The list could go on and on.

These are just a few thoughts during a week that includes Labor Day and 9/11. We remember and honor the thousands of people who died or were injured that tragic day 19 years ago.