Monday, March 15, 2010

The importance of work

For most of my life I fought the notion work was good for you. To me, work was a necessary evil, a way to earn some money so I could spend it.

The Puritanical belief that hard work is its own reward was lost on me. I came to think of that mantra as a way to condone the continued exploitation of the working class in our society.

That feeling embedded itself in me during my final days working for The Naperville Sun. With massive nationwide layoffs crippling the newspaper industry, those of us remaining were made to feel we were lucky to still have jobs. We shouldn't complain about the added workload or the new skills many were being asked to learn. Some places began forcing reporters to become videographers.

When I left the Sun during a round of layoffs last April, I was relieved. My job had become just that -- a job. It was so bad, I could feel my mood change every time I got into my car to go the office. Being unemployed freed my spirit.

Because of Kristin's job, I was in the fortunate position of being able to walk away without having to worry about the mortgage getting paid. We don't have any children, so that wasn't a concern. Kristin's job also takes care of our health benefits, so no worries there either.

But now I'm nearing a full year of unemployment. And I'm surprised to have discovered the importance of staying productive. It turns out work is important, and not just as a way to make sure the bills get paid. As Studs Terkel wrote in his 1972 book "Working," "Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread."

For much of the past 11 months, I've been searching for that meaning. Really, I've been searching for it even longer, probably all my life. Now I wonder if it was right in front of me the whole time.

In recent weeks I've been doing more freelancing for newspapers. I just finished three articles since Friday, including this one published in Sunday's Naperville Sun. Those came a few weeks after I wrote a story about Evan Lysacek's sports podiatrist, also for the Sun, and a feature on a local high school basketball player for the Chicago Tribune.

None of the stories can be considered award worthy, but that doesn't matter. I wasn't writing them hoping to win an award. I was writing them because I enjoy writing those kinds of articles, especially the feature on Ryan Boatright.

What I discovered is that working didn't feel like work anymore. (OK, to be honest, when it came to deadline time and I was staring at a screen with only these words written, "By Paul LaTour," it felt a little like work.)

It felt invigorating. It felt good to be busy, to have a reason to wake up in the morning other than to avoid spending the day in my pajamas.

I have a few more assignments on my docket, including another one for the Tribune. Soon I'll be brimming with work as I try to ride this rebirth of enthusiasm. I'll be covering the high school state hockey semifinals and finals next week for the Tribune. I'll be covering high school girls soccer again, this time for

And in just over a week I begin a part-time, temporary job with the U.S. Census Bureau. My task will be doing follow-up visits to group homes, nursing homes, shelters and dorms, making sure everyone is counted. I'm excited if only because it could lead to meeting some interesting people. Of course, everything I find out is confidential, so I won't be able share the details. Then again, they could turn up in a short story or two.

This is all to say that I have found my daily meaning. It really was with me the whole time.

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