Which is why I want to share a wonderful passage I recently discovered in Lewis Hyde's classic book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, wherein he makes an elegant distinction between "work" and "creative labor":
Work is what we do by the hour. It begins and, if possible, we do it for money. Welding car bodies on an assembly line is work; washing dishes, computing taxes, walking the rounds in a psychiatric ward, picking asparagus--these are work. Labor, on the other hand, sets its own pace. We may get paid for it, but it's harder to quantify... Writing a poem, raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms -- these are labors.As creative professionals, it’s easy to confuse "work" and "labor" -- both are a regular part of our everyday. But when we confuse one for the other, we create the illusion that "creative labor" can be willed, managed, or measured, when, in fact, it can only really be, as Hyde points out, beckoned.
Work is an intended activity that is accomplished through the will. A labor can be intended but only to the extent of doing the groundwork, or of not doing things that would clearly prevent the labor. Beyond that, labor has its own schedule.??
[Hyde closes with this striking footnote.]
There is no technology, no time-saving device that can alter the rhythms of creative labor. When the worth of labor is expressed in terms of exchange value, therefore, creativity is automatically devalued every time there is an advance in the technology of work.
Sometimes we're better off accepting that certain processes can't be rushed. Then we can set aside the accomplish, accomplish, accomplish mindset of willpower, and find the stillness that will help us move forward.
This was originally published on 99u.com.
Jocelyn K. Glei is the Editor-in-Chief of the 99U. You can follow her intermittent tweets @jkglei.
Ilustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco