One of my favorite hymns was written by Jane Laurie Borthwick in 1819, an old Scottish hymn set to a familiar tune, “Ora Labora” by T. Tertius Noble in 1918. Noble was an English born organist who moved to the United States and eventually was the organist at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in NYC. Borthwick also wrote the hymn, “Be Still My Soul.” She was a prolific author and translator of many hymns. Here is the 4th and last verse of “Come Labor On.”
“Come, labor on,
No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
and a glad sound comes with the setting sun,
‘Well done, well done!’”
I sang that hymn numerous times and usually do not remember it until I think about Labor Day and why we have a holiday to honor workers by taking a day off and, for many people, creating a long weekend. What I did not know, or remember, is that it’s also Labor Day in Canada, where we just spent the better part of July and August. So, Happy Labor Day to our Canadian friends north of the border.
For those still active members of the working class, I hope you hear frequently the closing words of the hymn, “well done, well done.” It’s part of the reward of not only doing a good job but also about liking your work and liking the people with whom you’re working. As you think about your work and the work that lies ahead, do you ever think about your future beyond work? In April of 2017, I posted a blog entitled “A Future Beyond Work” and to celebrate this Labor Day, 2022, here’s a revised copy for your consideration.
Most people cannot project with much clarity or certainty what their future is going to be like without work, without a job, although many dream of that day. One exception is people who, through no fault of theirs, lose their job. However, that is not what this is about. Nor is this about retirement planning, or taking up new hobbies, or making a transition from where you are to where you want to be. So what is it about?
These thoughts were occasioned by a newsletter from my former colleagues with the theme, “The Future of Work.” The three brief articles in that newsletter, available here (www.tinyurl.com/kjlxpus) are brilliant in their insight and understanding about some of the critical issues in education and what we are or are not doing to prepare kids for the world outside of schools. I think the authors go beyond the confines of education and touch nicely on the world of work in much larger terms.
I have a perspective that follows 50 years of a long and satisfying career, work that I loved, work that was challenging, fulfilling and rewarding. I am still “working” albeit on my own terms and schedule and I have settled into a kind of comfortable routine that “works” for me. I want to assure you that there is a future beyond work that can be whatever you want it to be, wherever you want it to be and with those who are important to you in these so-called later years. Do you believe that? If you do, then you’re halfway there. If you don’t, you may want to shift gears. That’s a different issue and one worth taking up if you’re interested.
When I was working, I often asked the question of seminar participants what they would do if they did not have to work to earn a living. There were already a few in that category. This exercise is revealing in many ways. The first response I gave to that question, some years ago, was that I would do exactly what I was doing except for one thing. I would travel more often and always first-class. I guess that’s two things! The point was if you wanted to do something other than what you were doing, were you doing anything to either change or prepare for that?
My response to one of the articles in the newsletter, and you can figure out which one if you read them, was that when I look at my calendar and my schedule for the week and month ahead, it is, by design, mostly blank. That is partly because I don’t write everything down and mostly because I have the freedom to choose how I will spend whatever time is given to me whether today, tomorrow, next week or next month. Or, even next year. It’s why we decided to spend the past two months on a wonderful, adventurous road trip. That’s not for everyone but it’s great to have the freedom of choice.
I can usually tell you what I am doing, what we are planning, and what a luxury not working is because of this gift of time. I don’t know anyone who comes to the end and says, “I wish I had worked longer.” The future beyond work is full of wonder, choices, freedom, and it’s an amazing experience. It is a blessing and a gift and I am enormously grateful for both and having this time to enjoy pursuing numerous interests. I encouraged a friend earlier today to quit working sooner than he had planned so he could get to more of those things he has been postponing for the future. I hope you take time this weekend, and beyond, to reflect on your work, its meaning and what lies ahead. Come labor on!
* This post is a compilation of several earlier ones, updated. Less work for Labor Day 2022. Here’s a good article on the history of Labor Day for those interested: