Honest Work

The issue with honesty is that it requires us to be…well, honest. Our lives and our relationships are not typically based in honesty, but in placation and cooperation. Over the past few years, as this weblog and my walking-talking endeavors demonstrate, I have been experimenting with being more radically honest. At times, this has not gone over particularly well…because people are not always happy with what you honestly think, what you honestly feel, who you honestly are.

I am learning to be okay with that reality.


I wasn’t sure who I honestly was, and this became apparent to me as soon as I started paying attention to the distance between what I was doing and what I wanted to be doing. For a time, I comforted myself with the reassurance that millions of people live lies, that there is some peculiar honor in relegating yourself to a life that you aren’t particularly pleased with or proud of.

I think this is based in the persuasions of the Protestant Work Ethic, in which a life of denial and sacrifice of labor was deemed to be not only admirable, but sanctified, a ticket to a promised heaven.

At a certain point, the knowledge that I was not alone in my alienation from myself became somewhat less comforting and I began to get angry that so many people are stuck in lives that don’t suit them, in lives that wouldn’t – reasonably speaking – suit anyone.

It depresses me to that all adults, with relatively few privileged exceptions, are prescribed a life of unsatisfied struggle in the workplace.  The state of North Carolina is currently in the process of funding a supported employment program for people with mental health and/or substance abuse challenges, and yet there are very few jobs.

“The program is designed to put people in the position of pursuing competitive employment.”

People are so keen to have a job, to make a paycheck, that they’ll do any old thing.  It doesn’t matter what. The point is not the job you do, but that you do a job. Having a job, even a lousy job that is pointless and unrewarding, has become an American symbol of human worth and productivity.

Most people will tell you that they don’t like their jobs, but that they are happy to have them. “It’s a job.”

I remember when I was “crazy” how clear it was to me that dignified work and meaningful labor is a human right and how outraged I was in realizing – in ways I hadn’t fully felt before – the injustice inherent in the fact that our options for meaningful labor have become so constrained, so controlled, so woefully limited…and that most people will never really know what it is that they love to do.

I know what I love to do. It’s just hard to find a pay-job doing it. Mostly, I just like talking with people about what their lives are like and what is important to them. 

I want to tell stories. I don’t have much time for storytelling lately, because unless you are among the lucky few, storytelling will not put food on the table.

…right now, I guess I am story-making. In other words, I am alive and deciding what I want my story to be like.

I am going to make my story one in which I tell stories.


2 thoughts on “Honest Work

  1. Pingback: Honest work – Beyond Meds

  2. Yes I agree.

    Being honest is the best way I think of keeping mentally well and at peace. It is for me anyway. I like to think I’m a “what you see is what you get” type of a person. Some folk have said I’m “scary” because of this, I think. So if the emperor is naked I’ll just say it. Doesn’t often go down well in Scotland mental health world as there seem to be a lot of naked emperors who get away with it.

    The employability agenda, getting the mentally ill off benefits and back to work, even when there are few jobs available, is very irritating. Psychiatry has been telling folk they have lifelong mental illness and now government says they are fit for work. Why doesn’t the government sort out psychiatry? Rather than folk who have been labelled and disabled being caught like piggies in the middle.

    Now that I’m 60 and a granny, I am free to tell stories and have many of them to tell. So all the best with your storytelling, you’re doing a great job! It’s a tradition that has been with us forever, stories passing down through the generations, making sense of what happens in families and societies. Like you I enjoy hearing from people as to what their hopes and dreams are, what their actual lives are like. Making connections. It’s what life’s all about.

    Cheers, Chrys

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