If we have to sell our labor, let’s find ways to make it more tolerable

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I hate the fact that I have to sell my labor in alienating, stressful ways in order to help sustain myself and my loved ones. I’ve been doing it for well over a decade, and I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, seeing as we all exist in a colonial, capitalist world mired in patriarchy.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a good job working as a trauma therapist in a community health centre, and am certainly very grateful that it pays for life in general.

But that still doesn’t deny the fact that there are at least a hundred other things I would rather be doing. Topmost on that list is hanging out with my pregnant partner, our cats, and our burgeoning community. It is so very painful to say goodbye to her every weekday morning before we both head to our respective workplaces. It hurts deep in my gut to spend so much time away from her and our loved ones, human and non-human.

But we all need sustenance.

For me sustenance is healthy food, clothing, and shelter, as well as the security that it will be there for the perceivable future. In an ideal world, we’d all be living in intentional communities comprising of friends and loved ones, sustaining and caring for each other, wherein the labor involved in feeding, clothing and sheltering ourselves would’t have to be so onerous and might even be fun because it’s done alongside people we love, minus alienation and insularity.

I hope we never stop fighting for this ideal world. Because capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy should never be taken as a given. They are socioeconomic systems that suck the life force out of human beings. Love and joy are afterthoughts, while stress and suffering are seen as normal. And that’s simply unacceptable.

But we can’t just fight, can we? We actually have to sustain ourselves while fighting this good fight (quite possibly for a victory only to be tasted many generations from now). Intimate partners work for the sustenance of each other. Parents work for the sustenance of their children. Community members work for the sustenance of their loved ones.

And this sustenance almost always involves selling our labor in one way or the other, often with dollops of tension and strain. So how the hell do we make it more tolerable?

Some thoughts on the matter follow. For starters…

Let love be the primary driver for going to work (not career advancement): In my line of work, burnout is common. Because banks tend to be quite unsympathetic when the mortgage payments aren’t made on time, and landlords don’t hesitate to kick someone out when the rent isn’t there on the first of the month, it means that there are times when I have to keep working even when burnt out. During those moments, it is only love that keeps me going. I literally visualize what my salary helps pay for – the sustenance of loved ones – and it helps no end. My partner, our little one, and our community of humans and non-humans. I see them, and the pain goes away.

When I’m running on nothing but fumes, love fuels me in a way nothing else does. Neither money, status, or acclaim can come anywhere close as a motivating factor when the stress levels rise and burnout is imminent, if not well and truly complete. Love does indeed move mountains, and it also gets me the hell up on god-awfully painful Monday mornings.

But then there’s the stress of the job itself. For that, among other things, I suggest we strive to…

Build community and friendship on the job (even if it’s via the whole misery-loving-company thing): This is tougher than it sounds, but it’s so very important. I’ve written about this before, and I do believe it’s one of those things that really sticks it to the man, so to speak, because it goes against the very essence of alienated labor in a capitalist society. We’re supposed to erect barriers around us, become productive professionalized automatons, and not share friendship or solidarity with the people we share a good portion of our waking lives with.

That’s bullshit.

Making friends, even one or two, and building a caring community, no matter how small, is really important if you don’t want to feel like absolute crap going to work. You can have each other’s back and share in each other’s pain. You might even have a person or two whom you actually look forward to seeing when you get to work, which makes it slightly easier to endure the pain of leaving your loved ones in order to sell your labor. The friendship and solidarity has to supersede the work however, in order for it to be truly nurturing. You can’t compete with each other or try to outdo one another or have trust issues and still be friends.

But friendships are hard to come by in capitalist, colonial societies. They can take time, and can often be frustrating (even if ultimately rewarding) endeavors. So, during the day-to-day, when you have no one to rely on but yourself, don’t forget to…

Find ways to “zone out” and de-stress while on the job (maybe even find ways to relax): Do not be a workaholic. Do what you need to do, but don’t go overboard. There’s a really messed up pedestal that workaholism is placed on in our society, and that pedestal is emblazoned with the words “Maximum Productivity To The Point Of Ulcers And Break Down”. Don’t fall for that crap. It’s more important to play the long game. If you have family and community whose sustenance you are committed to, then it’s equally important to remember that this sustenance needs to take place over the long term. And that means you have to find ways to de-stress, zone out, and yes, even relax, while on the job so you live to fight another day. If this is impossible in your job, then seek one where there are greater opportunities for this. It’s worth the effort to prioritize low stress levels in any job search, even if it comes at the cost of some money.

Ways to make the job more tolerable is one thing. But the stresses tend to follow you home. No matter how many platitudes we might hear of “leaving your work stress at work” it hardly happens that way. Stress is stress. It’s not an on-off button. If it were, life would be the easiest thing.

But there are ways to handle the stress that we take home with us. Love plays an important role here too. So remember, next time you get back home from work (and in an adequately relaxed state of mind)…

Talk about the stresses of the job with your loved ones (rather than bottling them up to the point of frustration): Verbose as I am, my motor mouth tends to vacillate between silly buffoonery and deep political anger (picture an obnoxious clown wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt). I often make the mistake of bottling up my day-to-day stresses. Sometimes the more overwhelming it gets, the more I bottle up, until I have some kind of break down. It happens subconsciously. I feel it’s some deep-rooted sexist crap around, ironically enough, not wanting to seem weak or vulnerable. Indeed, It’s safe to say that the vast majority of my mental health issues and negative behaviors is due to my internalized patriarchy. (Dudes are so messed up.)

But without fail, each and every time I have a heart-to-heart with Sus about the stresses I’m feeling, I am better off for it. She helps me get a better grip, do away with the stresses that aren’t worth stressing about, and get a healthier perspective on life. I still instinctively bottle up my stresses (like I said, dudes are messed up), but it’s now at a point where I just feel stupid when I catch myself doing that because there’s such an easy, healthy way to de-stress.

This then helps us…

Ensure that unhealthy ways of relaxing are only done with loved ones (and in moderation of course): Booze and greasy food are topmost on my list of unhealthy relaxation methods. Binge-watching television shows on my laptop hovers up there too (though I do believe there can be a healthy side to it, especially if it helps one get the necessary mental break to rest and heal from trauma, anxiety, and depression – if that’s you, then binge-watch away my friend).

I always find methods of relaxation that don’t exactly scream “clean living” are best done with loved ones. They are far more relaxing, and they don’t end up being a crutch to hold on to when the stress is overwhelming. As someone who fought off serious alcohol abuse following the loss of my younger brother over a decade ago, I know what such a crutch looks like and it’s a constant struggle, with varying degrees of success, to prevent myself from going back there. Ensuring that the dopey buzz of beer and the salty fat of takeout is only during fun social occasions with loved ones makes that struggle way easier. Even binge-watching television has a far more salubrious effect when actively done with a loved one (it’s one of the excuses I make anyway for Sus and I indulging in so much of it).

There is another side to the relaxation coin however, which shouldn’t be neglected. It’s not just unhealthy ways of relaxation that need to be engaged with. So while you have that occasional evening of drunken, gut-busting revelry, don’t forget to…

Make a long list of the healthiest ways you can relax and de-stress (and actually follow it): For me this includes regular exercise (even if just 5-10 minutes a day), long walks where I can daydream (and imagine myself as a brooding superhero in an alternate universe), writing and blogging (not to mention the occasional shitty podcast), music (listening, learning, and criticizing), television (especially stuff that makes Sus and I laugh or think, but mostly laugh), a little martial arts here and there (nothing macho, just fun stuff), hanging out with friends and loved ones (even the occasionally irritating ones), invoking the divine feminine whenever down (the whole liberated spirituality thing), erring on the side of joy and laughter (I mean, why the hell not?), cooking loads of really good, delicious food (taste in no way needs to compete with health – humanity would probably have died off a long time ago if so), receiving wise counsel from our cats (their fail-safe solution for de-stressing me is to have their bellies rubbed and their daily quota of cuddles met), and finally, lots of sugary, milky, black tea (the tea is just an excuse to get a sugar high – just ask any South Asian surreptitiously adding that extra spoonful.)

Remember to always privilege love and joy, my friends. The job is just a means to that end and nothing more.

Now go have some adequately debauched fun with a person you love.

 

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