Labor Day was Monday and it seemed that all the world was basking in the sunshine and cool breezes, out and about and determined to suck the marrow from the last hoorah of summer.
I found myself wondering about the roots of this holiday, where this weekend that so universally, though unofficially, marks the end of summer came from. So, in the way of super cool kids everywhere, I looked it up on the Department of Labor’s website. This is what I found:
"Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."
Later, the article quotes one of the contested founders as suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” While I take exception to the 19th century idea that the manipulation of nature for the sole purpose of benefitting and profiting mankind was to be celebrated, I do think that a re-interpretation of his words contain a deep truth: that our own labors and hard work can transform our own own “rude natures” into real grandeur to behold.
We all know that this is true in the “doing your work” sense of addressing our personal and emotional baggage through everything from therapy to stress-management, etc. But I mean this in the more literal sense of labor and work…in the work of our chosen professions and the work of goal-setting, literally getting shit done.
I think it should be obvious if you’ve ever talked with me for more than five minutes or read anything I’ve written that I am quite firmly in the camp of believers that life is meant to be utterly lived and enjoyed. But I no longer believe that the path of enjoyment or fulfillment or real, lasting happiness is a life of unlimited leisure. On the contrary, I think too much empty leisure is often a good recipe for discontent, listlessness, and dissatisfaction.
Whether it’s the labor of pursuing excellence in a field or profession that fascinates and excites you, or training for a marathon, or learning to play the viola, or simply the work involved in actually noticing your life and being present with it, there is real joy in work well and truly done. In his book, The Happiness of Pursuit, Chris Guillebeau explores the idea that it’s the pursuit of a challenging quest that brings real and lasting happiness to our lives (by the way, if you haven’t checked out his work, do it- he’s awesome). Alistair Humphreys brings this idea to life over and over in his work, and I am constantly inspired by his investment in small, close to home adventures as well as big, life-altering ones (check out his most recent quest where he taught himself the violin and then busked his way across Spain, singing for his supper).
So I've come to think of Labor Day as more than just a day to take a well-earned break and bbq with friends, but a celebration of the growth and satisfaction of pursuing our labors, of pushing ourselves to learn and excel, of exploration and discovery that can only come with peeling back the layers of what we’re capable of, of transforming our own rude natures into grandeur.
What grandeurs are you laboring to build in your life?