Work in the Time of Pandemic - Part 2

The Battle Between “I should be working” and “At least I have work.”

By: Sasha Som


Littorary - Stylized Image of Work During The Pandemic


My love for our little startup has me toggling between guilt and gratitude.

During the holidays, I did little to grow Littorary. When I lifted a finger, it usually came to rest on various dessert foods. Unlike those who can’t take time off or aren’t celebrants of holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas, my family and I were able to slow down.

I felt guilty. Nothing says “the holidays” like profound guilt.

Along the way someone taught us that success comes only to those who work hard. Hard work is key. I’m not denying that. However, tying incessant work to success, especially if we define it in terms of material wealth, isn’t the reality for many. It’s unforgiving and dishonest. I don’t dare to tell someone who works two full-time jobs at once to make ends meet or multiple shifts in a row just to eke out a few more bucks into their paycheck that they’re not working hard enough, that’s why they’re not successful. These individuals work HARD. We know this and, yet, we still imprison ourselves with the idea of “success.”    

It’s why I want to touch upon gratitude.

Robert H. Frank, strategy and business professor at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, wrote an article in 2016 about luck, but also, about the role of being grateful. His piece for The Atlantic is a discussion about how the “self-made” forget moments or people that gave them a boost in their journey. Forgetting that they were lucky, they often omit the part where they didn’t always control their journey towards success. Unfortunately, these stories shape how we view work, how we feel guilt, and how we chart our path towards success.

Frank’s piece should speak to us: those who work ourselves into oblivion, imagining personal shortcomings when things don’t pan out. When we think about achieving our dreams, we don’t address luck as a factor because it is inimical to narratives about personal sacrifice.

Getting what we want isn’t entirely in our hands.  

The article resonated with me. It gave me permission to be okay with loosening my grip on the wheel of...destiny (a souped-up vintage Bronco, preferably). It’s the unexpected breaks, where you were born, who your parents are, or knowing benevolent strangers that can help propel you into your dream scenario – or in Professor Frank’s case, survive a heart attack.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard and leave our lives to chance. I’m just saying that we should give ourselves a break, unchained from guilt.

Many of us are experiencing sustained stress, a few surprises, some collective trauma - but 2021 should bring hope. Take a break when you need it. Allow yourself to recharge your battery. Maybe you’ll gain a fresher perspective on your work. And beat guilt by embracing gratitude.

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