The phrase “work isn’t somewhere you go, its something you do” – or its various derivatives – is without doubt the most irritating of the last decade, rendered all the more intolerable by the frequency of its repetition. Possibly because it is the bourgeois passkey, the rallying cry of the starbuck hipster, macbook under one arm, trust fund under the other. Maybe because with a smug smartarsed wave of the hand it ignores the multifaceted complexity of work. Or perhaps because it is just nonsense. Drive isn’t somewhere you park your car, its something you do. But its where I park my car, too. Cheese isn’t something you eat, its yellow.
There is a serious point to be made. Work is – and will always be – somewhere we go.
We go to work mentally, a space where we transport ourself into a domain of ideas, concepts, frames, metaphors, language(s) and myth, drawing on them at all stages of the day (and frequently during many of the smaller, intimate hours), all the while separate from the landscape of our personal lives.
We go to work emotionally, a space in which we contort through hope, disappointment, anger, envy, happiness, distress, motivation, apathy and angst. The three dimensional plot of our journey differs markedly from that in our personal lives, its intensity and density more compact, the reasons often within the interplay of people with whom we are thrown together in claustrophobic spaces, chasing too few chairs when the music-on-hold stops.
We go to work spiritually, a space in which we are carried by the dignity of our pursuits, reinforcing our consciousness of being human, subconsciously joining the dots of our fragility. We achieve a sense of place that has nothing at all to do with the physical, and of purpose that is innate, unwritten, undefined.
We go to work socially, a space whether in proximity to our colleagues and those interested in our activities, or online, exploring relationships in the ether using the multitude of tools at our disposal. Best still, we combine the two, iterative, layered and synapsed.
We go to work contractually – a space in which we both meet our legal obligations to do what we have promised – and our social obligations to ourselves and others, taking our place as part of an organisation, therein contributing to the personality, will and wishes of the body and subsuming our personal interests to the greater.
And we do, despite the attempted shoehorning of “work” into the verb, go to work physically, whether it be office, factory, university, workshop, co-working centre, jelly, cafe, shed or kitchen table. In doing so we make a gesture that the space we occupy while working is deemed a zone capable of supporting the spaces identified above, playing out some semblance of routine that says “I am now at work”. We draw a line around it, whether it be for the entire day or we oscillate in measures of only seconds between this and other states.
In a variety of simultaneously active dimensions, work is somewhere we go. Understanding this is a contribution to a rejection of the flatlined tyranny of the functional. Trivia will always whisper by on the wind. Don’t be tempted to reap and repeat it. Let it go.