Working on Labor Day (and What a 90something Badass Named Mother Jones Can Teach You about Thirtysomething Panic)

It’s Labor Day, a national holiday in the US, and I’m working. And feeling so grateful for that.

I considered taking the day off. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge believer in taking time off, in vacation, in rest and replenishment, in designing and maintaining boundaries between work and the rest of life that serve both of those arenas…and I took some gah-lorious time off this summer.

(Here I am with my cousin Amy and my dad on a boat ride on Lake Winnipesaukee!)Carrie and Amy LW '16Carrie and Wapsy Lake '16

(And with my former teaching partner Miriam—check that crazy summer hair!!!!)


But this year I am celebrating Labor Day by…laboring. I will coach 4 clients, and write articles and tools for a few hours, and I will be joyful as I do it.

For many of us, Labor Day has become mainly about a day off, a great sale, and maybe, in a good year, a super-fun end-of-summer BBQ with your friends and family—but that’s not the why and how of its history. Labor Day was created to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers, and is a day to honor the legacy of workers who fought hard for basic rights. We’re talking really basic here—things like safe working conditions, a living wage, and shorter hours (12-hour work days, 7 days a week was the norm for many of these people).

The significance and meaning of Labor Day is not lost on me. Back when I was a teacher, my third graders and I took deep dives into the history of the labor movement, as part of our study of American history. [If you want a heart-exploding combination of cute and inspiring, all you need to do is travel back in time to see my kiddos singing “Sixteen Tons” and “Union Maid.”] Incidentally, that curriculum was one of my own life’s greatest labors of love—one of the things that made it tough to leave teaching.

So on Labor Day, maybe even more than most days, I’m acutely aware of the privilege of doing work I love, for a good wage, in a safe and pleasant environment (as much as I may whine about the incessant jackhammering out my window during this summer’s construction!).

I have a job I love so freaking much. I’m lucky enough to wake up every day to do work that is a perfect fit for me. That makes me more fortunate than most people in history and many people today. What better way to honor Labor Day this year than to celebrate my chosen work by doing it—and doing it with appreciation and joy?

So what does this have to do with you? I’m not asking you to work today. But I do have a “mindset mission” for you:

This week, whether you hate your job or love it, see if you can bring appreciation and joy with you to work each day. If you’re unhappy with 95% of your work day, zoom in on the 5% you love. Shine your attention on that 5%. Not only is it important data for finding your purpose and identifying your next steps—but taking note of what’s RIGHT in your life is also key to improving your wellbeing right here and now.

And if you are unhappy with your work and dreaming of a career change—or some other big life change—you have a second job right now, too: to take the steps to get through this transition and create the work and life you love.

That is your job. No one but you can decide whether to take it on.

I know it is hard, this “second job” of changing your career or some other major part of your life. It’s often overwhelming. And sometimes exhausting. I have BEEN there. But it is so, so worth it.

So today, right now, take some time to check in with yourself: What do you love so much that you would gladly work at it on Labor Day? What steps can you take this year that will make you feel full of joy and gratitude on Labor Day 2017?

If you have no idea, just take one little step this week to figure it out. Do a brain dump of all the career ideas you have. List your skills. Write “What I’m Passionate About” at the top of a piece of paper and fill the page. Interview a friend whose job you’re jealous of. Sign up for a class. Check out a book on a topic that fascinates you. Schedule a coaching session. Whatever you do, take a step. Do it like it’s your JOB. Because it is.

And you’re not alone, because I’m sending you into this week with a figure of inspiration. Someone to walk along with you in your imagination. Someone I used to teach those third graders about, which fortunately made me re-learn about her every year.

I give you Mary Harris (after marriage, Mary Jones): a picture of resilience.

This is a woman who fled Ireland as a child during the Irish Potato Famine and immigrated to Canada and then to the United States. After being educated in Toronto, she became a teacher in Michigan and, later, a dressmaker in Memphis. In 1867, when she was about 30 (her exact birthdate is unknown), her entire family—her husband (an iron worker and union supporter) and her four children—were killed by an epidemic of yellow fever. In the wake of this tragedy, she picked up and moved to Chicago and opened another dress shop. You might think she’d already experienced more than enough trauma for one life. (I’d agree with you.) But then her home and her shop—everything she owned—burned up in the great Chicago fire of 1871.

What. the actual. fuck. Talk about unfair.


She kept going.

She started working as an organizer for the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers union. She dedicated the rest of her life to the labor movement. She fought fiercely for coal miners and railroad workers and especially for children.

She basically became the biggest baddass who ever badassed.

Authorities called her “the most dangerous woman in America” because of how successful she was at organizing workers.

The workers called her Mother Jones because of the way she cared for those she helped.

I call her the ultimate anti-victim.

She did not let circumstances—tragic, horribly unfair circumstances—stop her from making her life a labor of love. (Though no one could have blamed her for doing so.)

This is not a woman who was waiting for retirement. She kept organizing and fighting for workers until her death in her nineties.

Into her nineties!!!

So: If Mother Jones can carry on fighting for her life’s purpose after losing everything she had three times over…you and I can push through any obstacles we face to pursue ours.

“But Carrie, I don’t know what my purpose IS!”

Do you think Mary Harris was born in Cork , Ireland knowing her purpose was to fight for American workers? Of course not. She walked her path and answered the call when she heard it. And when she was hit with some of the toughest tragedies that life can throw at a person, she kept moving. Her purpose emerged from her life. One step at a time.

By the way, in case you missed it: she was about 34 at the time of that fire—34 when she embarked on the mission that would drive the rest of her life. Yet she was always on her way to that tipping point. Next time your nasty inner critic tries to tell you that you should have figured it out by now, that if you haven’t figured it out by now, you never will—remember Mother Jones. A thirtysomething badass with plenty of disadvantages who just kept moving.

Carry Mother Jones with you this week.

Make your life a labor of love.

Start today.

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