on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

the (lack of) capacity to love one’s work

Yesterday I was watching a kdrama about classical musicians, and there was a scene where an actor explained why he quit playing the violin even though he was good at it. He came across another person who loved practicing the violin all the time whereas he saw the practice as a chore. It made him realise no matter how hard he tried he wouldn’t love violin playing as much as her, so he gave it up. He found his true passion repairing violins instead.

My partner is going through a journey where she went from experimenting with art to doing the occasional commercial graphic design work. She loved art enough to pursue it as an academic subject during her teenage years, but gave it up because a teacher was discouraging. She picked it up again after a gap of almost two decades. It is very intriguing for me to witness her journey. She loves working so much that she cannot stop doing it. She stops only to prevent physical health issues.

It is through seeing how much she loves her work that made me thoroughly realise how much less I loved design work, or perhaps could not. During the younger years of my freelancing days I would always dread doing the work and left it to the last minute, during the older years I was weighed down with a greater sense of purpose and responsibility so I did it efficiently and effectively. But I was never, ever, like her. The most intense bouts of my work was driven by a strong curiousity and a desire to discover, to problem solve, but I am not sure if it was ever accompanied by pleasure.

Maybe pleasure is the wrong sentiment to define the love for work, or I cannot find the right word to describe what I’m trying to, but all I know is I worked because I had to, whereas my partner works because she really loves to work.

For a long time, I thought I loved my work. Now I think I was in love with the story that came with it. The identity of being a designer, the validation it gave me which I couldn’t find elsewhere in my life, the (illusory) sense of purpose it gave me.

(I think the only time I remembered I was once like her was when I first discovered how to make websites at 15. I mistook that passion as a passion for design, but what I think I really enjoyed was the experimenting. I did enjoy working on my interactive experiments and also this website, but I don’t think it is close to that sense of oneness I have seen with other people.)

I am not sure where it starts and where it ends – if I even have a capacity to love work. My psyche has been broken for a long time, if it was ever unbroken. In recent years I’ve been a lot more aware and sensitive of the areas I am lacking in, and how much my psyche gets in the way of everything I experience. Apart from my partner I have worked with some individuals (they are rare though) who are capable of not letting their selves get in the way of their work, and it was fascinating to observe as though I have discovered a new species of human beings. They don’t respond to people’s insecurities, projections and anxieties with their own.

Sometimes I read about how people’s ADHD symptoms manifest in their daily lives, how it prevents them from doing the tiniest things that everyone else finds so easy (I don’t have ADHD or at least undiagnosed, but there is some overlap of symptoms with CPTSD). It makes me aware of how much anxiety and dread that fills me with most things I do. This has given me a lot of grief because I was labelled as lazy and even I had judged myself similarly…only now with a lot of healing I am able to look back with hindsight how so much of my behaviour was influenced by the invisible weight I carried and still carry.

I have learned a lot about myself simply by living with my partner. The invisible weight I have is very obvious because she lives with an ease I am deeply envious of. I had assumed everyone has this weight, but now I notice it when some people don’t. Apparently not everyone replays things in their head over and over and over again?

My partner countered with an argument that perhaps it is okay to like something moderately enough to do it. I agree, and I think that is perfectly fine if that is what somebody wants. Yet I yearn to find something that is able to capture me like how she is captured by her work.

I don’t know if this would be available to me, if this sense of weariness would ever lift. Perhaps for people like me, to be able to function moderately is the most we can ever ask for. To desire to thrive, is one step too far.

P.S. In this context the work I am mentioning is not work in the capitalistic sense, but an endeavour of one’s choosing. But I guess if one truly loves their job for some reason, not because they need the narrative that comes with it, that works too.

One thought on “the (lack of) capacity to love one’s work”

  1. sikander says:

    Great post and insight.

    One big difference that I’ve noticed between my partner and I is that she makes one plan only. As in she doesn’t have plan b or contingency plan #3. This is what we’re going to do, and that’s it. If something happens that forces a change, deal with it at that point.

    OTOH, I’m always thinking of different scenarios and what to do if x happens, or how to handle scenario y, etc etc.

    Sometimes it has helped, but most often the extra thoughts and prep work is unnecessary, and this is probably where my invisible weight comes from. I cannot “just relax and enjoy” as easily as others can.

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