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Is Work Only Work If You’re Getting Paid?

It’s finally that time of year.

That time of year when The Cold is (hopefully) officially gone and the world is full of Oz-like color and life feels like it’s worth living again.

What? Winter makes me dramatic.

But spring? Spring is life. Spring inspires me to vacate my space-heated den of online shopping in lieu of seeking outdoor cafés where I can drink chardonnay at noon and pretend I’m in Europe, where in my mind, day-drinking is considered chic and sometimes necessary to make it through that post-siesta phone conference.

Seriously. My mom would stop asking me whether I’m an alcoholic if I lived in Spain.

It would just be a given.

Most people get really motivated in early January with all that hype about a fresh start with a new year and blah blah blah. But I have a little secret for you — a year is just one earthly orbit around our sun. And a circle, it turns out, doesn’t actually have a beginning or an end. So I prefer to celebrate my personal new year in the spring, when I feel exceptionally motivated by the extended daylight hours and open windows and thick blankets of yellow pollen coating everything I own.


It’s really okay. It covers all of the drywall dust.

I often do the typical seasonal purging spring tends to inspire. This weekend I dug a tunnel through the space that was my office and slowly purged its contents until I had an entire blank wall to contend with. Justin’s away at some extended training for work, so I decided to try my hand at shelf hanging, which actually isn’t quite as straightforward as the kind folks at HGTV would have me believe.

Doubtless due to our ongoing kitchen renovation, I couldn’t locate our stud finder — do they sell stud finder finders? — so I rapped along the wall until my knuckles were swollen and I thought I heard a variance in sound, at which point I whipped out the drill and a hefty-looking bit and commenced with what I’m now fondly referring to as my “Swiss Cheese” faux finish. Basically it involves drilling a whole bunch of holes in the wall until you wisen up and remember from the exposed kitchen guts that the distance between studs is 16″, which you measure from the corner, and BAM! Stud city. It turns out knuckle rapping is far more effective with my old home’s 1994 drywall than my current home’s 1957 rock hard plaster. But bloody knuckles and seven extra drill holes aside, I think I did an okay job of at least hanging the shelves straight — even if I’ve been too chicken to actually set anything on them.

And to think my old neighbor thinks I don’t work.

But really. You know when someone makes a passive aggressive comment that’s just kind of exceedingly offensive, even if they don’t mean to do it? And you totally have to check yourself before you get all crazy defensive and end up feeling even worse about yourself than a snarky off-hand remark could ever make you feel? Well.

A former neighbor of mine called me out of the blue this weekend, midway through swiss cheesing my wall, and it was kind of nice to do a little catching up. She’d moved out of the old ‘hood a couple of years before we did, and she’d been the kind of neighbor who always knew what was going on at everyone’s house. Which was good when, say, suspicious characters were lurking around the ol’ golf community, and only slightly irritating when I needed to be informed that Justin had let a woman inside my house while I’d been stuck at work. (She was a friend picking up an old dog crate.)

So she was talking to me about how even after two years they were having trouble making decent friends — how the people in their neighborhood mostly kept to their cliques and the people at her church were “nice but not friendly,” and, “You know it’s hard,” she said, “for a couple of retired folks like us to meet people. Because where do you normally meet them? Work! And well. You wouldn’t know what I’m talking about because you don’t work.

And what?

I suppose she did witness firsthand my spiral from GIS Specialist at an environmental consulting company to cubicle slave at the Army base to quarter life crisis in Costa Rica and eventual wannabe writer/wine bar waitress/real estate photographer, but look. The general degradation of my job titles doesn’t mean I don’t work. The culmination of my efforts — my writings, my projects, my correspondence — it’s all going somewhere. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I don’t know what it’s like to have a real job.

And I mean, hey. Just because I don’t always get paid for it, it doesn’t mean I’m not working. Tell that to stay-at-home parents. And medical volunteers. And writers.


And the fact that I’m trying to be more zen about things didn’t kick in at this opportune moment of my life because, “I WORK!” I shouted into the tiny digital box in my hand that was nowhere near as satisfying to white-knuckle grip as a chunky receiver with a long, spiral cord. “I can’t believe you think I don’t WORK!”

“Oh, yes. Your blog.” Her tone was dismissive.

And again. It probably would’ve been good if the zen thing kicked in then, but still it didn’t and I obligingly began to list my quantifiable and not-so-quantifiable achievements over the last four years. And the more I found myself exaggerating the importance of my merit, a little voice started creeping into my subconscious. Why do you feel the need to explain yourself? it peeped. Shut up, Voice. No, but really? What is it about YOU that’s making you feel defensive? Because it’s certainly not her. Dammit, Voice. Stop talking sense. I’m happy in my obstinance. But are you? Because you don’t sound very happy.

I sighed.

“You know what?” I said to my neighbor. “I really need to get back to hanging these shelves. I’m so happy to hear from you!”

And honestly, I was.

She said goodbye, oblivious to the turmoil her words had stirred, but I’d finally realized — happiness doesn’t come from the convincing of others. Any anxiety I’d felt was entirely my own.


But the good news is that it’s spring. And with spring, for me, comes motivation. Comes opportunity. Comes the finishing of this kitchen and the booking of some flights and the making of plans and the living of life exactly the way I want to live it —




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Hi Katie, I swear I can relate to so much of what you write! Thanks for making me feel less alone in the world and always making me chuckle. :-)


That makes me so happy to read! We have to stick together. ;)


You worry too much about what other people think of your life. What they think is insignificant compared to what YOU think about yourself and you shouldn’t let their attitudes affect that. Most of the time their judgmental comments are just so they can feel better about the dreary repetitiveness of THEIR own lives. Believe in your own talent, initiatives and goals – they are all that really matters.


That is exactly what I’m trying to work though — and how I realized that I’m the one who needs to change my thinking — not my neighbor. :) Thanks for the support!!

Kat Richter

As usual, I feel the need to print this out and staple it to my head (or foot, or hand or somewhere else I can look at it every 3 seconds and say, “Right. That. Chill the f*ck out!” :)


“Right. That. Chill the f*ck out!” <-- I smell a bumper sticker. ;)

Colleen Brynn

I feel the same about January – just another year, just another day… I always say if I want to change something, I change it now (or whenever I want)… I don’t wait until January 1. That’s nonsense. Anyway.
I’m sorry your old neighbour dug up some unpleasant feelings, but that you managed to find peace and a greater message therein, as you always seem to do!
Happy spring my friend! x


I think waiting for January is a handy excuse for procrastination. I’m normally very good at procrastinating, but I just can’t get behind the illogical reasoning of waiting until the first of the year. Like you said — nonsense. :)


You’re always so great at putting these things into words and making me go “oh! That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about but I haven’t figured out how to form it into coherent thoughts”. Thank you!


Ha, you’re welcome! I love that you said that because I always feel like *other* bloggers do that and I suck at it and just end up with a bunch of rambling, not cohesive, b.s. So thank YOU! :)

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