This is a counterpoint to some thoughts I wrote last week about the nature of work. In that piece, to have written, I admitted a focus on the joy of having accomplished something, in contrast to the difficult process of creation.
Stuart Levine, my dean, dear friend, and closest colleague years ago at Bard High School Early College, occasionally asked me Are you having fun? The question would come for me from out of the blue, during our drive from Columbus Circle to the Lower East Side, or waiting on line as we picked up donuts and coffee on Houston Street, or as we chatted in one of our adjoining offices, or after we discussed how to announce a policy decision.
Are you having fun? he would say, and at first the question puzzled me because he asked at moments when I had been thinking about the task at hand, or the task just finished, or the many tasks that needed to be done next. Having fun? I wondered, What does that have to do with work?
His question would cause me to pause whatever else I was thinking about. Yes, I am, I would find myself replying, after some deliberation and sometimes to my surprise. Navigating the perilous straits of academic administration, he explained, you have to find your enjoyment and satisfaction along the way.
I miss Stuart for introducing those metacognitive moments into my days, that opportunity to reflect. His question reminded me that we are not just cogs in a machine. We should ask ourselves frequently why we are doing what we are doing, checking in with ourselves to verify that — while work is sometimes difficult, even frustrating — we enjoy the process of what we are doing, not just the product of what we have done.
Perhaps I could serve to present this question to friends and colleagues here. This requires a certain touch, as with any challenging question — the sensibility to recognize whether, when, and how to ask this and other important questions of our lives.