What is “Hard Work?”

Tuesday July 21, 2020

When people say that some work is “hard,” there’s a few different things that could come to mind. A distinction that I find useful is between work that is hard to do, and work that is hard to know how to do.

For instance, physical labour and service work are the two most obvious examples of work that is hard to do But not the only examples — there’s lots of programming work that’s simple and repetitive in the same way that painting a house or being a line cook is.  — it’s physically and mentally hard to keep making yourself do the work for the entire day, but the work is mostly “Mostly” is a very key word here — there definitely is work that is both physically/emotionally draining and complicated to figure out. It fits into both of the categories that I describe, but it is, I think, less common than work that is mostly just one or the other. There’s also a lot of emotional work that’s quite complex but is ingrained enough that it becomes tiring more due to the requirement that you repeatedly execute it than the actual thinking about each decision. These categories are fuzzy, and are only one way of thinking about this topic. uncomplicated — you know what you have to do, and you do it.

The second kind of work is work that is difficult because it’s unclear what you even have to do to solve the problems you’re facing. It’s hard mostly because you need a lot of knowledge to even begin attacking it, and you need some sort of discipline to keep working on the problem even though the solution is unclear.

This isn’t a value statement about what type of work is “better” or “worse,” Although I think that emotional and physical labour are extremely socially undervalued in the culture that I’m in. it’s just a lens that I find helpful for thinking about different types of work that I face. I think that most jobs have some combination of both types of work, and it can be useful to realize what’s what so you can figure out where you have more blockers and what type of work you find more engaging.