Toni Morrison on "The Work You Do, the Person You Are"

Jun 06 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

Toni Morrison has a beautiful, short essay in a recent New Yorker titled "The Work You Do, the Person You Are". She talks about a job she had, cleaning house. It is well worth reading. I've started trying to describe the essay, but really, I'd rather you just go read it, it isn't behind a paywall. It will take you maybe five minutes. Ten, if you stop to savor the prose.

When the job got hard, her father gave her some advice, which I quote here:

“Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”

That was what he said. This was what I heard:

1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.

3. Your real life is with us, your family.

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

 I was thinking particularly about number 4 on this list. I was thinking about what this means for scientists, for researchers, who often get confused on this issue. They often think they are their work. I certainly have been guilty of that. I have certainly worked hard at  fixing this over the years.

We do get wrapped up in what we do. And sometimes, we argue with our inner Toni Morrison and say: but this is important. I am making the world a better place. To which I reply: of course you are snowflake. I remind you about Mu-Ming Poo (real name) and St. Kern. These people believe they are saving the world, but they are doing so on the back of others. You can save the world. You can do the work well. But...

Repeat after me: You are the person you are. Even Toni Morrison says so.

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