What It Means to “Do The Work”

What does “Do The Work” Really Mean?

I’m not ambitious. I don’t have many big goals. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not a diligent worker and dreamer… but I figure that if I work hard at the things I love to do, without pressure or expectation, the end goal will eventually reveal itself.

In my head, I’ve called this “doing the work”. 

Do the work. That phrase has a presence in pop culture, though it still rather eludes specificity. It’s got a connotation of discomfort, of toil, often in pursuit of reward. It’s a go-to in self-improvement jargon. (also, like, I think it’s used in a good number of cult shows? So that’s… iffy. 😂 )


The english language has done a lot with “work”. Yeah, it pertains to our jobs and paychecks. Or if someone’s really in the zone and crushing it, we say “work it, girl”. Worked up. Works out. It “works”. We’ve got all these little colloquialisms around the word that bend its meaning.

We have both negative and positive ideas of what humans getting shit done realistically looks like. Blood, sweat, and tears vs. finding your purpose and using your natural abilities. Sometimes work sucks, but then sometimes it’s empowering as fuck.

I like to focus on the latter. 

Less toil, more enjoyment. More fulfillment.

“All I need is to do the work, and then…” but I can never finish the sentence. And, to me, that’s alright. Instead, I task myself with simply experiencing the value and satisfaction of laboring. Force myself to enjoy the journey. It grounds me in the present moment in ways I can’t accomplish otherwise.

That’s why I love working at my new job- the offer fell into my lap simply because of the life choices I’ve made and the relationships I’ve encouraged. And this new kind of work certainly isn’t easy, but it feels important. I always leave feeling satisfied.

Or I can take my writing as an example. Working on this book has been pure hell at times. But it’s always been worthwhile. I leave each writing session knowing more about myself and my family, about illness and loss. I’ve learned so much. Who I am now versus who I used to be. Why my mom, dad and I acted the way we did. The reality of my relationship with Mom after getting some time and distance.

My mind and heart undergo a small transformation every time. 

I don’t know if I will be able to finish this book.

It’s embarrassing for me to admit that.

But shit. It’s SO HARD. And maybe the point was never to finish this book and then show the world. Maybe the reason I needed to do this work was only to find my own clarity and peace with the past. 

I’ve decided to follow where the writing leads. If I keep thinking about how long it should be, who could be hurt by my observations, and so on, it might never be the book that I really needed to create- it would be work I did for someone else. 

I want to get out of this what I truly need from it- and that may never create a finished product that was meant for other eyes. 

So… when you hear someone telling you to “do the work”, focus on the work part of that sentence. Not the reward waiting for you at the end. 

Because if the work isn’t doing anything for you, maybe that reward isn’t the one you really need.

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