The Importance of Drudgery

Drudgery: Used to describe work that is boring or unpleasant but must be done. (Advanced English Dictionary: Harper Collins).

One of my favorite words is “drudgery.” I don’t know why. It is one of those words that sounds unpleasant. Perhaps is the thickness of the d-g put together which creates a sound of iron-on-steel pounding against one another sending sparks flying and creating deafening sounds of hard labor. The sheer sound of the word can make you taste dirt in your mouth, feel grit on your hands, and feel the sting of sweat pouring down your face and into your eyes as you blink furiously to clear it.

I spent part of this summer in upstate New York researching the roots of my family. On my father’s side, my ancestors came to America during the Puritan migration and settled in Massachusetts, then Connecticut, and finally upstate New York west of Rochester. While there are a few notable ancestors (a captain in the Army during the French and Indian War; a Methodist preacher in the early 1800’s; a land owner during the reign of Henry VIII) most of my ancestors were farmers. Simple folk. Most lived in one area for most of their lives and endured the life of the farmer: Living at the mercy of the weather and hoping for enough food to get through the winter. At the end of their eighty years or so, they passed on the land and a meager sum of money to their children who continued the cycle.

I stood near a field on which my aunt told me she, and my mother also after my aunt had left home, hitched up four horses and plowed it at the age of 12. The word “drudgery” kept coming to mind as I stared at that field. I thought of the lives of the young people I see today, and the relatively easy life I had growing up, and wondered how kids of today would fare with an existence like that. Then it hit me. Even in modern times, with all our technology and comforts, there is still drudgery that must be tolerated and accepted. Note the second part of the definition above: Work…boring or unpleasant…But must be done. But Must Be Done. Dishes and laundry need to be washed, garbage must be taken out, and on and on. Take most people’s jobs for instance. Regardless of the amount of money that is paid, most jobs have one common factor: Drudgery. Not necessarily fun or flashy, the common element from a professional athlete to the pharmacist to the check-out clerk are the repetitive, boring tasks that must be done. Most people aren’t farmers, but they perform jobs that provide, in essence, the same results. The job pays the bills and enables them to own a home and few nice things that hopefully can be passed down to their children. Most people don’t feel like doing the mundane daily tasks, but those tasks must be done.

How does this apply to raising children in a tech world in which nearly anyone with a YouTube or Instagram page can be their own little megastar? We need to introduce our children early to the idea that most of life isn’t standing on a stage in glittering lights and getting accolades. Most of life is getting up early, performing tasks in which there will be little thanks or recognition, and doing what must be done. If there is recognition or thanks, well, that’s nice, but we need to teach our kids that simply performing the task because I saw it need to be done and I did it with my very best brings about an internal satisfaction that creates energy for me to create something or go do something I really enjoy. It is about teaching our kids that despite what they feel, there are tasks that must be done.

I’m not saying we parents should be moping about with looks of desperation and gloom. I see a lot of kids who are terrified of becoming adults because their parents constantly complain about how hard and unrewarding life is. That creates despair. There’s more than enough of that to go around. But there needs to be a balance. Your children should have chores. They should have to spend their own money that they have earned from chores on things they want. They should have to pick up dog poop. They should have to dig a hole to plant something. If they break something, they should have to replace it. They should see that the home is like a ship: Everyone has a task and when everyone works together, things get done and then there is fun. Here’s one that parents in today’s “my-kid-is-a-rock-star-Instagram-hero-with-5,000-followers” hate to hear: Let them fail. Hold them, comfort them, encourage them to keep trying, but let them experience the sting of pouring everything they have into something and it completely doesn’t work out. Why? Because that is how most of life works. But, from the failure comes acceptance, trying again, learning about myself, and the courage to move forward. Read any Wikipedia page about any successful famous person and you’ll find the theme: Drudgery and failure.

So, as you think about what you want to pass on to your kids to prepare them for life, think about the theme of helping them accept and tolerate drudgery. While it probably doesn’t sound pleasant, think about the importance of helping them find the balance of doing what must be done and the internal satisfaction that comes from it. The result: A self-motivated person who isn’t afraid of work that can thrive in nearly any situation and be self-sufficient regardless of what is going on around them. Sounds pretty good to me.