Work in Progress

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

I have this back issue. A disc in my lower back has decided to bulge on a nerve. At times it’s been nearly debilitating, but things are improving, slowly.

After examinations by two doctors, an MRI, an initial round of physical therapy, three steroid injections, and another round of physical therapy with a therapist I affectionately call my sadist, I’m lying on a table, belted and looped, in traction. It’s not painful or even uncomfortable. But afterward, I will be sore for a few hours.

I feel the traction pull. Hold 50 seconds, release 10 seconds, hold 50 seconds.

Progress has been slow, but it has been progress. In addition to sessions with the therapist, I have exercises to do at home, like lying on a hard Styrofoam cylinder positioned across the small of my back for 15 or 20 minutes, which sounds awful but is wonderfully relaxing (and pain-relieving).

There are mental exercises to go with the physical as well – reading and convincing my brain to get with the program. I feel like a continuous learner on back pain. I’ve also become my own champion, pushing back on doctors and therapists alike when I need to do that.

Thinking About Work

So I’m lying in traction, and I’m thinking about work.

I’m not thinking about all I need to get done, or if I’m falling behind. My work is such that I can literally function anywhere, including in traction, because it’s mostly online work that I do.

No, I’m thinking about the whole idea of work.

I’ve read all the books about work as a search for excellence, or an adventure, or discovering who moved the cheese. Despite all of these helpful insights, it occurs to me that work, all kinds of work, comes down to a few basic principles.

Work is mostly about solving problems. It can be difficult, occasionally painful, and it may not succeed.

Work happens within a set of confining circumstances – limited resources, policies, standards, procedures and laws. You can’t simply do it any old way.

Results Take Time

And work can be frustrating because it takes time to produce a result. It can go on for a very long time with seemingly nothing to show for it, while the accountants and higher-ups are constantly looking over your shoulder, pushing you, like sadists.

Discouragement can come easy. Unforeseen circumstances arise. Staff changes. Resources must be cut. New processes are put in place. But persistence and creativity eventually lead to a breakthrough. Resources get added. Problems get solved and new value is created.

You make progress, but it’s slow, and the pressure to produce is always there.

It occurs to me as I lie here in traction, that all of this I’m going through for my back problem is exactly like my work. I’m stretched out in this contraption, experiencing a metaphor for work.

Hold 50 seconds, release 10 seconds, hold 50 seconds.

Image by Dave McLean. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Glynn Young.