Summer Snapshot: Reimagining Work

hiking books photo

This summer I have been focusing on reimagining work instead of escaping work.

I started the summer completing one of the heaviest projects of my life, my dissertation. PhD in hand, I spent a good few weeks reflecting on how to “come out of the tunnel” after an intense academic year. It felt like walking into a sunny afternoon after nine hours in a dark library. I spent plenty of time on long walks and lying in my hammock looking at treetops.

This was all very restful, but I also discovered that some of my most refreshing hours came not from what normally counts as “rest.” I’ve been reading some real academic doozies—Anthony Gideens’ The Consequences of Modernity, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. These are not by most standards “light reading.” And yet if I’m tuned in to my emotional and spiritual state, I discover that the mornings I spend tucked on a couch digesting these academic classics have been some of my favorite hours of summer. Why? Because they’re sandbox time.

I’ve been tackling these books with a notebook at my side not to summarize every point of evidence for my next article citation, but to toss around ideas. I let my mind roam in playful, creative, judgment-free thinking. These mornings feel more like hiking in the Rocky Mountains than like what I typically have considered “work.”

As I reimagine work, the picture I’m aiming for looks a lot like the “play” that Jurgan Moltmann describes in Theology of Play. Moltmann reminds us that freedom is at the core of our theology. That means we thrive when we “play” with a spirit of adventure to reconcile the un-reconciled, dwell in love and joy, and create without goal-achieving obsession. In this picture of work and play, rest becomes not just something you do when you stop working—when you “vacate” work or “vacation,” as Moltmann points out. Instead play—and also work—are infused with the kind of mental freedom we normally associate with rest. Sure, I need long hikes and hammock time, but I also need thoughtful writing and conversations that offer a sandbox to play freely with new facets of truth.

Reimagined work is life-giving, invigorating, playful and in its own way restful. This is more than an idea to grasp, it’s a lifelong practice. It affects how I approach my “work” as a mom—hanging laundry, building garage shelves, and making kids’ lunches. It affects how I want my students to experience the classes I teach. I want them to have the freedom to experiment with new ideas and skills, make mistakes, and encourage each other. My hope is that this reimagined work becomes a central characteristic of my academic career—that my work is marked by the creative freedom of the Creator and infused with a restfulness that is truly rest.


Image courtesy of ponce photography at Pixabay.com

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Christine Jeske

Christine Jeske has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and teaches anthropology at Wheaton College. She has lived in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa and authored two books, Into the Mud: True Stories from Africa and This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling. She now lives in an old farmhouse named the Sanctuary, complete with a dozen chickens, three pigs, innumerable weeds, two children, and one wonderful husband.

More Posts

2 Comments

  • David Parry commented on August 5, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for these thoughts, Christine. I’m needing to be a bit more tunnel-visioned this particular summer, as I have a writing project to finish that needs to be prioritised (and a proclivity for interesting side projects that I need to restrain for the time being). However, in general I think it is healthy even from a scholarly point of view to engage in the kind of playful, non-urgent exploration that you are talking about. It’s still a challenge for me to manage my life so as to have space for expansive sandbox reading alongside more task-focused reference trawling, but I feel the need for it and I still find it refreshing when I find the space and time for it. It reawakens the love of books and ideas and finding connections between them that drew me into academia to begin with.

    As you may know, in the UK system, the PhD is pretty much all independent research. (I think there are pros and cons to this as compared to the US system.) In this context, I often encourage first year PhD students embarking on a dissertation in a humanities discipline to read widely around their field without being unduly task-focused, as it is this space to explore without the pressure of imminent deadlines that will enable them to make unexpected connections, develop their own distinctive voice, and build up the intellectual capital on which they can drew in future when they are busy academics needing to write a paper quickly with other demands on their time. (A bit more of a task-focused approach is needed towards the end of the PhD life-cycle.)

    There is also something biblical about the dynamic of working from rest, though I haven’t figured out totally what this means in practice yet. Josef Pieper’s Leisure, the Basis of Culture is an interesting read in this connection.

  • Christine Jeske commented on August 5, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for your thoughts, David. Piper’s book sounds like an interesting read.

Leave a Reply