As usual, Katie was helping to sort out her freshly washed laundry from the basket of the kiddos’ clothes the other day. After she helps me to sort them, she is then responsible for gathering together her under things and putting them into the correct drawer, and she is also in charge of putting her leggings and socks/tights away. I help her with anything that needs a hanger, as well as anything that goes into the drawer she cannot yet reach. Mostly we work on this without much issue, but this last time I heard a full litany of complaints: “I want to play with my Legos instead” or “I’m too tired to do this.”

And that’s exactly the moment when she received a pleasant enough, yet comprehensive, lecture on the value of having a good work ethic. I am fairly certain I used the phrase, “When I was not much older than you…” and also pulled out the trump card of, “Your great-grandfather worked in the Matics store for over 50 years standing on his feet all day, and we are still reaping the benefits of his efforts” and “It was thanks to your Great-Grandpa Yoder’s hard work that we all just enjoyed our time in Hawaii.” She also heard something along the lines of, “All of your great-grandparents and grandparents have left you a legacy of hard work, and we owe it to ourselves and them to keep it going…hard work is part of your blood.” And then the real kicker: “You come from lines of people who would never, ever, ever dream of complaining about working, no matter how hard they had to work. In fact, we consider it shameful and embarrassing in this family to complain about working. We need to honor our legacy.”

And you know what? She finished the job without complaining, and we had a decent time of it. No tears, no yelling, no fuss.

I can “Tiger Mom” with the best of them.

This weekend, though, I have needed to be a Tiger Mom toward myself.

Now, I come from farm people, on both sides. My dad—at age ten, and unprompted by his parents—took it upon himself to mow the family lawn on a weekly basis. The work ethic is almost the stuff of family lore. When ancestors weren’t walking in the snow for five miles (and we’re several generations of Californian, so that wasn’t quite an issue), then they were making a living by the sweat of brow. I usually look at this mythic work ethic as one of my driving forces in life. Back sore? Don’t feel like working on an editing assignment? Eyes tired, but still have the family menu to plan? Not in the mood to bathe the children? Too bad. We’re not made to whine; we’re made to get things done.

This weekend, though, I’ve been wrestling with my work ethic. I have found myself wishing I could cross stitch for hours in a row, or lose myself all day in a book, or have a magical fairy make dinner. Normally, postponing these desires or indulging in them just a little bit during kiddo-sleep-time is just a matter of perspective and self-control and love of duty. More than once this weekend, though—while finishing up a manuscript for a new client, or cleaning all the sticky off of the high chair—I’ve really had to tap into my reserves, to fall back not just on the work ethic itself, but the very reasons why (my family) that I have one in the first place.

At some point this weekend, in order to amuse myself while cleaning the kitchen, I remembered a speaker I heard quite some time ago. He made the statement that he “never [does] anything that [he is] not inspired to do.”

Yes: “never.” Never a single thing.

I remember sitting in the audience and rolling my eyes big time at that one.

I am a horrible eye roller, by the way.  People really ought to know that, if I am being honest.  I should work on that…

Part of me wanted to raise my hand and ask, “Really, Mr. X? You mean you’re inspired when you use the bathroom?” or “You are inspired to make your bed?” Or mop the floor. Or take out the trash. Or sit in traffic.

I am sure his overall point in his speech must have been something about finding our passions and following those. Yeah, yeah, I’m all about that, too. I have many passions, and I cherish them and my time with them. Most of my life has been built around those passions, which I consider partly very lucky and partly very planned. But come on—in even the most passion-driven life, there is still work. What struck me most about this speaker’s message was the sort of glib way he delivered his point: all I heard was entitlement in his voice. Never do anything unless we’re inspired first?

To me, that’s all backwards. Yes, we might be inspired to write a poem or to compose a song. Creative pieces (and I include raising a family, as well as other humble professions, as works of art) often take life from that initial vivid spark that lights up our whole torso when the idea first comes. But after that first spark? It’s work. Creativity is work, failure, work, more work, some success, a little backtracking, more work again…and maybe, if we put in enough of ourselves, enough of our heart, enough of our TIME, finally a triumph. It is childish, in my mind, to think that we have a right to be inspired every step of the way, before we take action.

Action itself is the inspiration. If anything, inspiration has to be earned.

I may not feel like making dinner every night, but I do. It’s work. But after the fact, I look at my satisfied family and I think, “Okay. Remember this feeling of accomplishment, because it can be your inspiration tomorrow.” Only by acting and moving can we create an inspired momentum for ourselves.

I struggle, pitifully sometimes, to remember that I am not entitled to inspiration first. Notice, too, that the authors of our Declaration of Independence acknowledged this, as well. Pursuit of happiness. Pursuit. We don’t deserve anything, except life and liberty, unless we act first.

Even the fact that I have the time to work out my feelings (and to try to motivate myself) by writing about them on this blog means that I have one luxury many of my ancestors did not have. I am even reminded that I should probably  get up off my bum and finish putting my own laundry away.

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