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How do you usually introduce yourself?
After giving your name, do you say “I am a teacher, an artist, a student, a carpenter?” I’m asking because a few days ago, while attending an event with participants mingling in a crowded area, I noticed that most people introduced themselves by saying “I am a <fill-in-the-blank>” as if what they DO is who they ARE. In similar fashion, people without jobs would say “I am a stay-at-home parent, a job-seeker or a retiree.”
This got me thinking about the difference between who-I-am and what-I-do. One of the prayers by The Bab has this line:
Whether traveling or at home, and in my occupation or in my work, I place my whole trust in Thee. – Baha’i Prayers, p. 55.
So, let’s consider: what’s the difference between “occupation” and “work?” Within the context of a prayer like this one, I think that my “occupation” means what I do for money and my “work” signifies what I do for myself and others. If “occupation” is about making a living, then “work” must be just about living. If an “occupation” has a beginning and an end, then “work” is on-going. Since there are many times when one’s “occupation” presents personal challenges, it can also be a place where “work” happens.
From a Baha’i perspective, my true “work” as a person – developing my character, discovering the purpose of my life, contributing to society – is distinct from my “occupation” because it encompasses the wider arena of beliefs, personal interests and hobbies. For example, my husband John, whose “occupation” is in a technical field, also applies his attention to detail to his at-home projects. During the past several weeks, he has been doing some home renovations, and his actions embody the noble quality of striving for excellence.
I offer this one example from my practical world as a reminder that we can work to develop personal qualities in both small and grand ways. Since, in this instance, John does his best to evince the quality of craftsmanship in all his work, he also creates a connection to uplifting the world. In the words of Abdu’l-Baha:
Arts, sciences and all crafts are (counted as) worship… all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. – Paris Talks, p. 176.
Our “occupations” can be easy or difficult, boring or challenging. In contrast, our “work” almost always challenges us. That doesn’t mean it’s unpleasant or overwhelming—but it does require effort and struggle:
Life is a constant struggle, not only against forces around us, but above all against our own “ego”. We can never afford to rest on our oars, for if we do, we soon see ourselves carried down stream again. – Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahai Administration, p. 87.
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, whose words about the world situation in the 20th Century still apply today, offered assurances that even small individual actions contribute to human progress:
…no effort of idealism is ever futile, no consecration to the world’s progress ever wasted. These drops, these springs of dedicated service flow inevitably together with great streams of progress toward the ocean of perfection. – The Baha’i World, Volume 11, p. 685.
As I reflect on my “work” as a spiritual being in the practical world, I increasingly recognize the importance of seeking personal growth and embracing the challenges that this brings. Who knows? Maybe the next time someone asks me to introduce myself I’ll reply by saying that I am a person working on being more patient, more detached, more generous, and more enthused about what I do every day. After all, those inner qualities will define us long after we no longer have an occupation.
For all of us, our true work has no retirement date and creates eternal benefits that not even income tax authorities can touch.