What Is The Significance Of Work In Our Lives? By Dr Linda Berman.

imageFord Madox Brown. Work. Wikimedia Commons.

“Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.”

Khalil Gibran.

  • What Does Work Do For Us?

50153985111_07f2775205_oEdna Reindel – Woman at Lockheed Fastening the Plastic Canopy of the P-38 [1943]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“Love and work are to people what water and sunshine are to plants.”
 Jonathan Haidt

Some kind of work is essential in the lives of most of us. Apart from giving us an income, work enables us to have a stronger sense of who we are.

It affirms our identity, gives our life meaning and generally contributes to self-value. All this can be of benefit to our physical and mental well-being.

Obviously, work has different meanings for different people, but, in a general way, it does help us learn to get along with others, meet people, gain new skills, increase our confidence, keep ourselves occupied, and, if we are lucky, to experience a sense of constancy and stability.

  • Freud: To Love And To Work.

“Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.”

Sigmund Freud.

Freud’s famous words are timeless in terms of relevance. If we have something to do and someone to care about, our lives may be satisfying.

If we really love our job, then life can be even better….

imageSofonisba Anguissola, Self-Portrait at the Easel. Wikimedia Commons.

“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Marc Anthony

“Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

Maya Angelou.

“I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.”

James Baldwin

It is important, however, to recognise that many people, in the UK and throughout the world, have no choice but to carry out repetitive and boring jobs in order that they and their families can survive.

This can also be soul-destroying and a negation of one’s true identity, stifling real skills and interests.

An extract from Thomas Hood’s poem expresses the feelings about such labour. It is, sadly, still relevant today.

The Song of the Shirt.

“Work — work — work!
My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
A crust of bread — and rags.
That shattered roof — this naked floor —
A table — a broken chair —
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
For sometimes falling there!

“Work — work — work!
From weary chime to chime, 
Work — work — work,
As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
As well as the weary hand.”

Thomas Hood. 1843.

vangoghwomansewingVan Gogh. Woman Stitching. 1885. Wikimedia Commons.

  • Unemployment.

50604271951_d6d5082d0e_oKarl Hofer – Unemployed [1932] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“The hardest work in the world is being out of work.”

Whitney M. Young

Being unemployed is a disheartening and distressing experience for many, many people. Since the pandemic, unemployment, especially amongst younger people, has been high.

On top of the restrictions of lockdown and the pressures of trying to keep up with studies, finding oneself unemployed is a further painful blow. It can feel like a negation of who we are.

imageUnemployed Girl. 1920 Kasimir Malevich.Wikimedia Commons.

“You take my life when you do take the means whereby I live.”

William Shakespeare

This can be very demoralising to a young person starting out in life and, indeed, to anyone of any age who wants to work but cannot get a job.

Research has indicated that unemployment can be detrimental to one’s mental health.

Anxiety and stress, depression and low self-esteem may be the effects of being out of work and of not having enough funds to allow even basic living standards.

imageMax Ginsburg – Unemployed On Line. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“There is no such thing as an acceptable level of unemployment, because hunger is not acceptable, poverty is not acceptable, poor health is not acceptable, and a ruined life is not acceptable.”

Hubert H. Humphrey

  • Retirement

imagePaul Cézanne. A Painter At Work.Wikimedia Commons.

The ageist, stereotypical image of retirement is related to sitting idly by the fire, feeling bored, slowly losing mental function as we get older and older.

49914769203_8812150e07_oDavid Hockney – My Parents [1977]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Some people can, and do, find adjusting to retirement difficult, after a busy working life. The lack of daily structure and routine can often result in stress, depression and a feeling of loss of meaning in life.

50690152926_289039c3b1_oDavid Hockney – Portrait of Sir David Webster [1971]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Research indicates that retirement has different effects on different people. Some thrive on the freedom of choice and opportunity to plan life as they wish. Others may experience boredom, ill-health and grief for their past working life.

Sometimes, there may be an initial sense of freedom on retiring from work, but this can fade as the novelty of retirement wears off.

However, this is far from true of everyone who is retired and, if we have the health and the means, we are free to design our retirement as we wish.

  • Internalising Our Work Identity.

Although many people experience a loss of identity upon retiring, this does not have to be so. It is possible to give up work but still have one’s internal work identity preserved.

If we are sufficiently confident in ourselves throughout our working life, we may have internalised our work identity, our skills, our professional self. 

This means that we can carry inside us throughout retirement an assimilated sense of our working selves, even when we have stopped formal employment.

14671001839_0de5974862_oCharley Toorop – Self-Portrait [1953-54]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

It is perfectly feasible to carry our skills forward into new kinds of work, even if they are different from what we have been used to doing as our job. It is possible to transform our work into something suitable for our retirement situation.

For example, in writing this blog after my retirement, I have transformed my knowledge and experience of life and from being a psychotherapist, into something that I sincerely hope is of benefit to others.

At the same time, I have found a way, through my writing and the feedback I receive, to continue my learning process in terms of psychotherapy, research, and my own self-development.

Discovering an activity that feels right in retirement is a process, and this can take time. It is important to allow this time, to develop a kind of new identity, whilst managing to hold onto and, perhaps transform, one’s previous working identity.

Retirement may also bring the opportunity for finding friendships, learning new skills, furthering our education, doing voluntary work, writing or being with grandchildren, if we have them.


“Love is the greatest gift that one generation can leave to another.”

 Richard Garnett

48720765072_d27a302e14_oJohn Currin – Gardeners [2001]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“We are aged more by culture than by chromosomes.”

Margaret Morganroth Gillette

imageWoman with Geraniums, oil on canvas painting by Caroline A. Lord, c. 1900. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Our definition of ‘work’ may change in later life, when we have the choice to work in areas that may be new to us, whether paid or voluntary.

After years of employment, we can redefine our working identities and reinvent ourselves, discovering new potential.

Perhaps we might take on new work and find fresh learning opportunities that our past employment may not have been able to accommodate.

The ending of our working life can be a new beginning for us. 

“You are not too old
and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out
its own secret.”


If you have enjoyed reading this post, do become a follower of waysofthinking.co.uk.

© Linda Berman.


  1. I look forward to your email; how you present a theme, collect images and quotations that offer perspective and reflection.

    This week’s was particularly timely for me. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I look forward to your blogs, the way you collect images and quotations that offer perspective and reflection.

    This week’s was particularly timely for me, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sid, I’m really delighted you like my blog and found this week’s post on work relevant and timely for you. I do hope you continue to enjoy what I write. Thanks for your encouraging feedback. It’s always appreciated 🙏🤗 Linda.


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