What Should Labor Day Really Mean?
Published: Sep 11, 2008
You see, the original Labor Day was established in New York City as "a day off for the working citizens". It was meant to celebrate everyone in the workforce, not just union members. And it was intended to be a day off from work for citizens, people who have rights as well as responsibilities. Of course, we all know our responsibilities at work—we are hired based on a job’s requirements and responsibilities, our performance is evaluated against those same parameters, and we can be fired when we are adjudged not to have measured up to them. It’s very clear, in short, that our responsibility is to provide a fair return on our employers’ investment in us as employees.
But what about our rights? Now just to be clear, I’m not talking about labor rights—the right to organize, and engage in collective bargaining. No, I’m talking about individual citizen’s rights. The right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Those rights don’t disappear when we go off to work. They aren’t something we have when we’re with our families, friends and neighbors, but something we lose as soon as we walk through the doors of our employers. Our rights as citizens are inalienable, which means they cannot be separated from us, wherever we are and whatever we are doing. And if that’s so, I believe Labor Day should celebrate our rights in the workplace as well as give us a rest from our responsibilities there.
The question, of course, is just how should we do that? I don’t think another parade or barbeque would do the trick. I can’t imagine that doing more of what we already do would make much of a difference in how we see and appreciate the holiday. Which means we’re going to have to try something new. So, here’s my admittedly radical suggestion. Let’s use the day off from our employers to work on our own careers. Let’s use Labor Day to labor for ourselves.
I know, I know. That seems more than a little far-fetched. At least, at first blush. But consider this: regardless of where you were this past weekend—whether you were lying on the beach, hiking in a park, watching your kids play soccer or playing a game of softball—I’ll bet half the crowd looked at least once at the Blackberries in their pockets or purses. In other words, they were using their Labor Day holiday to labor for their employers.
So, if many, maybe even most of us are already laboring away on Labor Day, why not spend a little quality time with our own careers? What would that involve? I suggest you give yourself a personal performance review. Now, don’t get all hot and bothered with that idea. I’m not suggesting the kind of evaluation you have to endure with your boss. Instead, what I’m suggesting is that, over the course of the three day holiday, you invest two hours in a private, candid conversation with yourself. That’s all. And since this year’s Labor Day is already behind us, I also suggest that you use this coming weekend to have this little chat.
What should you talk about? The state of your career. What you’re trying to find out is just how healthy or fit it is. Here are five questions that can help you with your assessment:
The answers to these (and other similar) questions can give you a frank assessment of the health of your career. Once you have that personal insight, use it to take two additional steps:
So, here’s my take on Labor Day. Absolutely, it’s an occasion to take some time off, to give ourselves a little well deserved rest and relaxation. As important as that pause is, however, the holiday has an even greater purpose. It offers us a chance to be “working citizens” in the true sense of the phrase, to recapture our right to a meaningful and satisfying career. All we have to do to achieve that end is to spend a little quality time with ourselves working at it.
Thanks for reading, Peter