That was what he said. This was what I heard

One day, alone in the kitchen with my father, I let drop a few whines about the job. I gave him details, examples of what troubled me, yet although he listened intently, I saw no sympathy in his eyes. No “Oh, you poor little thing.” Perhaps he understood that what I wanted was a solution to the job, not an escape from it. In any case, he put down his cup of coffee and said, “Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”

That was what he said. This was what I heard:

1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.

3. Your real life is with us, your family.

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

I have worked for all sorts of people since then, geniuses and morons, quick-witted and dull, bighearted and narrow. I’ve had many kinds of jobs, but since that conversation with my father I have never considered the level of labor to be the measure of myself, and I have never placed the security of a job above the value of home.

~ Toni Morrison, excerpt from “The Work You Do, The Person You Are” (The New Yorker, June 5, 2017)

Photo of Toni Morrison:


  1. Wise words! Love Toni Morrison.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The blessing of a wise parent…similar conversations with my own dad still resonate, and this post brought them back powerfully. Family – the most essential reality.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Liked by 1 person

  4. Sage advice! everyone needs to know this 👏

    Liked by 1 person

  5. perfect advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post David…wise words indeed

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So well said! There is a growing up and maturing that takes place in the workforce. We learn that there are other parts of life that matter. So many young kids want work to be their everything … And think there’s something wrong when it isn’t.
    Thanks for this share David 💛

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Christie says:

    The words of Toni Morrison’s father are spot on…#4 I told a friend this,more than once, phrased a little differently, it took a while for him to figure it out and accept it…a person has to understand their internal value and let it shine,flourishing in the here and now and in the time beyond, today…the legacy of who they are/where will be felt in heart and settle in Soul.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Wise father, bright child. Some never get it. Thank you for sharing David. ☺☺

    Liked by 1 person

  10. love love love this….

    Liked by 1 person

  11. So easy to lose track of what’s truly important in this ‘always connected, always competing’ world. Earlier this week, my brother turned 49. Just yesterday he was 8–hit me like a punch in the gut. Planning a trip to see him later this summer. Must make the effort…life is too short and family is too precious.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Click open the page and see Toni Morrison – I am presently reading “The Bluest Eye” by her. I love listening to her speak (or reading stuff like this about her) as she is filled with wisdom and good teachings. Thank you, David.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. So true. No need for me to say more. She said it so well herself in the excerpt.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What stuck out for me is this: “I have never considered the level of labor to be the measure of myself.” Only for me, this perception soaked into my pores after being fired from a 2nd job working nights for a department store. I was customer service, and no customers. So I cleaned up correspondence, balanced the till. Asked my boss if I could write my mother a letter, and he said yes, of course. While writing said letter, HIS boss walked through and fired me. My boss never stuck up for me. Only job I was ever fired from, and the most menial. I learned that it wasn’t my fault for being so good, that it was inept and incapable people above me. Changed my 19 year old life, that.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Such important life lessons.
    Our 12 year old starts her first job in few weeks, junior counselor with Chicago Park District. Since January funding was cut for day camp programs and she won’t be paid and she’s ok with it. My 18 year old works over night at Costco. Both my husband and I lost our jobs in January. His position was eliminated and he was offered a promotion that would have meant he’d be away from home most of the time. We declined. Since January funding for refugee settlement was cut so my options were to quit, or work for free. So I’m working for free.

    My 21 year old is doing well but not happy with bell Canada. My stepdaughter in neurological research with UIC is facing huge funding cuts for research and considering Stanford. All the way west.

    Since I quit working with research in 2003 I’ve done many things. Retail, housekeeping, tutoring, and many other things. Even at my age there were times I questioned my value and worth. I still do.

    THIS was printed and will be shared with the kids at dinner table Friday night. Thanks for sharing Mr.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. roseanne333 says:

    Oh, where is the “love” button!? Worth sharing with our college senior.
    Thank you, David.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I work for a two-gen non-profit that provides 360 wrap around support to low-income, single women, with pre-school age kids, as they earn their college degree and move to economic independence. Our organization partners with families for anywhere from 2-4 years. For me the line between family and work is very blurry, in a good way.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Once or twice a month when I’m driving my 6 minute commute to work I think about a conversation I had with a superior at HDQ five years ago.
    We had a new program, and I was complaining about it.
    All these mouse clicks. Box after box of redundant information. More redundant information, more mouse clicks leading to more redundant information, redundant information that also happened to be SUPERFLUOUS in my expert opinion.
    My superior listened patiently as a blew off a bunch of steam.
    I’m not sure what it takes to light a fire under this guy, but he is always so calm it makes me wonder what they are giving him.
    Whatever it is, I don’t want it. I need my mania. I keeps me sharp. Keeps me on edge.
    He said he would take a look at it all. Nothing really came from it. I think they removed one box that I no longer have to check off.

    So like I said , I think about that conversation every now and then driving in to work.
    And what it really boils down to is just one question:
    “Do you want this job or not, Steve?”
    Because for half the pay, instead of doing needless mouse clicks, I could be digging a ditch somewhere.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Which of these hit home for you?

    Liked by 1 person


  1. […] My center of gravity is not my work life. Toni Morrison said it best here in “The Work You Do, The Person You Are:” […]

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: