“Do you work to live or do you live to work?” asked the late Mr. Hill, my high school journalism professor. It was a pre-graduation question he wanted me to ponder. This was to instill that my heart was in my dream of everything I ever wanted to do, no matter what that looked like.
As I write this on Labor Day weekend, NOW I ASK THIS OF YOU – as my hope is that you have ponder this very thought, idea, or question and perhaps tweak your link of perspective on the matter of how you interpret the word…. W O R K.
Mr. Hill was a thought-provoking educator. At times he could be intimidating in a good way because he cut through the b.s., looked right in your soul and made you face your truth whether you wanted to look at it or not. At the time, I spun many plates going to high school. Simultaneously, I was working part time jobs freelancing as a billboard painter, working with Meals on Wheels, working as a calligrapher, doing environmental recycling advocacy, and working as a chocolatier. In addition, I was immersed in leadership as senior class president running nine year-round fundraisers and three full-time survey, sign and spirit committees, while taking dance, theatre, penning a newspaper column and taking photos for the yearbook.
Mr. Hill wanted to stop me in my tracks on my ambitious thrill ride. He wanted me to ponder the question he had proposed, stop to smell the roses and for me to look at life a little more deeply… though he KNEW I already knew the answer to his question, even if I was too damn busy to even articulate a response at the time.
At times, I questioned the magnetic push-pull tug-o-war force between student and teacher, as I would often; witness he would choose to facilitate some pre-meditated life lesson boot camp. However, this bred a deep respect by graduation and now a lifelong gratitude journey for what he taught me. While I have been blessed, honored, and humbled by many professors like Mr. Hill in the public school system, I can tell you what I learned from him literally transformed the worker bee mentality into a transformational butterfly expedition.
Bees and butterflies may appear to you like some laughable fantasyland Bambi story metaphor between work and transformation. From the surface, that may be all you see until you literally “work” (RuPaul hand gesture here – GET IT), through this journey to the other side of where you can see how real this process can be for you.
MAKE NO MISTAKE - No job is just a job. No career is just a career. No work task is merely a task…. It is NOT! There is a piece of your cell system that changes with every experience you have. Some of you may feel like you are on some hamster wheel of life, punching some time clock waiting to die.
However, I am here to tell you that while you may feel this way – you must TRUST the process of all you are going through to get to the other side where meaning is cultivated in your experiences to understand your role. In that role, you are the bee … and you are working hard for that money, honey… but as Bob Marley says…
Let me humor you with this bee-to-butterfly real life example from my life for you to see what I am talking about in another bizarre story.
For a decade, I worked for the Agricultural District of the State of California as a freelance independent contractor in media relations/event production for the purpose of educational information. Through special events featuring nature, food/crops/farming, live animals/FFA/4H, earth gemstones, and resources through a literal cross-pollination of food-horticulture industries.
The agency where I was subcontracted covered other events at other state grounds. Unexpectedly in 1997, I was sent out to what felt like the boondocks in an hour drive east toward Lake Perris. I love driving, it clears my head, – so I did not mind.
The theme of this event was “Make a Beeline” – celebrating the bee and the honey industry. Yes, I did corny pitches to all of media trying to create literal “buzz” for this. TV stations in Los Angeles did not really put it in top priority to drive all the way the heck out there for a ‘fluff’ story, but I pitched diligently until I got coverage.
We had a “Thriller Bee Show” to make this sexy for media. We sent honey to them (for real) and all kinds of colorful paraphernalia from buttons to stuffed animal bee items.
I got a bite…from KTLA News that they wanted to send Gayle Anderson out for the morning show to be part of this for several “LIVE” cutaway shots throughout the morning show. Gayle is one of the greatest field reporter troopers I know; always game for whatever it is we did back then.
Together, this woman and I have been on the back of elephants, farrowed piglets, worn coconut bras and grass skirts dancing to tropical songs about the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a. We've been thrown into firefighter challenges, lawnmower racing, cattle drives, put into 4G force gravity contraptions - all in the wee a.m. hours. I have even had her do street luge with Tom Mason, Guinness Book of Recorder holder for street luge where her wig came off during her adventure on live TV.
This is Dr. Norm Gary, a ‘bee charmer.’ He covers himself in 100,000 bees while playing the clarinet. Oh…. And by the way, he is ALLERGIC TO BEE STINGS. Therefore, he literally risks his life doing this very thing. Dr. Norm Gary is known in Hollywood as the bee trainer and expert of training bees for movies & TV…. i.e. he trained a bee to circle a courtroom in The Practice and for bee scenes in Ghost Whisperer, etc. We had him in a Plexiglas bee chamber on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno – which I will not get into the arduous logistics for this, but that happened.
On this morning, I was to coordinate all these live shots with KTLA, as I woke up at 3 a.m. – we were in the middle of a weather forecast that predicted winds. As we got closer to shoot time, we had more and more force… right up to a 45 mile per hour windstorm.
Now to give you perspective on this, winds at this high speed are not your friend where there are fields of dirt, livestock animals, trees and plants everywhere with 10 x 10 tented vendors and others make shifting their ‘presence’ while things are flying.
The live ostrich were not happy either… making these funky screaming weird sounds running around. Gayle’s reporting papers were fluttering about, the sound guy was trying to shield the mic from all this over modulated noise, Gayle was trying to prevent her beehive hairdo wig from flying off, and…. Poor Dr. Norm Gary? Uh, yeah, contemplating through the calm meditation before he was to do this stunt as he had a million times before, but this time on LIVE television in these not-so-favorable conditions.
At one point the camera guy said, “What else ya got?” Which means – Stacey go prepare for a live backup shot if we cannot do this, because this was not a honey commercial for Gayle to talk about honey, if we could not bring out the bees or they would not adhere to Dr. Gary in this wind.
Stacey had to go fetch goats. Of course not just one goat… SEVERAL GOATS. This was not a task for a golf cart (which was not fully charged at this hour anyway)… I am not a goat herder. I had to go get my car and drive it in this dust storm to go get at least three or more goats in the back of my car and bring them for our cutaway. It was like a scene out of a movie, I saw two tumbleweeds cross my path with one actually flying across my windshield. I am laughing my head off…. Because of the ridiculousness of this whole thing, while my heart was racing, palms were sweating, stomach was growling (I had not eaten yet), and the only thing cookin’ at that hour was a ticking clock.
We could not do a typical a.m. show ‘breakfast’ shot cooking eggs on a hot plate straight from the farm. This was supposed to be about bees, I was already formulating in my head that we could say the windstorms “got our goat” this morning – have them plug in meteorologist Mark Kriski in the studio as some sort of sad make-shift tie in for bringing goats and delaying the direct beeline shot.
Yeah, TV is like this – you must think on the fly or you will get stung. *sorry, couldn’t resist*
Back to ‘getting our goats’ - Not an easy task, I tell you… noisy little buggers who were stubborn (yes, the stereotype is real, y’all). They were rebelling fiercely of course, as I lowered the back seats down to make room for them to pile on in, as I kept praying they all had control of their bowels, because an hour drive back in triple digit heat with the windows open in a windstorm was not going to be a pleasant return.
THEY ALL ACTED LIKE BUTTERMILK:
The goats were sticking their heads out my open windows from the back coming around to the front to be in my face as I slowly drove, while another was eating my hair. The others were making noise like some bad karaoke sing along SNL skit.
Apparently, while I was away, everyone had contemplated if Gayle should be an ostrich jockey to tease something weird but the ostrich of course were not having it.
I returned with the goats, opened the doors, the goats came out and we were ready to go. Then like some funky gift from the Universe, the Heavens opened up a window where we now could now deal with the bees. Dr. Gary did his thing and the successful conclusion was everything we wanted was accomplished. Oh and no goat mess in my car, to boot!
After all the thank yous, clean-up, putting everything back in order…
I AM NOT KIDDING YOU when I tell you, a butterfly landed on my shoulder and though the winds were blowing, it literally JUST SAT THERE calmly, even as I moved.
What did I learn and what was the take away?
As I replayed all of the events in my mind, I had to ask myself a question.
Why all of us would wake up at 3 a.m. drive an hour, put up with these conditions, do what it is we do in the face of all of these challenges, with palpitating hearts, the race of the clock, and for Dr. Gary, put his life at risk due to his bee allergies all for the sake of a living?
Mr. Hill popped in my brain, “Do you work to live, or do you live to work?”
Hmm… I see you Mr. Hill, you clever devil. While most people think the answer to that question is an ‘either or’ – the truth of the matter when it comes to work you do not fully see the bigger picture until you do the actual work.
So for those of you who have to work on Labor Day, or those of you who want to work on Labor Day, or for those of you who want to celebrate the butterfly transformation on your shoulder by taking the day off on Labor Day… I say THANK YOU.
Thank you for how hard you work, the time you put in, the challenges you face and for the times when you drag yourself to do the work you do, even on days you do not feel like doing it.
I thank you because I SEE that much like all of these people from the farmers, the livestock people, the crew at KTLA and the grounds keepers, Dr. Gary and yes, all of the animals, bees and butterflies – everyone is a catalyst by doing the work they do, even if they just simply show up. EVERYONE.
We work collectively together to paint a BEE-UTIFUL picture that can transcend any buzz or coverage that exists. Like the bees, we are a colony of people who each have our own part in this field of flowers in the world.
What we create for ourselves, as we work together and what we can inspire others to do has the possibility of living to work for the greater good even if we are doing something where at the time we just think we are working to live.
For my high school graduation, Mr. Hill showed me one of his other talents not many people knew about aside from being a journalism professor. He had an entrepreneurial gig where he made hand-carved wooden chests.
He hand carved me a custom little wooden chest, which I still have today. At the time he gave it to me, he said, “A girl, who has no chest, has no hope.” Being a slender petite and less-endowed girl, I laughed at what appeared to be a combined play on clever words here -though uncertain at the time if it was an observational insult until he presented the gift and fully clarified the intent of what he said.
Mr. Hill understood the trek, the journey, the pathway of going out into the work place. Teachers do what they do because of passion to educate, for which there rarely accolades or glory. Their ‘honey’ reward is through impact. They just do what they do. It is why I highly respect this commitment. What he was trying to instill (and did) is that we all have the power to educate through what we do – even if we underestimate the power of what we do.
I am telling you this on Labor Day weekend as a bit of a wake up call TO YOU - especially for those of you who loathe work or may feel as if your light has dimmed even if you are doing work you claim you love to do – there is inspiration in everything. You may not see it because you are in the trenches in it.
Trust me… back in 1997, feeling like anything could be of inspiration was the last thing from my own mind as I was having goats chew on my hair driving in that 45 mph dusty storm.
I could not see then what I could share with you now, even when that transformational butterfly landed on my shoulder.
Forty-five has two numerals and when combined, they equal nine, which is my life path and the number of integrity and wisdom. Accident? No….A direct Universal message.
Of course, as you see with your own worker bee eyes and your own butterfly wings – the magic of what a random day experience can do in shifting your perception of real life and how you choose to show up at work, perceive work, and work throughout your lifetime.
That my friends, will take the sting out of anything and you’ll soon taste the sweet honey of what this thing is called LIFE. You will feel it in your heart, you will feel it in your chest… and oh heaven yes, you will have HOPE… and hopefully a goat-free car.
Happy Labor Day… Every day.