The Challenge of Brainless Work

Moving mechanically, your hands are steady at the job. For hours you are stuck in the same repetitious movements that require a minimum of mental exertion. You feel like a robot, and you wonder, Why on earth am I wasting my talents on this mind-numbing job? My soul is being stifled by meaningless routine. You keep glancing at the clock, wishing you could do something to make time move faster. Does this sound familiar?

I recall a conversation at Faith Builders sometime this spring. I think some of us were discussing the irony of the fact that many of us Mennonite young people who pursue higher education tend to go home and spend the summer working on jobs that require very little skill. Sometimes it’s because those jobs are part of the family business. Often it’s because those jobs tend to be the ones that are most readily available for part-time summer workers who are desperate for a paycheck. Anyway, in the course of the discussion someone voiced the opinion that everyone should have a brainless job at some time or other in order to meet the challenge of finding beneficial ways to occupy the mind. Brainless work should be seen as an opportunity instead of drudgery.

That conversation has echoed in my mind many times this summer as I have engaged in several kinds of work with varying degrees of brainlessness. Opportunity instead of drudgery. The challenge of finding beneficial ways to occupy the mind. I confess that many times I have not done well with rising to the challenge. It’s an odd transition—moving suddenly from life as a student to life as a common laborer. It’s a transition from strenuous mental work to strenuous physical work. But what good is an education if it does not promote a deep and rich life of the mind that can thrive in any environment?

Instead of slipping into a semi-conscious state or thinking about what’s for lunch or dwelling on a particular worry or annoyance, how about setting your mind to creative problem-solving or replaying happy memories or planning an event or praying for your friends? Or you could write emails or blog posts in your head:). What do you do with your brainless work time?