There is physical work. It is when we use the strength of our bodies to produce a good or deliver a service.
There is mental work. It is when we use our thoughts, imagination, and intellect like delivering valuable insights to make things better, creating a plan to run things faster, and coming up with a solution to operate processes more efficiently.
Everyone always does these two types of work, but at varying degrees. While manual labor requires a lot of physical work, workers are still required to follow rules and instructions which takes mental work to understand. On the other hand, white collar workers exert a lot of energy doing mental work. But, they still need to have the physical capacity to endure long hours of thinking, analyzing, and presenting their ideas on paper, on their screens, on the stage, or on any other medium.
Finally, there is emotional work. Emotional work is when we put our emotions into what we do. Most of the time, emotional work also evokes the same feelings from others. Emotional work is what makes an article, a book, a drawing, a painting, a performance, or even a spreadsheet a work of art. Art is not created by the beautiful words in a book, the masterful strokes in a painting, the gracefulness of a dance step, or the vivid colors of a photograph. Art is created by the emotions we put into our work.
However, not many of us do emotional work. Because many of us are afraid to do emotional work.
Emotional work requires that we invest not only our time, but our entire selves into what we do. We pour our love, our pains, our joys, our beliefs, our failures, and our triumphs into what we do. When we do emotional work, we are opening ourselves up and becoming vulnerable. And when the products of our emotional work get rejected, we feel as if our very selves are rejected.
That’s often the reason why our workplaces are devoid of emotions and why the work that we do are uninspiring. People are afraid not only for their work to be rejected, but also their very selves. They are afraid to be vulnerable.
When we make mistakes doing physical work, the product is often easy to repair or to rebuild. It is easy to just do a better job.
When we make mistakes doing mental work, it is often easy to revise or correct our work. We also learn from our mistakes and move on.
But, our emotions are never right or wrong. When our emotional work gets rejected, it is difficult to identify what went wrong and what we can improve on. We blame our emotions for failing us. Or we blame ourselves. And so, we begin to refrain from doing emotional work., from being too invested in what we do, and from being fully human at work.
All three types of work are risky. There is always a risk of failure or, more positively, a chance of success. Emotional work risks the possibility of experiencing the most pain. But, it also offers the chance for the most joy and fulfillment.