Reward for hard work

Today BU had a delayed opening due to snow. It cleared the morning for family time, which was unexpected and nice (although I’m finding I actually like the topic of my class which didn’t meet today, Federal Tax—I’ll say more in a future post, but it’s a good thing I like tax law since I’ll need familiarity to work with the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (“LIHTC”) that is critical to my professional focus of affordable rental housing production). Snow delays remind me of the Annual Bonus Hour (“ABH”), courtesy of daylight-saving time falling back to standard time, except that the latter is expected and you can make plans (for example, “Let’s watch TWO episodes of 24 instead of one—Happy ABH!”).

I hear a plow scraping the road outside. After a Vermont honeymoon that was in the 40s (Fahrenheit) despite being in June, my wife and I were recommitted to our original plan to set up life together somewhere hot, like Brazil or Puerto Rico. Now settled in Boston, there’s no getting out of exotic northern phenomena like “snow.” But the key is to make peace with the cold, as I learned years ago through an accommodating friend who took me on a hike into snowy woods with a liter of green tea in a thermos that was rated to keep liquids piping hot for 24 hours in your kitchen’s freezer. About an hour into the hike, we warmed up with this beverage of champions, and I had the fleeting experience of not hating the cold. It was a start.

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Who says this playground is closed?

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My wife just pulled a perfect star right out of the sky!

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You've got to try this: food coloring, water, spray bottle, then start tagging like you're Shepard Fairey.

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What a riot, we've made this bush GREEN. Now let's get out of here quickly before someone sees us.

Fast forward a few years beyond that hike and my wedding, add a free-spirited kid to the picture, and now my wife and I take it as a badge of honor that Boston’s winter is no enemy of ours. It’s not like Boston is Tok (I vaguely recall commuting and hearing this story on WBUR, Boston’s NPR radio station, which is broadcast out of the BU School of Communication. I probably flinched or swerved the car). With time, we’ve come to enjoy the winter, and not just through the window. Here’s a recent post-snowstorm excursion from the balmy cocoon of our apartment…

Taking a break from work to have fun has been an interesting starting point for family conversation recently. That kind of break is likely to be preceded by some form of “I’ve worked hard, I deserve this…” But what is “this…” for you? What do you look forward to as the reward for your hard work? There’s no shortage of hard work in law school, and if my mom is right (note: she is), then nothing worthwhile in life comes without lots of it. So with hard work behind us and more on deck, rewards can be an invitation to back away, to reflect, and to consider the bigger picture of what we’ve been working toward. Is what we’re getting worth all that we’re putting in? When we’re settled about what we’re going after, rewards can refresh us and make us more effective when we get back to work.

I’m trying to think about how to take a good, refreshing break as a reward for hard work. Maybe a good reward is time with family and friends, or time alone—but that might imply that we have to earn time for relationships and self-care instead of taking it as a given that such time is an independent priority. Maybe a good reward is a cheap flight to somewhere new and different and altogether unrelated to what our everyday looks like—but that might border on escapism, implying that we are not totally sure about what we’ve committed ourselves to, if it’s worth all we’ve put into it, if we value it as much as we tell ourselves we do: yes, yes, of course we stand by our choices in life. Maybe a good reward is the product of the hard work itself, the measureable successes we can celebrate—but that might imply that we must chase our celebrations, with hard work as only one factor of success among many that are out of our control, stretching us across a timeline not of our choosing, often placing what would secretly be our real success too far ahead of us.

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Revere Beach in the winter, at night, looking for stuff. (It's the first public beach in the US, established 1896 and an easy stop on the MBTA Blue Line.)

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Hey, I think we found something.

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Seashells by the seashore!

That said, a reward works or it doesn’t. If a reward speaks to our heart and gives us what we need, then I would expect it to survive our inner critic. I feel rewarded by the first and third on this list, and I’m working on the second to be a more adventurous dad for my family. Yet even more, I’ve been thinking about the steady, reliable reward of living intentionally. I came to law school with certain values—my sense of fairness and social justice, my sense of the social architecture I’d like to create and live in. Law school is helping me to have consistency in my life—personally, professionally, and relationally—in that I have context and tools to reflect on my values, some rough measurement of whether I’m making progress, and increasingly, teammates to build toward the world we’d like to live in. The refrigerator magnet my wife gave me on my birthday awhile back says it best: “Shape the world or someone else will.” I can say that I feel caught up in something meaningful, and that’s a reward I’ll take.

I’ll take this reward too, my son’s excitement about a world of possibilities…

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Look, I'm making a...

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...snow angel.

3 Comments

Brigitte Kahnert posted on January 22, 2011 at 9:50 am

Thanks for your wonderful insights and reflections-your text is truly inspirational–and a DL classic! Looking at the photos makes me happy, too. We miss you guys.

agutie posted on January 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm

i’m not sure what this post said — way too distracted by the cute photos :)

Yaminette posted on January 23, 2011 at 10:52 am

I love to read your reflections especially because they remind me of how much I love our life together, despite both of us being in grad school with a 3 year old and never mind other things like work-for-money and play-for-grown-ups! I love sharing my life with you!