The Value of Physical Labor

I recently mowed the lawn at my house. Big surprise given that it was only the second time I had done so in the past few years. My dad usually takes up this task, but as he began to age we’ve gotten into the habit of hiring someone to cut it for us. Admittedly, I myself grew accustomed to hiring someone else to do garden work and I became lazy or intimidated by it. Our lawn had been looking unruly, and my uncles were coming to visit in a few days. We had to get our house in order, especially our lawn. This time, I was curious to experience what it would be like to mow the lawn and so I asked my parents if I could cut it this time instead of paying someone else. I thought it would be nice gesture, regardless of how much I would dread it. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the experience and found it cathartic and valuable. I’d like to take a moment to describe each of these aspects.
The lawn mower we use is over a decade old, but runs fairly well. We have to pull its chord to get the engine started. Of course, my novice abilities meant that I needed to pull the chord several times to get it rolling. Once I was successful, I was astounded to hear the engine flutter, and feel the machine come alive when I pulled the chord hard enough. I was proud my physical labor yielded this tangible result.
Once the mower started rolling, I enjoyed seeing the stark difference between the cut and the overgrown parts. It was similar to seeing myself after a haircut, or after shaving. Its neatness felt empowering, and I felt proud that this was my work. Analogously, I started relating the uncut grass to the stresses and life doubts I had been experiencing the past weeks. Cutting the grass felt like I was addressing those personal concerns. Of course, the questions and doubts remained after finishing the job, but I felt more relaxed, energized and creative in dealing with them after having mowed the lawn. In that sense, it felt cathartic.
After I had cut the grass, I amazed myself with how neat our garden looked especially compared to how it was before. Of course, my parents were grateful, but what surprised me was how that made me feel valued outside of other tasks I had done. Let me explain.
I had just finished 5 years of college, and had been back home searching for employment. Over those 5 years (and even before then since I had never taken a year off since pre-school), I had been valued and assessed by what I read, wrote, and answered on a test. The worth of my work and my capabilities was valued under an academic setting, through academic rules and faculty members. Everything was judged on my mental abilities. The repetitiveness of that can of course feel heavy and sometimes depressing. Mowing the lawn the other day made me realize my capabilities and potential beyond this university setting. Of course, I knew this already, but I had rarely seen it expressed tangibly. I had not experienced this in a physical way. It was liberating to realize there’s more to what I can do that goes beyond school related work and to be valued for it.
I write this post to hopefully encourage others to open up more to physical labor/ chores of their own. In the past, and even to this day, I have a horrible habit of avoiding these things, and so this lesson is more for me if anything. Secondly, especially for students or researchers, it helps to know there is more to our value and work than what we research and write. It helps to step back from that academic cycle and produce other forms of work. I wish I had sought out more physical labor jobs during my college years. It would have been nice to be reminded of my potential and abilities in ways that transcend the grades I received in class. I greatly underrated mowing the lawn and other forms of physical labor, and am already looking forward to the next time I can do this.