Last weekend I was at a soccer game, standing on the sideline, cheering for one of my kids’ teams, and chatting with another mom. Eventually the question of “what do you do?” came up.
Without thinking much about it I replied, “I do the invisible work. I used to work in healthcare.”
She nodded, smiled, and replied, “I do the same. I used to work in marketing but now I do the invisible work too.”
I nodded back and smiled.
And the conversation meandered on to other things like upcoming games, the weather, school, and so on.
What struck me hours later was I had never used the term “invisible work” before. I had never really thought much about it. But the person I was talking with immediately understood what I was saying and agreed with me. We spoke the same language yet it was a language I hadn’t known I knew.
That got me thinking about why I would describe what I do as invisible work, all of these things I do every day now. The packing of lunches, preparing of breakfast, making of dinner. Doing dishes, getting groceries, keeping snacks stocked. Sorting laundry, folding, laundry, putting away laundry. Moving people from point A to point B to point C and back to point A. Keeping of schedules, coordinating of schedules, making of schedules. It’s all work. It all keeps a household afloat. So why would I call it invisible?
And the bigger question I keep thinking about even more, does calling it invisible somehow make me feel invisible?
Yes, says a quiet voice. Oh.
So if I were my own best friend I would tell myself to think about the words I use. Think about the meaning behind the words. The work I describe as “invisible work” is not truly invisible. It is work that has to be done everyday. It is work that has to be repeated and is simply part of living life each day. Getting dressed. Making messes. Eating. Cleaning it all up.
It is work that may not always be appreciated but it would become quite visible if you were late to work or school, arrived with dirty clothes on (or no clothes at all), had no lunch to eat, or scheduled three things to happen all on the same day at the same time. When the work is done right it feels invisible because it allows life to run more seamlessly. When the work is not done it becomes quite visible because things break down.
So, is it really invisible? No. Am I invisible? No.
So when asked again what work I do I might respond differently. I’m the Director of Gear and Provisions. I’m the Department Head for Scheduling and Logistics. I’m the Chief Chef. I am not invisible, just doing the work in the background so it feels invisible, seamlessly smooth, and everything floats.