Work is sometimes seen as the daily, necessary grind. A means to an end.
Yet, the true power of work is much bigger than that. In work, we find connection, community, passion, achievement, and growth. Work can make lives, and work can save lives.
In this article, I’m getting vulnerable. I’m going to tell some firsthand stories about the true power of work.
I write this on Day 1 in New York. After nearly 2 years in the great city of Philadelphia, I awake in the Big Apple – processing the sprawling city, its rapid heartbeat and energy, living on a 23-mile block of land that is THE global city.
Recently, I had the great privilege of going to the US Open Tennis. As a tennis tragic (yes, once again, I describe my love of the game and the way I play it) who grew up playing on the uneven courts of the local YMCA in Sydney, this was bucket list stuff. Just seeing the grounds I’d seen as a kid on TV was surreal.
As a kid who grew up with my younger brother in a single parent family led by my amazing Mum, and the unconditional and unstoppable love and care of my Grandparents, and extended family, we did lots of cool things. But not the US Open.
Reflection 1. Work can make lives.
Our Dad left when I was 3, my brother not 1, and here on the brink of 34, I’ve never asked all the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’. All I know is, my Mum, my family, are incredible.
They must know that, but we aren’t the type of family that says those things out loud. So, here goes.
My Mum is a force of nature, working hard to give us all she could (including those tennis lessons at the YMCA, thanks Mum!), in jobs that many would see as beneath them. When you meet my still-driving almost 90-year-old Nan, you see where the strength and work ethic comes from.
When I reflect on what both have done, and what they are still doing, its truly remarkable. They’ve raised kids and grandkids, worked jobs, some paid and many unpaid, to make lives. I don’t just mean get us to the world (a different mean feat in itself), or help us live, I mean, they worked tirelessly to give us a foundation for our lives.
They won’t be given prizes or great public accolades, but their unassuming and unrelenting hard work has made my life.
They’ve enabled me and my family, not with a bulging bank account but with a base of values, ideas, beliefs, understanding, of empathy and more. There are a few places we don’t agree, but that’s something they too built.
And there are probably some readers that are naysayers here. Don’ t think this is a crude tale of underprivilege, or ‘woe is me’. It’s the opposite.
I am so lucky because of them. And yes, privileged. I’m white, I’m male. And now a first-generation University graduate, and a homeowner (well, along with CBA).
Because of them.
Reflection 2. Work is a collection of stories and experiences.
For those who aren’t tennis buffs, the US Open is vibrant, known for great stories (and outfits) over a rich history, which reflects the New York that surrounds it. It’s colourful, loud, passionate – people get behind tennis. But really, they get behind the stories of hard work, adversity, aspiration, and achievement that every player who starts in the US Open brings.
The stories this year were big. The battle of the teenage ‘next generation’, or the opportunity to see someone win ‘the Slam’.
Yet, as an Aussie away from home, moving to another home that’s not home, I share a slither of the story of Dylan Alcott.
Dylan will be known, he is a bloody inspirational human being.
As we ambled through the Billie Jean King Tennis Centre, you see the enormity of the event. Even amidst the 2021 world, over 500,000 vaccinated spectators went through the gates. For the Men’s and Women’s Singles Final, almost 24,000 watched in Arthur Ashe stadium.
Recent Paralympic Gold Medallist in the Quad Wheelchair Singles in Tokyo, a top bloke, and passionate advocate for people with disabilities. A win in New York would see Dylan win the rare Golden Slam – prior to him that had only been achieved by Steffi Graf (and immediately before he played, it was achieved by Quad Wheelchair Women’s Singles champion, Diede de Groot).
There’s the scene for the story.
Reflection 3. Work is about support, growth, and momentum.
Dylan (or as he often spurs himself on with, Dyl) epitomises growth and momentum – a network of great supports, and an exceptional ability to self-support. He rolled onto court with steely focus, racquet bag gripped by his teeth.
He greeted his young combatant, an equally exceptional competitor, young Niels Vink with the ultimate respect. There were sips of water, refuelling, pleasantries and a coin toss. As Niels shifted into his competition chair, Dylan was left waiting for his to arrive.
Dylan was calm, kind, and laughed it off as he let Niels know not to rush his preparation (in the same tournament, I heard other athletes complain about their bottled water being too cold). Thankfully, it soon arrived, players warmed up and settled into their match.
Every part of their game and routine displays determination, skill, and athleticism.
And momentum, literally and metaphorically. On returning serve, forward momentum is built to get power into their shots, the athletes are always moving. And that goes to their mindset too. They’re always seeking forward momentum.
‘Keep up Dyl’. ‘Great serve Dyl’.
The self-talk of a champion recognising the importance of momentum.
After a great match with a crowd far too small, Dylan secured the historic win. The match was a joy to watch, ebbs and flows, but for me it was the embrace between Dylan and Niels with hugs, words of support and gratitude, kisses, and real warmth that shows why we love sport.
It showed two men who support one another, have grown, and continue to grow, in their lives, and impact through their sport – by living their story for us to see and admire. This, tennis, is a part of their working lives and tennis is a momentum game!
Reflection 4. Work can save lives.
Recounting the end of match speeches brings a tear back to my eye.
Niels, a Dutch teenager, speaks as a seasoned professional and genuinely great human about Dylan, his supporters, and how he is proud of his efforts.
And Dylan was suitably proud of his amazing accomplishment. He did all the right thank you’s, acknowledged Niels, the support networks, the fans and officials.
He also spoke briefly to what it was like to be bullied as a ‘‘fat young disabled kid’ grappling with himself and his life, to finding his passion in tennis that “saved his life”.
Work can save lives.
Work is a powerful part of our lives.
Do not discount it for another second.
Closing. Don’t stay still.
Wherever you are today, please, reflect on your work.
Don’t stay still, be seeking to build momentum.
Work is not the means to an end – it will make lives and it will save lives if you’re brave enough to let it.
Check out the great work from both Dylan (his Foundation and Get Skilled Access) and Niels (Niels on Wheels) – and if you can, please make a contribution.