How to work with care

Rethinking how we work

Welcome to At The End Of The Day. I’m Hannah Sung. I write this newsletter to process the daily firehose of news and to consider what matters most — caring, for ourselves, our friends and families, our communities and the greater good. 

This week, I am excited to welcome my very first sponsor. Fanfare, please:

📣 Welcome to The Real Food Kitchen! 📣

To learn the story behind this partnership, plus how you can get some great food delivery with the discount code ATEOD20, scroll to bottom.

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🏠 WFH, hbu?

Recently during a work call, my daughter noisily ripped open a new bag of hamster food as my son played a video game with a friend, shouting into his iPad. We were all in the same room. I worked the mute on my phone like a wartime Morse code breaker and survived.

Working from home: If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry (or you can be an overachiever and just do both, in which case you are my people).

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we work these days but instead of reflecting on what it was like one year ago, pre-pandemic, my thoughts have thrown me back into my youth, to one of my very first jobs, when I worked and lived in a rich family’s home for the summer, in a different part of town.

That summer is probably on my mind because by day, I’m working on a podcast that includes a history of domestic workers in Canada. And by night, I’m reading Kiley Reid’s novel Such a Fun Age in which a young, Black woman works for a rich, white family — a highly satisfying and fun read that hits all the right notes for me right now.    

⛅ A summer of hard lessons

My own stint working in a family’s home happened the summer I turned 17. I got the job when my high school English teacher told me and a best friend that someone in her book club needed a duo of babysitters to take to their cottage in Muskoka for the summer. I’d never been to a cottage. It sounded like a sweet summer job of hanging out by a lake.

The gig wasn’t as advertised. While my friend and I were told we would work half the week with the other days off-duty, the father was never home and the mother had a much more progressed illness than she let on to anyone (including her own husband but most pertinently for us, to her two teenage hires). 

We spent 12-hour days, often 7 days a week, swapping between one of us looking after the kids, age 3 and 5, while the other was caring for their mother. I spent most of my time bathing her, helping her in the bathroom, adjusting her wig, dressing her and assisting her physio.

It was confusing. We cared about their well-being. But there were no boundaries. It was isolated and stressful.

(Do all those feelings sound familiar in this WFH era? Maybe another clue as to why this experience is on my mind these days.)

Once that summer, when everyone else was in town, the mother slipped into the lake, alone. She didn’t have the strength to swim, we all knew that, so I’m not sure what made her do this. I was washing dishes in the cottage in front of the kitchen window when I saw movement in the water. Shocked to see her in the lake, I leapt out of the cottage and only then did I hear her weak cries for help. I jumped in with a floatie and pulled her out. I feel very lucky she didn’t die on my watch.

The family never addressed the lake incident with me. And even though I was the one who pulled her out of the lake, I felt terrible about it, even guilty. Why? I don’t know. I didn’t talk about the incident much but my nightmares let me know exactly how I felt.

Working in someone else’s home made me realize I wasn’t as grown up as I thought I was. I needed my own parents. Plus, as I now know, being independent and self-sufficient doesn’t mean you never ask for help. It’s the opposite. You need to know exactly who, when, where and how to ask for support. 

That summer when my parents would ask me how it was going, I’d say I was having a great time. I didn’t tell them that actually, after I pulled the woman from the lake, she was taken to a psychiatric hospital, where she stayed the rest of the summer. 

The children were often upset. So were my BFF and I. 

It was an era of no cell phones or email or social media, so we didn’t keep in touch with the family afterward, as much as I missed the kids upon leaving. And anyway, while we all lived in the same city, we may as well have been in different worlds.

When school started in September, my friend and I told our English teacher what happened that summer. I can still remember her face, a mix of incredulity and concern. “Why didn’t you call me?” she said.

I think it hadn’t occurred to us that we could. Somehow, we didn’t realize our teacher cared about us and was on our side. 

All summer long, my BFF and I had wondered what our no-bullshit teacher had in common with our summer job matriarch. And when we finally told our teacher the truth, we were shocked to learn the two women weren’t even really friends. 

Nobody could see into our lives in this home. We were working in private, not in public. And our employer, for whatever reason, didn't notice we were two kids out of our depth, stressed and isolated.

I’ve more than doubled in age since then. And I’ve been learning, very slowly, how to be better at work. I’m less willing to hide the imperfections or hide when I’m struggling. 

But sometimes, I’m still that kid. The one who wants to look after everyone to the point that I want to protect people from even knowing about situations that have gone sideways.  

😎 I’m a WIP — work in progress

In this pandemic, as I was before COVID turned our lives upside down, I’ve been working around the clock. There’s just so much to get done. These days, like you perhaps, I even fill the chunks of time I previously used to commute or have evening pursuits. It’s just work, work, work.

So I’m the last person to give you tips on how to achieve work-life balance. I have none. But as we work ourselves hard through this pandemic, many of us at home, I’m reminded of that teenage version of myself because I’ve changed. I’m sharing some of those things I grapple with in case they ring true for you, too.

🆘 Ask for help

If there’s ever a time to practice asking for help, it’s in this pandemic. People don’t expect you to be OK right now so just tell them the truth if you’re not.

Give others permission to work less

You can stop working and just lie on the floor or get a glass of juice. This is allowed. We used to have stolen moments built in to our work life, reading on the subway or hitting the gym on the way to work. It can be hard to give yourself permission to take that time, so practice by giving that permission to a friend or colleague. I hope they’ll turn around with that grace for you, too.

You don’t have to be someone’s boss. You just have to be a voice that’s not in their own head. I know it’s worked for me, big-time, in random moments, so I’m trying mimic that sense of release I’ve gotten and pay it forward by encouraging friends to take a break.

💟 Build relationships: Do the work with care

I love when a good friend of mine, Garvia, talks about doing the work “with care.” How do you do that? Put as much work into building relationships as you do your projects.

Not only is it a more meaningful way to interact with other humans, it actually improves the end result. I say this as someone who works in media but I’ve got to think that working with care, and thinking long-term and holistically, helps in all work situations. 

🎲 All Work? Add some play

In an email thread, a new colleague Jeff invited our assembled team to look at his art website, so I did. One piece, inspired by one of his kids, moved me to the point of tears and I dropped him a line to let him know I loved it.

Well, wouldn’t you know – Jeff said he had an extra print. He mailed it to me. But there were a few other surprises inside.

When the cardboard tube showed up on my doorstep, I pulled out this “MAKE TIME” image. As I struggle with how busy I make myself, these two little words rang like a gong in my head. 

So now I have a very cool, tangible item to put up by my desk to compete with the clocks and remind me to own my time. 

I love that this package came from letting a bit of life creep into the edges of our work messages plus a huge act of generosity on my colleague’s part. 

If you have a story of a kindness someone did for you at work during the pandemic, I would love to hear it. Hit reply and let me know. I’d love to share it with readers.

The pandemic is changing our work life faster than we can keep up. I’m trying hard not to replicate the worst of the work world.

This pandemic is making us re-evaluate so much, on a social level, but on a hyper-personal one, too. 

If we want our work lives to improve, it might start with being kind to yourself so you can be kind to others and advocating for anyone else that you can.

Thanks for reading,

Hannah

✨✨✨ At The End Of The Day is edited by Ishani Nath who is the definition of delightful — I’m grateful we work together✨✨✨

Further Reading:

This live-in caregiver got COVID after her employer fell sick. As she isolated at a hotel, she was fired via text-message, The Toronto Star

5 Strategies to Support Your Employees Through a Crisis, Harvard Business Review

The Jobs the Pandemic May Devastate, The New York Times

Pandemic recovery will require rethinking capitalist norms, expert says, CBC

Toronto carpenter who builds tiny shelters for unhoused people calls on city to drop legal fight, CBC

‘I was still not believed to be a police officer because of my Blackness’: York cops describe their experiences with systemic racism inside the service, The Toronto Star

And the art that I found so moving by my new colleague, Jeffrey Woodrow.


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Here’s the thing: In this pandemic, I’ve cooked 5 kajillion meals. I’m pretty burnt on cooking.

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Oh hey!


I picked this company because Steve, who works at The Real Food Kitchen, is an ATEOD reader. We connected when he replied to one of my newsletters. It was nice to know he already liked what I was doing.

The same goes both ways. I already knew and liked The Real Food Kitchen. They had provided hot meals (and birthday cakes!) to my children’s daycare centres. I remember being jealous when I’d read notes on what my kids ate. It sounded healthy, delicious and most importantly, cooked by someone who was not me.

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I am so excited by this because it feels like a win-win-win (we all need to eat) and because it’s exactly the way I want to grow the business side of this newsletter -- slowly, sustainably and with companies I’m aligned with. Plus, I think the price is already pretty nice so the discount, and supporting ATEOD’s growth, hopefully make it that much sweeter.

If you want recommends, I ordered the Herbivore Weekly Survival kit, which arrived in long, frozen packages which were very satisfying to the freezer-organizer in me. I also ordered a cocoa beet loaf (which I inhaled, oops -- next time I’ll order two), a few bags of zucchini muffins (the first ingredient is actual zucchini!) and cookies, ginger and oatmeal.

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