I Am Not (Only) a Tool

Black claw hammer on brown wooden plank with various nails

A hammer exists to hammer things. When it’s not being used, it just sits there, available for someone to pick it up. To the extent anyone gives it a second thought at all, a hammer is generally viewed through the perspective of how well it performs a limited set of functions. If a hammer has an “off day,” it gets replaced. No one cares about how a hammer feels.

I am not a hammer. But, sometimes I feel like a mere tool, or means to an end, at work. It’s not due to any overt intent by those that I work with, but that’s what the effect is. It’s also not unique to my current workplace. Instead, it’s probably a function of working for wages at a high-pressure job, generally.

I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m hired to perform certain tasks (e.g., providing legal advice), so that’s what I have to do to stay employed. I am paid well because whether or not I do my job well impacts the success of my company, and the range of things I work on requires thought and different capabilties or approaches.

If anything, I’m more like a Swiss Army knife. But, whether someone is more like a hammer or Swiss Army knife is merely a difference in categorizing the type of tool and misses the point.

Ultimately, the language of all tools, as with my work, is about utilty. It’s about output, productivity, efficiency, responsiveness, and meeting expectations. It’s about being responsive to emails in the evenings and weekends. It’s about dropping what I’m doing to take on a time-sensitive call or task. It’s about meeting deadlines and delivering outcomes.

Sometimes, though, a hammer doesn’t want to hammer. It can still hammer, but, like Bartleby the Scrivener, it may just “prefer not to.” Sometimes, a hammer wants to learn about the trees in its neighborhood, read more books for interest or personal growth or spend more time with friends and family, and not be rushed all of the time. Even if it does some hammering, perhaps it wants to focus more on doing it in a careful way, even if it takes several weeks to hammer in one nail.

I think what I’m trying to say is that, I feel an increasing desire to change the direction my life is oriented. I don’t just want my life to be about how well I “hammer” or how much I’ve saved doing so. Unclear whether I am seeking a temporary or longer-lasting change, but my current work and industry feels too limiting and one-dimensional, and the human experience is about much more.

The type of change I’m looking for will require changing my frame of reference, from one where goals are defined in terms of things that are measurable and utilitarian, to one where I’m oriented toward non-utilitarian things, like care, attention, knowledge and freedom. I already have ideas of what that might look like, and I’m looking forward to seeking more.

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