(For this week’s topic at The High Calling: Creating Beauty in the Workplace)
My husband and I married in late August, right after our summer undergraduate research jobs at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After just a few weeks with his coworkers, he had already established a reputation for dressing informally at work. (I still joke that, to him, “dressing up” means wearing black jeans instead of blue.) His boss and another colleague made a bet that summer: “I bet you Charles won’t wear a tux to his own wedding.” (Don’t worry, she lost the bet.)
So, when it comes to clothes, my husband isn’t fancy. A minimalist (not to mention an engineer), he likes everything plain and lives simply, a trait which extends to other areas besides his wardrobe. He prefers bland food, without even salt or pepper. He could live in a white-walled cinder block house with no decor. If I swapped out our dining table with a big cardboard box, he might not notice.
When Charles worked four miles away as an analog circuit designer, he commuted by bicycle. Some days, after biking to work, he didn’t bother changing out of his sweatpants. Colleagues posted family photos or their kids’ drawings on their cubicle walls, but Charles didn’t decorate his cube unless you counted the bike helmet and reflective safety vest sitting on his desk.
Was this a man who created beauty in his workplace?
Look again at his cubicle. Under the desk, you’ll find a soccer ball and orange cones for marking goals and field boundaries. You’ll find a stash of hockey sticks, some duct-taped at the handles. At every place where my husband has worked, he initiated and organized lunchtime pick-up games, whether it was basketball, soccer, or street hockey. Halfway through their work day, a bunch of guys with stress and deadlines would leave their workstations or windowless labs to run hard in the sun and fresh air. In many cases, word spread to other nearby companies, so the group was not limited to just Charles’s workplace.
Beyond organizing the pick-up games, Charles also led well on the field. When players got arrogant or ugly, he would remind them of his two rules: play clean, and be kind. Everyone was welcome, regardless of skill level or experience in that sport. (They even allowed me on the soccer field.) One man invited his father, who was in his seventies. When schools were on vacation, another man would bring his thirteen-year-old son.
If beauty is something that brings pleasure to the senses and mind, then leaving a stressful morning to sprint on green grass, pass the ball to your teammate, and watch him score is beauty. Feeling your quadriceps and hamstrings tense and flex as you make a hard cut to lose a defender is beauty. Packing up the cones and riding back in your officemate’s truck to tackle the rest of the work day, renewed and energized, is beauty in the workplace.
Sweat and all.