“Why does living feel like never-ending work?” Yrsa Daley-Ward’s book The How answers life’s puzzling questions

“Why is everything work?” In an exclusive extract from her new book, The How, Yrsa Daley-Ward answers one of life’s more puzzling questions. 

in 2017, Yrsa Daley-Ward burst into the public consciousness with her acclaimed poetry collection, Bone. Now, the former model is hailed as a major literary talent, following on from her memoir, The Terrible, which recounts her experiences growing up as a queer Jamaican-Nigerian woman in north-west England, and has contributed to Beyoncé’s iconic visual album Black is King. Her latest book, The How, is a beautiful blend of poetry, reflections and prompts exploring the joys and trials of modern life. In this extract from the chapter Why Is Everything Work?, Daley-Ward examines the ‘never-ending work of living’.  

The How Yrsa Daley-Ward
Yrsa Daley-Ward's latest book, The How, is a beautiful blend of poetry, reflections and prompts.

Once we come of age, everything suddenly feels like work. All at once, there seem to be a million steps to getting anything done. Searching for joy feels like work. Creating feels like work. Life itself feels like work. Since everything seeps into everything else, the art of arranging our lives in order to be most constructive can appear as a never-ending medley of tasks. 

The word work has been vastly confounded with struggle, with slog, with difficulty, with toil, drudgery, and grind. A lot of our ideas about work align with some toxic idea about productivity—the idea that we are simply what we produce, when what we produce is just a part of it. No wonder we don’t want to work.

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We were not designed to shuffle from point to point, merely fulfilling errands and collecting digits in the bank account. If we want to do more than survive, if we want to do more than just get through the days, an interior adjustment must take place. It is more than cognitive; it is something entirely spiritual. In some cases, we need to redefine what we think life is all about. In many cases, we need to redefine what we think work is, and to release the idea that we must suffer and struggle for the things that we want.

A degree of everyday effort is natural. We are constantly up against things that make us stretch, wonder, and sweat. Problem-solving, starting something new, keeping things up, staying away from things, pushing ourselves into new, unfamiliar territory. But we have to remember that the experience of life itself is as important as the doings. Movement and stillness. Eating and breathing. Talking, tending, and loving.

There is much to learn about our inner selves; much work, and not all of it will feel amazing. But it does not have to mean strain. We can breathe deeply the whole way through, even when it is nipping at our harder memories and tender points. We can proceed with gentleness and intent. In doing so, we will shake ourselves loose.

In doing so, we are allowing more varied and encompassing types of love and expression, more honesty, deeper inspiration, and we are able to take larger risks with our hearts, careers, and minds.

On a piece of paper, note the “work” you are looking forward to doing. Now note every single type of work that scares you.

Note the work you would say that you are currently doing. Now note the work you think you must do, whether you are excited about it or not. Are there overlaps? Patterns? Surprises?

Who wants to do all of this? Who has time for it? We do. Wherever we are, let’s start from there. 

Taken from The How: Notes On The Great Work Of Meeting Yourself by Yrsa Daley-Ward, published by Penguin Press on 11 November. 

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