Work

I have a quick question- what happened to work?

There was a time, I think, when a job was a job. Somebody correct me if I am wrong here, but as I have read in texts from the last century, one used to sell one’s labor in exchange for one’s bread. A day’s work for a day’s pay, that sort of thing. Does this ring a bell for anyone?

The last few jobs I have had that weren’t manual labor jobs (and there has been an assortment of those- carpentry, tile work, painting…), I have been repeatedly scolded for not being enough of a team player. I had a confrontation with a short, nasty little man at this one company and these were the words that he said to me: “I get this feeling that this is just a job for you. It’s like this is just the place that you come to earn money.”

I got a nasty bitemark on my tongue trying not to say “Whoa, Mr. Newton… SOMETHING made that apple fall on your head….” What do you say to that? I mean, ferchrissakes, this was a company that builds (mediocre) websites for banks. I didn’t like bankers BEFORE I had to talk to them every day about technology.

This was right in the middle of the dot bomb economy, and no one was making money. Every day at this company, there were emails from the president and discussions about the stock holders and much hand-wringing about the Board of Directors and will the company be profitable in time to outrun the expectations of the stockholders? And if it doesn’t make it, HOO-BOY, the stock price is going to drop like a stone. Maybe if I had been stupid enough to take some of the CASH that they owed me in STOCK, that would have bothered me…

But heretical, black tongued demon that I am, to me, it was just a job.

I have this theory about work, and maybe I am crazy, but stay with me and you tell me: There are two kinds of jobs that a normal person does- the thing that you love doing that is a gift to society (teacher, fireman, painter, sculptor, public defender, epidemiologist, that sort of thing.) and there are jobs that one does to make enough money to keep the wolves beaten back from the door, for better or for ill. (personal assitant to the VP of Marketing, food stylist for McDonalds [there are actually people that go to the photo shoots for companies like McDonalds and “style” the food. They make sure that they french fries look perfectand that the lettuce on the big mac doesn’t wilt.], telemarketer, insurance claims adjuster, etc.) Granted, these two categories don’t actually cover the jobs an ABnormal person would do, the truly parasitic jobs that make me question the essential goodness of human beings- collections agent, email mass markter (spammer), RIAA employee, whoever is in charge of Eli Lily’s defense team….

The first of these categories, the job that a person would do for free if they had to, that’s one’s life’s work- interestingly, I have found that a lot of people who have those sorts of jobs feel a strong sense of commitment and duty to their community. Selflessness has a way of clearing one’s head, I think. You won’t get rich doing work that you love, more than likely, but you won’t waste your life trying to get rich, either.

On the other hand, what I call “jobby jobs,” those jobs one does strictly for the money… Well, it’s important not to kid yourself, don’t you think? You’re not curing cancer or feeding the hungry, or clearing land mines from roads somewhere- you’re paying the landlord, paying off Capital One, paying Blockbuster to entertain you, paying the grocer to feed you… There’s nothing wrong with that- lots of people I know have a jobby job so they can pay renty rent while they do their other thing, whatever that is (could be art, could be volunteer work, could just be raising great kids).

The important thing to remember, I think, is this: don’t start thinking that you’re doing one when you’re doing the other. If you’re building websites for pesticide companies, don’t start thinking that you’re working for Oxfam. And if you’re playing in a touring rock band, don’t start thinking that you’re working for Coca-Cola. (by that I mean- You’re not going to get rich, so stop treating it like it’s going to buy you a house.) (Words I should have heeded myself, years ago.)

And, if you’re corporate middle management and there’s some guy that plays guitar in his spare time (or maybe he does metal sculptures or something and that’s his thing) and you’re asking him to write code for eight and a half hours a day, don’t go asking him to throw himself on hand grenades for you. (or demand to know why he didn’t.) Because, like I said, it’s not like you’re digging people out of collapsed buildings. You’re just making money for someone else.

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