I have recently been talking to a number of people in very different circles and walks of life. I suppose it started off as a bit of a conversation starter, but in no time, I knew it was turning into more of an experiment. It was all about talking to people about what they do for a living, what brought them joy, and whether or not they were doing anything to enhance or change their future.
It began innocently enough weeks ago, when I was in a Supermarket and got into a conversation with an employee putting products on a shelf. “What do you like about your job?” I asked out of curiosity. What I got was a look where the head is lowered and the eyes raised along with the eyebrows. “There’s nothing to like; it’s a job” was the reply. “Nothing? Really?” I asked. “Well, I never know if I’ll be working days, nights or weekends until I get a schedule, the freezers in the back are cold, the customers complain, the floors are hard to stand on all day, you have to know where every item is found, and yeah, it’s not fun at all – it’s a job.”
Then I got into a conversation with a small business owner who was standing alone in his store. I ask him the same question, “So what do you like about your job?” He replied, “Really it’s not as exciting as I thought it would be. Too much time waiting for something to happen, people come and go but not many are buying.”
My next mini-interview was with a sales young girl in a large bookstore who initially approached me with the ‘deal of the day’. After her pitch, I said, “So what do you like about your job?” Her answer was initially the shortest; “Hey, it’s a job.” Then she said, “I’m just here to make some money to pay for school. Oh I’ve got plans and none of them involve standing around all day saying the same thing to everybody I meet – Hi! finding everything you need?”
Now of the three, what I found interesting was that none were overly thrilled to be doing what they were doing at the time, but only one mentioned that something better was on the horizon. How sad I thought, and I still think, that the person putting items on a shelf will do that day-in and day-out presumably every day they work there, on the same hard floor, having to know all the same products, and unless something prompts them to change, their opinion of their job will remain as negative as it currently is. The small business owner who must have thought at one time that it would be profitable and exciting to operate his own business, is spending more time waiting for something to happen instead of making something happen.
Yet the young woman who provided the artificial greeting to customers entering the bookstore, well, she at least was keeping her eyes on a brighter future, and saw her work as not personally gratifying, but as a means to help make a brighter future a possibility. Isn’t it interesting though how each person was willing to tell me, a customer and someone unknown to them that they were an unhappy worker. One was an owner, the other two likely a low wage earner. And I wonder even now if their respective Management knew they had communicated this information, would they be sacked, disciplined or shock of shocks, asked to sit down with Management and share those frustrations, so things might improve for the employees.
It’s way to easy for Management to simply replace the employee and hire an unemployed person in the hopes that the person will be a productive happy employee with their new minimum wage job. It is not however, the issue of compensation alone that in the end makes the employee happier but rather their perception of the importance of their job, how they get to do the work, and how they are treated. The lustre of income is important of course, but once the pay is a regular event, most people don’t grumble about the money, but rather the work they actually do, the joy or lack thereof they derive from accomplishing things, and is there a better future.
If you are observant, you can find something to learn from any job. As a teenager, I filled in for a sick friend making plastic molds in a factory one day. In that single day, I learned quickly that I wasn’t cut out for a life in a hot factory working on extremely hot plastic molds doing repetitive work. Rather than saying I hated the job and nothing else, I learned from that single day that I had better move in a different direction, because manual labour in factory settings wasn’t going to bring me happiness. While I appreciate the work is necessary and admire the skills of those who perform it, it’s not for me personally. Take from each experience what you like, what you don’t, and then determine what steps are needed to eventually do more of what you like and less of what you don’t.
If you are just starting out in the world of work, don’t make the error of expecting your dream job to be your first job. Learn from everything you do, pick up the skills necessary to perform the job (like the interpersonal skills of the young bookstore girl), evaluate your happiness (like all three), and take this knowledge with you from job to job. You’ll discover a number of pieces to a puzzle that when completed will be a picture of your life…but there’s no illustration on the front of the box because you shape the picture.