Monday, September 03, 2007

Working for a living

Today we celebrate the working men and women of America. They deserve it. Since that group includes the majority of people, whether one's job is recognized as labor or not, we all need to celebrate. We deserve it. Having worked in the employment industry for nearly a decade, I've spent a lot of time thinking about jobs and what they mean.

People who love their jobs are among the luckiest people in the world. There is absolutely nothing that compares to that feeling of anticipating your work day, knowing you're exercising your talents and abilities, making a contribution and being well rewarded. The rewards are certainly not limited to money and benefits, but when you feel appropriately compensated, it's wonderful. I don't know too many people who are that lucky.

I could go off on a diatribe about how big business does not value its workers. I could easily go off on another rant about a poor work ethic, sense of responsibility and lack of professionalism among workers. Both management and labor have their fair share of complaints. What I want to do though is just celebrate what it means to have a job.

Besides providing a means of support, jobs provide people with accomplishment. Sometimes, just making it through the day is enough. You've survived, and tomorrow, maybe, you can do more than survive. It keeps a mind active, even if it's just remembering how to operate the cash register with the pictures of the menu items besides the button you push or knowing just the heft, lift and direction you need to get the garbage can onto the truck without covering yourself in other people's trash.

A job also helps other people, and if you're holding a job, you are making a difference in someone else's life. Years ago, in the hardest and worst job I ever had, I was a temporary switchboard operator for the customer service department of a tile manufacturer. I basically spent my days literally getting cussed out because our reps stayed on the phone so much they could rarely take incoming calls and I got to take the messages from people needing a call back. I jokingly referred to my job as making the world safe for better bathrooms. With a degree and several years of solid work experience in better jobs, I was seriously overqualified, but it was the type of job that was available. I didn't like it, but I was making the jobs of our very busy and stressed out customer service reps easier. I was a person, not a recording, and the frustrated people on the other end of the phone line had a place to dump their frustration, make a joke and even occasionally, miraculously a friend. From that job, I also made the decision that I would not treat people the way that I had been treated. That low level, insignificant job taught me more about business etiquette and effective, persuasive communication than any sales or management seminar I've ever attended. From my perspective of two decades down the road, those two things were worth the migraine that lasted for months and the additions to an already well salted vocabulary. (Would I do it again? If I had to, but let's pray I never have to.)

This is the first time in a long time I've been unemployed. My job hunt has kept me busy enough to not miss having a job to go to every day. I haven't had the great and rewarding career of my youthful dreams, but I have had jobs I've loved as well as the jobs that caused migraines. I've had both personal and professional growth in the companies for which I've worked. I can look at what I've done and know that I have made some differences bigger than making a few telephone customer service reps work days a little smoother. Doing a job well is truly its own reward, and I'm glad to have had that satisfaction in my life and the faith that I will have it again.

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