Never Work a Day in Your Life

focus jobs work

I guess as long as I was interacting with people, I wouldn't mind a boring job. The front desk clerks at my college dorm were always sunny and cheerful, despite the fact that they had been sitting at the same chair for years in many cases. They bantered with the students, learned their names and histories, and made us feel welcome. There were times when I felt the only person happy to see me was the lady at the front desk.

I hear inspirational stories of people in similarly bottom-rung jobs who bring a lot of joy to the lives of the people they interact with. Grocery store clerks who know everyone in the neighborhood and share recipes ideas based on your shopping cart's contents; taxi drivers who make it their personal mission to care about your life story; clothing store retailers who always have useful and engaging fashion advice.

But what about the people who work behind the scenes, without much human interaction? I spent a massive chunk of time today repricing clothing from Euros to Dollars. I did appreciate the lull in my otherwise crazy day, but I can't imagine doing that for the rest of my life. But there are people in the world who perform those kinds of jobs, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, year in and year out. I honestly cannot wrap my head around it.

Seeing the Forest through the Trees

There are trivial tasks that are worth doing for a greater cause. As part of my newly adopted duties at Farm to Table, we've had to manually go through every single post on the site, redirect all the image URLs, and sort out the authors, assign categories and tags, and generally tweak all the articles. It is tedious work, but every time a new article goes up with its colorful pictures, all its tags and categories filled out, I feel a deep sense of fulfillment. Probably because it is adding up to something bigger, something I can see and something I care about.

See, I don't really mind the tedious stuff. In a way, it is calming to perform the repetitive actions. But I do have a strong internal desire to be moving towards something. I cannot really justify very much in my life that does not add up to some larger project of mine. On the other hand, give me a larger project goal, and I can justify some pretty obscure, tedious actions. I once spent months designing maps for a fantasy world I was creating, an endeavor that involved hours of stamping tiny trees on a cartography program, then going back and reordering the stamping to ensure everything looked seamless and realistic. Never mind that nobody would ever get that close to the image anyway. I even did a hand-drawn version, which I then copied over and inked by hand. Hours and hours of my life drawing miniature trees, but do I think it was wasted? No way! Those maps hang up in my room still, though I've forgotten most of the history of the world they describe. I'm proud of my ability to maintain the focus and attention to detail over those months. The end result is gorgeous, but the process involved a lot of tedious work, not all of it creative in nature.

So I guess the key is making something trivial add up to something larger that had meaning to you. I can take pride in a gorgeously coordinated clothing display, for purely aesthetic reasons. Maybe simply taking pride in a job well done is good enough, knowing that people are counting on you and that some of them appreciate your hard work. Alternatively, simply finding pleasure in the job itself can help. I could see a certain romantic appeal in being a truck driver, for example. Spending your days on the open road, seeing the countryside. I hear it gets boring really quickly though, and your time is not your own.

Reconciling the work I need to do with the work I want to do is really something I should have learned in college, since there were plenty of assignments I wasn't especially keen on. But I chose all my classes, and it all added up to my personal transcript and diploma, so there was incentive to do a good job. I'm finding that money is not always much of an incentive, even if I'm at a position in life where I need it to feed myself...which of course goes back to my desire to run off and start a farmstead, but that's for another article.



Image source: Brian Auer on Flickr