To paraphrase Will Rogers, "I never met a job I didn't like."
That's likely more relevant than many realize. When Rogers made his now famous statement, he was referencing Leon Trotsky
, the second-in-command to Lenin and someone generally thought to be not a very nice man. "I bet you if I had met him [Trotsky] and had a chat with him," said Rogers, "I would have found him a very interesting and human fellow, for I never yet met a man that I didn't like." (Saturday Evening Post, 1926)
Roger's point, of course, was that every human being has something
in them which we can find to like. We just have to be willing to look. I think that's equally true of jobs.
Sometimes, I'll admit, we have to look pretty hard.
I dropped out of high school in 1967 when an opportunity arose to get into the local construction union. I had to lie about my age, and it was just a general laborer position, but the $3.73 an hour I made seemed like a fortune to me back then. I worked mostly with the masons, mixing mud (mortar) and hauling bricks or cinder blocks, and very quickly discovered I was going to earn every single penny I took home. It was truly back-breaking labor, whether it was during an abysmally hot and humid summer or a Michigan winter with winds off the Lake that would give a polar bear reason to pause. But I learned the value of sweat, the importance of pride, and the immense satisfaction of building something that would endure. Six years ago, when I moved back to Michigan, I drove by a three-story home where myself and two bricklayers had worked for two months. And I realized that every single red brick that surrounded the family now living there had, at one time, passed through my hands. My stint in construction lasted less than a year, just until my eighteenth birthday, but all the good things I found in the job far outweighed the bad ones.
My next job was much the same, only worse. I was still very much low man on the totem pole, the work was even more physically exhausting, but this time the pay was almost nonexistent. And, uh, people shot at me? The Marine Corps offered me the most degrading and demanding job of my life, but it also taught me the need for preparation and training, the value of camaraderie, and ultimately gave me my first taste of responsibility for the welfare of others. Never before or since have I hated a job more or appreciated a lesson as much.
Back to Michigan, a quick GED to replace that missing high school diploma, then two years as a Commercial Art student in our local community college. During the second year, myself and a friend opened a photography studio in a strip mall, a dream job that quickly devolved into a nightmare. Commercially, it was successful. We shot two or three weddings a week most weeks, and donated "free" 8 by 10's as call-in prizes on the local radio station, knowing almost everyone would buy additional prints if we managed to make them look good. It was decent money, great hours, and almost killed my love of photography. I discovered there was a lot more Commercial in Commercial Art than there was Art. When I graduated with my Associates degree, I sold my half of the business to my partner, moved a few hundred miles away, and changed the major in my new four-year University to Business. Thanks to that job, I was little bit richer and a whole lot wiser.
Took a job as a fry cook next. Six months later they made me a store manager. In retrospect, the sixty-hour work weeks cut into my education badly, but I considered it a real-world adjunct to the business courses I was taking. I ended up staying in food service even after graduation, for over seven years, working for five different companies. After moving back to California,, I ran a restaurant in downtown LA, where we were robbed at least every other month, my car was broken into if I left it on the street, and once a homeless man had his throat cut while sitting on our back stoop. For eight months, I worked on Harbor Blvd. in Anaheim, directly across from the Disneyland entrance, in what was at the time the busiest restaurant in the world (the Denny's across from Disney World in Orlando now holds that honor). I gravitated into training, and ended as Director of Operations for a nine-unit chain in San Diego.
Managing restaurants wasn't an easy job. The politics were always rampant, the hours were always long, and as I grew older, it seemed as if all the employees just kept getting younger and more irresponsible. Gratification, where it was to be found, was often very long term, the result of taking someone still in high school, grooming them for a few years, and eventually handing them the keys to their own store. That industry taught me that people, what we can give to them, what we can find in them, is the only real resource with any meaning.
Somewhere in the midst of my restaurant career, I returned to writing. It became the creative outlet I had lost when I moved away from my art interests, the spice that made my more mundane business life palatable. A trade magazine called Training. The regional Michigan Motor News. Had a piece published in Parent's Magazine in 1976. In 1980, after retyping the same article for the third or fourth time, I decided it was high time to invest in one of these new-fangled word processing computers. This was before the IBM PC made its debut, so I ended up buying a Commodore 64. I still remember bringing it home, hooking it up to a black and white TV, and then starting to enter my article. About two lines into the article, the little bugger popped up and told me I had "Syntax Error." Took me almost two days to figure out I needed software to go with the computer.
Being na´ve, I decided to write my own. Couldn't be that hard, right? My first attempt at a word processor was written in interpreted Basic. I can hit about 120 wpm when I get going, and Basic could handle (at best) about 20 wpm. Not exactly a match made in heaven. So I taught myself 6502 machine language, wrote a fairly viable word processor, and used it over the course of the next two years to publish over thirty articles on, what else, the Commodore 64.
In 1982, completely hooked to the point of dreaming in 6502 assembler, I made a rather dramatic move, quitting my high-level management job in food service to once again return to school. That was a hard transition to make. A bit over a year later, I entered the computer industry as an entry-level programmer. That was a REALLY hard transition to make. I was 33 years old, making about twenty percent what I had made a year earlier, and even the 19-year-old receptionist was giving me orders. But I honestly didn't care, because I very quickly realized that everything I thought I knew, from the 8-bit computers I taught myself, to the Hollerith cards they were still teaching in college, was all completely useless. I was in the office before the sun rose and usually still in the office when the sun set. Three months into the job, I was sent to a client's site to load a tape. While I was there I fixed three or four other minor problems he had, his appreciation got back to the owner of my company, and I found myself in the field at least a few times a week. Three months after that, I was leading my own project team. Two years later, I was head of IT for a large insurance agency, rewriting all their applications from scratch. When one of the principals at the agency left and formed his own agency, he became my first client. A second client, recommended by the first, became a business. Twelve years later, in 1997, I sold the business and retired.
At no time in my life have I ever had a "great job." Construction was metaphorically a killer, and the Marines could easily have been literally a killer. My own photography studio was a dream that led only to disillusionment. Every single job I had in the restaurant industry was simultaneously boring and stressful. My return to school cost me a marriage and my life-savings, only to lead to a job where I was chronologically ten years older than anyone else and technologically five years behind them. Even my own software house was less than ideal, as I quickly found myself spending much more time "making deals" than writing the code to create something new and useful.
I've had really, really bad bosses. I've probably been that bad boss, too. I've very often felt I was over my head, with no clear direction, drowning in a technological ocean where what I knew was always, inevitably, yesterday's news. I've had to work double- and even triple-shifts because others were irresponsible. I've experienced stress levels that actually made me ill. I've been afraid for my own physical safety. Every job I ever had sucked.
But I never met one I didn't like.
In the end, I think personal satisfaction can never be realized externally. That's true not just in the job market, but in any kind of person-to-person relationship. Whether you need praise from your boss or a certain kind of love from your lover, child, or family member, sooner or later you are going to have a problem when you can't get what you think you need. Satisfaction, if you are ever going to have any control over it, must come from within yourself. That means taking pride in what you do, even if all you do is lug bricks from the bottom of the scaffold to the top of the scaffold. It means going the extra mile, working the extra hours, not because someone else is ever going to say thanks, but because it's the only way to become better at what you do. It means reaching for the next rung on the ladder, not because the pay is better or the perks more appealing, but just because the view from up there is one you haven't seen yet. Satisfaction can't be something someone gives us for what we do. It has to be something we generate ourselves, for ourselves, from doing what we do.
'Least wise, that's what I think.
Epilog (like this post isn't already long enough):
In late 1998, a little bored with retirement, I put up a small web site as a subdirectory off a domain I was using to teach at a local community college. It was just thirty or so poems I had written, and it's only purpose was to see if I could figure out this thing I had read about called SEO. Almost as an after-thought, I added a form and invited others to send me their poems to post with mine. Ironically, I hadn't yet heard of viral marketing.
Two months later, with a few hundred uniques a day, I moved it to its own domain. A year and one month later, the site broke one million uniques a month, and a year after that it broke two million (both records were hit in February, a really good month for poetry sites). I developed a friendship with several talented writers, and started a forum, which eventually led to 1.5 million posts being accumulated. We put together a newsletter, written by the community and eventually hosted at its own domain. Another poetry site was the result of wanting to highlight the 100 most popular poems at the main site every month. Using my own free-lancing experience, I've encouraged our writers to submit their work and many have now been published in magazines and journals, with about six of our most talented people being invited into well known anthologies, including the Chicken Soup series. We've published two of our own books in the past two years, with a third 387-page manuscript currently sitting at the printers. I've never worked harder in my life than since I retired. With the expectations that have been raised, and literally several thousand people depending on me not to make too many mistakes, I've never faced quite so much stress. And, most certainly, I've never made so very little money from my efforts. This job, like every other I've had in my life, totally sucks.
And, of course, I'm loving every blessed moment of it.
Edited by Ron Carnell, 06 August 2003 - 11:02 AM.