What’s in a Job?

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My father-in-law was a travel agent for many years and had traveled around the world. He had developed an affinity for Persian rugs, and owned a couple in his home. When Expedia got popular, along with other book-it-yourself sites on the internet, he got out of the travel-agent business and retired. However, he felt like he was a little too young for full retirement, so he got a job at Home Depot. What department did they put him in? Flooring.

Sheesh, he knew rugs — fancy Persian rugs. He didn’t have any interest in laminate or hardwood, but that’s where he worked.

Work is something that a lot of people agonize over. They want/need to make enough money (however they define enough), but are also concerned with their appearance — how will they feel telling others where they work? What will their status in society be? If we never talked about where we work, it would take the pressure off in many ways, but that’s not how our society works. Sometimes, we want to work in our field or “in our passion” so much, that it blinds us to opportunities right in front of us.

I have worked all over the place. I had a very hard time getting my first job. It was July 1992 and I had just moved away from home. I wanted to live in Edmonton for a couple of months before University started, to get my feet under me. But the summer jobs were all taken already, especially those that a high school student might get. I had minimal work experience except for what I did for my dad at the farm, and that doesn’t go very far in the city! I looked all over, and when I asked at a gas station, they referred me to “Gordon, across the street,” who had mentioned he needed some help. Gordon ran a hobby supply business on the side, and he had been so busy with orders, he was falling behind. I think he hired me because I was a farm girl, and I was less likely to be grossed out by all the mouse poop in his storage room! So, I spent the summer, and off-and-on for a couple more years, unpacking and organizing parts that came in, and filling orders to be shipped. Not very glamourous!

I wonder if that early experience shaped the way I think about work. I have never been overly concerned with the “status” associated with a job, although I’ve had some pretty good ones! I worked at the Edmonton Space and Science Centre (before they changed their name 3 times!). I was Staff Scientist at Science North, where I had plenty of opportunities to travel, including watching the space shuttle launch from as close as they’ll let you! That was pretty cool. I met almost all of Canada’s astronauts throughout my seven years working there. Then I went on to Nav Canada. I had always wondered if I had the aptitude to do air traffic services, and it turns out I do! I got very high scores by aptitude, but I still had to work my butt off and complete the course, get certified, and thrive as a Flight Service Specialist. Again, not anywhere as glamourous as an Air Traffic Controller, but very good work, which I loved and was good at.

Isn’t that all we want in a job? To do something we enjoy and are good at? With just enough variety or challenge to keep us interested? Ah, I guess not. Some are bent on impressing their friends, or earning the respect of their folks or in-laws. Or following their dream! It’s ironic that I’ve never been ambitious, yet I’ve done well! Having the love of my family helps; there is no need to impress and no fear of letting them down. They just love me! I’m so lucky.

After coming back from Fort Simpson and Wrigley, I worked for a summer at Ferguson’s Market, owned by good friends. I worked ridiculous hours and really wore myself down, to the point where my own health suffered and I think I aged 2 years that summer. Sometimes I wonder why I did that. Do I have an unhealthy attitude of dedication to work? Or do I tend toward denying my own needs to the extreme? I’m not sure. After we moved back to the farm, I had a chance to catch up on my sleep and “be unemployed” for a little while — something I have NEVER been in my whole life. I was still getting paid overtime from Ferguson’s, so I wasn’t actually unemployed, but my life felt like it. It was fun! So, I’m probably not a work-a-holic.

When I went back to work, it was for my mom’s friend Alice, and again, it was not glamourous. I worked at an auto glass shop, Crackmasters. Yes, I answered the phone that way every day without laughing! At least, not out loud! My main job was detailing vehicles, which was such hard work, my back, arms and hands ached every night. We also did U-Haul rentals and sold adult tricycles — three-wheeled recumbent bikes, I don’t know what YOU were thinking! The word “adult” just makes everything dirty, eh? 🙂 It WAS dirty in the shop but at least there was no mouse poop! I worked hard, and helped Alice with anything she needed. It was uncanny that after she hired me to do detailing, she found out she had breast cancer. So, she taught me how to do everything else and I covered for her while she recovered from surgery. I felt good knowing I was needed — I think that’s another part of my personality that factors into my relationship with work.

Then I saw the job posted at Signature Flight Support. I’m pretty sure when they checked my references, Alice told them that I always tried to be as helpful and friendly as possible to every customer. So I got the job! It was a big jump up, and I got to work at the airport (which I love). I had to learn how their systems worked, and how to deal with the VIPs that fly in and out of our facility. That was new — I had never dealt with the upper crust of society before. When I was new, I decided my main strategy would be to treat everyone as though they were very important, and it is a good one! You never know who you are talking to — could be the owner of the company you work for! (When you’re new, you don’t know who everyone is!) Now, I do it everywhere, and I like it. I respect people more, as well as just being polite or friendly.

Every job is an opportunity to learn something. It’s not about the money for me. In fact, in my last few jobs I’ve developed the attitude that I get to go help someone out, and then they pay me — how cool is that?!? I think most people think about trading your skills or your time for money, or a combination of both. If I don’t think about the money, and almost pretend I’m volunteering, just to help out and because I said I’d be there, and I do my job to the absolute best of my ability, then the pay cheque at the end of the month is a huge bonus! “Wow, they paid me to do what I would have done anyway!”

I don’t want to make it sound like I always love going to work. Sometimes, I wish I could stay home like anyone else! When I have been working 6-7 days/week, I pine for days at home! But, I go because I agreed to go or because they need me, not because I have to, or because I feel stuck. I know it’s a subtle difference, but it matters. I value reliability, so I am reliable. Working is best when one’s job is in line with one’s values. A vegan should not work as a chef at a steak house, for example. But sometimes, having really high standards for a job can only hold you back; often, taking a good job ahead of you leads to the exact job you’d like in the future. For example, I worked part-time at the Edm Space and Science Centre which led to the full-time job at Science North — an excellent job! — and being friendly with people at Crackmasters led to giving first-rate customer service at Signature.

So, while happily dividing my time between Signature and the Centre for Spiritual Living (doing special projects), quite out of the blue, I got a job offer to go back to Nav Canada. They are short-staffed, and you know I can’t turn down someone who needs me! And where I know I’ll enjoy the work and have the perfect balance of challenge and variety, and make good money! I feel so blessed! I am the blessed and the blesser. I’ll be working in the Flight Information Centre, doing weather briefings (pilots call for weather before flying if the weather is icky), handling flight plans and a variety of other aviation stuff. I’m excited! I get to work in Edmonton, close to home. It’s so great!

I wonder what I’ll learn at this job… So far, in my working life I’ve learned:
– It’s okay for a job not to be glamourous. (the hobby wholesaler)
– You don’t have to talk about where you work, or ask people where they work! It doesn’t really matter! (in general)
– Be ready to work when you get there. Don’t eat breakfast at work! (Edm Space and Science Centre; I had a coworker who did this and it was so rude!)
– It’s good to be friends with your coworkers! (Science North)
– Working in one’s aptitude is very rewarding. (Nav Canada, the first time)
– Doing something outside your normal range is a huge growth opportunity! (in general)
– Don’t ever let yourself get sleep deprived, for any reason. Sleep is too important to go without! (Ferguson’s Market)
– Treat everyone as though they are important. (Signature)
– Teamwork is fabulous; knowing what others are doing, and how your role interweaves with theirs, and then providing customer service that absolutely blows people’s minds is really, really fun! (Signature)
– My happiness is absolutely independent of anyone else; if anyone around me is grumpy, it doesn’t matter. I can still be happy! (I’ve learned this one a few times!)

I should add that my father-in-law didn’t sell flooring for very long! It was alright while it lasted, but he went back into the travel business. He is now using his unique skill and knowledge of the middle east to offer tours and cruise packages to “the holy land,” Israel. 🙂

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One thought on “What’s in a Job?

    Hoteamom said:
    January 31, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    Awesome article! I wholeheartedly agree. I have had some unglamorous jobs and they all taught me something. I also think that if you are going to a job you hate you really should change jobs. Yes, you can stay and make the best of it but in the end you are way better off to change your work environment and do something that makes you happy.

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