Sunday, September 30, 2007

Work: real vs. fluff

Some of you know that I started working for just a few hours each month at a Michaels arts/crafts store. I instruct others in craft projects and painting. Saturday wasn’t an actual workday; it was something called a Class Preview that the store does quarterly to promote classes. I sat with several other crafters and we each engaged in our specialty at tables inside the store’s entrance, answering questions from shoppers and handing out class calendars.

I was painting a canvas, talking to folks, and I was thinking about work in general. I was thinking, Boy, I used to work a real job. I used to ensure that the hamburger you last enjoyed at one of the big chain restaurants was built properly by helping to maintain that restaurant chain’s big training manual. I used to help write description pages for office furniture catalogs. I used to help in the construction of ketchup brochures for a certain big ketchup-producing company in town. Anyway, I used to do real work, at a real job. Important work. It’s not like teaching arts and crafts is important in the big scheme of things.

And then it slowly began to dawn on me that my former jobs weren’t really important jobs either. Maintaining a restaurant training manual? Yes, it was a B I G chain, but still—is it really crucial to the world’s balance whether the restaurant in France places cheese on the burger in the same way we do in the States? And the furniture catalogs: is that truly essential work? Is the world going to end if I leave out a callout pointing to a desk grommet? The ketchup brochures and condiment flyers and such—was anyone’s life improved because of those colorfully printed pages and bold headlines?

You could say I was indirectly contributing to America’s capitalist system by helping those companies look their best and train their people well. And that’s true. But. I wasn’t making a D i f f e r e n c e. Not really. I suppose I made a difference to a few people when I taught school, although I couldn’t see it at the time. There are still some noble and/or necessary jobs out there, like teaching, or building things, or making power or defending the country or growing food or saving lives; hopefully, parenting is in there, too. But plenty of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, spend hours a day doing rather silly jobs—jobs that 100 years ago, perhaps even just 50 years ago, wouldn’t have existed. Our modern economy has managed to create an entire slate of careers that would be utterly useless in a non-commercialized, less materialistic culture...a less bloated, more primitive culture.

“Real” work? Well, I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder. Meantime, I’ll keep on rearing my little boy, and occasionally teaching non-essential skills. It’s all work. And most work, if done with sincerity and purpose, can be noble.



hack for hire said...

Right! At least I tell myself the same thing... Good for you, Mel. I hope to join you in the blogger world one of these days...

Mel said...

Hey, hack, thanks for your support. And come on into the blogger world--the water's fine! I'll warn you, though--you'll likely spend an alarming amount of time parked in front of the computer, spewing...

Erica De Angelis said...

If you're happy, God bless you!

My father often says, "You can love a job, but it will never love you back." So true. As long as your choice works for you, and it isn't illegal, immoral or fattening, do what makes you happy!

I remember enduring not-so-subtle judgment and ridicule from people I'd thought were my friends when I walked away from a toxic "real job" environment that probably would have killed me had I remained. I could never understand how a decision that positively impacted me and my family could warrant such unsolicited criticism from people whose lives were completely unaffected by our decision re: a lifestyle choice.

Later, when I sauntered into the world of retail, (which I loved and still do), the critics spewed more venom. Again, why did they care? How does the way I spend my time earning money affect anyone else's reality? Or their bank account?

My more evolved friends chalk the critics' judgment up to jealousy, fear and lack of courage.

Sad, but that probably sums it up.

If you're happy, and your family is happy, the quality of your lives will impact the people around you in a positive way. Surely God wouldn't object.