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.