Employment. A necessary evil. I've never met anyone who didn't need it. I fully comprehend that it pays for my life – my apartment, my food, my heating bill, my car, my clothes, my concert tickets. I'll even admit I have it better than most, working from home. I do not deal with a lengthy commute, applying make-up or matching my socks.
My parents represent extreme ends of the employment perspective. My father, age 72, has been retired since age 48. He just travels around the country in his motor home and is pretty much the most relaxed, happy guy you'll ever meet. He worked his butt off as a young man, did well for himself, lost a bunch on various wives, and then organized his life so he'd never work again. When you call his cell phone, his voice message says: "Wonderful day! I woke up this morning and I'm still alive and I think that's just great! Hope your day is going as good as mine! Bye-bye!"
My mother grew up as an only child on a North Dakota farm where she dreamed of working as an office secretary, a job she still keeps and loves. She is 73 and puts in a 40-hour work week with great dedication. It is not just a job in which she excels; it is a large part of who she is. She is a Professional, an old-school secretary that every modern-day executive pines for. Not only is she smart and highly efficient, she enjoys the atmosphere of a structured workplace. I recall her disapproval when I worked at Macromedia and told her I had a big slide behind my desk that went down to a lower floor. This was something more suitable for a playground, she scoffed, not an office.
I remember witnessing her boss say to her that she could work there as long she wanted to. "Even if you're 100," he said. "We'll just build little ramps for the wheelchair." This is great job security but it makes her children nervous – she might just take him up on it. Then again, she says if she quits, she'll afraid she'll rot to death and I believe her, because she believes it.
Trying to pitch her on the idea of retiring (always a failing effort) I suggested she could travel or even … perhaps do volunteer work? She was adorably indignant: "Forget it! If I’m working, I'm getting paid!" I have to admit, I love this part of her that refuses to be some doddering old granny that stays home and bakes pies. She is very much a modern woman and always will be. When the internet boom happened, mom didn't miss a step – she doesn't want to be left behind. We communicate regularly through email while my father brags he's never even touched one. "I'm almost dead. Why bother?" he reasons.
Though I am, in many ways, carefree like my father, aspects of my mother pop up. I still can't bring myself to call in sick unless I am near death. Still, my job does not define me. Hell, I’m not even sure what it is I do for a living. Something to do with the media and technology, the rest is fuzzy. It is very far from the globe-trotting journalist that I always wanted to be and that makes me so sad.
I ponder this because I've just returned home from a particularly stressful business trip and now I'm also expected to work over the weekend. I am asking myself, is this the life I want? Does my job help anyone at all? Make the world a better place? Make me tons of money? The answer is: Sometimes, somewhat, no and no.
As I left the San Francisco office yesterday for the airport, I stopped to gas up the rental car. A man with a squeegee stood at the pump and I groaned at the sight of him. 'I am so not in the mood for this,' I thought. I got out of the car and he asked if I wanted my oil checked, my tires checked, the windows washed, anything at all. I politely declined, telling him it was a rental car and I was about to return it. He nodded and backed away.
As I pumped my gas, I thought about the irony of the situation. I'm told there was a time in the 50s when crisp young men in white suits would perform all these services for free and now, it's up to the enterprising homeless. The man approached me again and said, "You know, I really don't mean to harass anyone. I'm just trying to make a living by helping a little." He was apologizing, for some reason, and I told him I understood.
I returned the nozzle, put the cap back on and, on impulse, reached into my wallet and grabbed a $10 bill. I gave it to him and said, "We all have hard jobs, don't we?" He was amazed and 'God blessed me' many times, something that never hurts for an overworked heathen like me.