A Meaningful Job

FRIDAY morning, as I perused my email from my smartphone while still lying in bed deciding just how long I could stay under the covers before getting up and getting my son to school on time, I read an article on LinkedIn entitled The #1 Feature of a Meaningless Job.  First of all, the article didn’t actually state the number one feature of a meaningless job, but the exact opposite. However, one of the key points revolved around if the job made an impact on others’ lives, or if you felt your job helped others in someway. I stopped to think about all of the jobs I’ve held throughout the years and which ones I liked the best because I felt useful to the general good.

At the bottom of that list was receptionist at an office furniture store. Worst. Job. Ever. Meaningless and worthless.  Taking and transferring calls, typing up quotes and invoices, and listening to a dozen salesmen and one lonely saleswoman lament their poor commissions, all while the delivery guys are fussing about the workload in the back. I even got bawled out by a man on the phone for a fax advertising blast service we bought from another company. Office furniture is not a vital commodity, and who cares if a certain company has the cash to throw out for a 25′ conference table with a blue stone inlay. Beautiful table that only a few people would ever actually see sitting in a boardroom somewhere.

I’ve waited tables. I’ve cashiered at a grocery store.  Those jobs were meant for income only and I never even expected them to have meaning beyond that. However, those jobs were interesting in small ways, especially working the late nights when the colorful personalities came looking for sustenance. I’ll never forget the woman who came screaming into the grocery store claiming she saw a UFO in the parking lot, or the man who wandered the aisles talking to cans of pork ‘n’ beans.

Close to the top of the list was serving as office manager and resident assistant for the Midwestern Music Camp for several years. Another part time job to pay for college tuition, I worked for an educational organization that brought experience and meaning into the lives of preteens and teens interesting in creating music together. It’s amazing what students can learn in just a few days. As a former camper, I knew those kids would takes the memories of camp with them far into the future. (And I’m  not talking about the infamous line from American Pie “One time at band camp . . .”)  Those students had opportunities to meet several famous musicians as well as receive instruction from top artists in the field. I even took a phone call from Doc Severinsen of Tonight Show fame. Since this was a student-held position, I was unable to retain the job after I graduated, or I would continued working there longer.

For several years I worked for a trade organization in the realm of banking. This one scored pretty low on my list of meaningful jobs. While I appreciate having money in order to live comfortably, I was simply amazed at how money is moved around this country and around the world, and how much of each dollar is eaten away by this tax or this fee as each hand takes a nibble of the dollar that passes by. I wore a lot of hats, from order clerk to member communications to help-line clerk. I saw how a detached career-woman who ran the company placed the desires of the banks ahead of the safety of the employees. I worked there at the time of 9-11.  When I walked into the office and announced what I’d heard on the radio (two planes crashing into the World Trade Towers), no one in the place was even aware of what was going on. We were just a few blocks away from the Federal Reserve Bank and the Federal Courthouse, and when the rest of the building evacuated, the boss insisted we had to stay in case a member called with a question. The phones were quiet all day. That leaves a foul taste in your mouth and sucks the meaning right out of the bone.

I held three different positions as Title Insurance Agent, researching real estate titles for clear chains, digging into history, seeing the names of people I knew or had heard of. I loved doing the digging. I got to read court cases, learn history, and see how the county changed over the years. I didn’t care much for talking to realtors and bankers, but that just came as part of the job. As for meaning to others, helping people buy a home makes a huge impact on their lives. Unfortunately, we also saw a lot of foreclosures, especially when the economy slipped and the  housing market began to implode. At that point, I moved on. I would love to take this experience into a job in archives, preserving such records for future use.

Currently, the job I hold sits toward the top of the list. The work I do, though not as challenging or interesting as previous work, actually makes a huge impact on patients in hospitals, helping to keep them safer and free of infection. When I speak of what I do, I can hear in my voice that this job is useful and holds meaning. Is it my dream job? No, but this job allows me plenty of time to be with my family, it is closer to home, and it is flexible. And that holds a lot of value to me, personally.

After thinking all of this through, I thought about the jobs that other people find meaningless and unfulfilling, such as the clerk down at the convenience shop who never smiles and looks haggard and tired. I think we all have to go through that at some point in our lives, working to make the rent and buy groceries, working not to enjoy what we do but in order to survive. It’s not easy to look at the job you are given and find meaning buried inside, but sometimes the search is something we undertake. When I was a clerk, I smiled and said hello to the customer, because if I perceived the job as a burden all of the time, the work felt even worse.

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