Pursuit of happiness

Two of my boys quit their part-time jobs this week, both reaching a culmination point of, ‘I can’t take this anymore.’ We’ve all been there.

One worked at a fast food restaurant and while he could handle shaving his beard, wearing a hair net and uniform, and smelling like grease, he took umbrage with a management style that included yelling as a morale booster. And no amount of free burgers can compensate having to clean up human excrement in the bathroom. That was probably the tipping point.

The other son’s decision was arrived at with more of a global perspective. Working as a fruits and vegetable clerk at a grocery store comes with a sense of futility, mostly at the amount of plastic packaging used, from the coconuts shrink-wrapped in plastic wrappers to the baking potatoes that come individually wrapped in foil, then plastic, then bundled onto a Styrofoam holder all held together with more plastic wrap. That and the Muzak that’s piped non-stop over the sound system.

And while one part of me thinks they should just tough it out, that they’re lucky to have the work, the other part of me thinks there’s nothing wrong with wanting something better in life.

One of my first jobs was working the night shift as a plastic injection moulding machine operator. Getting there was half the battle, involving bus, metro, and a short-cut through an alley and across multiple sets of train tracks. For the princely sum of $4.10 an hour (the extra dime was for working the night shift), we would sit at a machine that spat out either plastic flour pots or round clear plastic coin holders for the Canadian Mint. Lunch was at 4 a.m. and it was at that point in my life that I established my longest sleep marathon – 22 hours straight during the construction holiday break. The job was hot, smelly, dangerous and totally unsafe but I lasted six months until I could find something better.

The ‘something better’ usually was, for a little while. Until the same old fatigue kicked in and I reached my ‘I can’t take this anymore’ moment.

Waitressing paid well and fit in with school schedules but was often accompanied by harassment. Clerical jobs were quieter but painfully boring. And cubicle jobs in the high-tech industry were the absolute soul-sucking nightmares you read about in the Dilbert comic strip.

Ultimately, a job means different things to each person. While some focus purely on the monetary remuneration, others need to feel productive with a tangible result of their efforts. With various online sites listing software engineers and statisticians being among the best careers to have, for some this would be a sentence of terminal boredom.

A good friend of mine was contemplating a change after decades at the same job. When I asked what was keeping her from making the leap, she replied, “I still laugh every day,” and I realized she’s absolutely right.

The grunt jobs we take on in our school years are valuable teaching experiences in themselves. And if the only lesson learnt is to strive for something that brings a snort of laughter – or at least a smile – on a regular basis, then the mop, hair net, grease and Muzak are worth it.

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