Monday, June 17, 2013

The Case for "Work"

As many of you may know, I hold a 4 year college degree in history.  Now, I have mentioned many times that it is "useless", which is not entirely fair.  I could be used to obtain a job that requires "any" bachelors degree.  I could become a historical research assistant, I suppose.  But as far as specialized professions, a BA of History usually requires another degree to make it truly useful.  That said, since graduating, I have set out to (apparently) move as far away from college-required professions as I can.  I have clerked, sliced and slung sandwiches in a deli, served $2.00 beers to some of the cheapest, rudest old men you will ever meet, shoveled more snow than your average person has in a lifetime, roasted 30 hours a week of a perfectly good 24 year-old summer in a grill shack, and then there's the grass.  I have cut so, so much grass.

People often ask me when I will get a job that uses my degree.  The answer is (probably) never.  See, the human being is supposed to be made of Mind, Body, and Soul, right?  If you're lucky enough to have found a profession where you use your soul, this post is pointless to read because you have found the best job in the world, are following your passion, and are probably happier than most can imagine.

 However, the majority of human beings in the workforce that I know are working jobs that use their minds.  How lucky for them that they have minds sharp enough to land these positions.  Many rearrange schedules, participate in meetings, boot up their computer every morning and check the emails that will determine the course of their next several hours, days, or weeks.  Some teach others, using their minds to plan lessons, activities, and classes full of information that will inspire others to use their minds.

I would never knock any of these jobs.  However, this post is not about people who use their minds for work.  This is about the value of jobs in which the Body is used (no, this is not a blog about the merits of prostitution).  

Mike Rowe, of Ford truck commercial fame as well as the show "Dirty Jobs", has long been speaking out on the subject, calling it "Making the Case for Work".  The idea is that those of us who choose jobs that predominantly use our physical skills instead of our mental ones are not necessarily stupid, uneducated, or unambitious.  Rather, we enjoy working hard physically instead of mentally.  I am a 27 year old white, middle class American female.  I have certain ideas ingrained in my mind of what should and should not be expected of me, such as "no one will make me lift something that is 'too heavy'", "no one will make me work more consecutive hours than what is considered 'humane'(8)", and "no one will expect me to put myself in danger for my job."

 Wrong.  In the last nearly-six years since graduating from college, I have been required to lift a push mower solo to heights taller than myself, worked more than a few thirteen-hour days, and been asked to clean a meat slicer with the blade running.  And then there was the tree incident, in which my company saved hundreds of dollars by having three maintenance people remove a fallen tree from a property, using a chainsaw, a wheelbarrow, and our own strength (the pieces were larger than I could fit my arms around).  

Job descriptions?  We have none.  Well, unless you count the paper I was presented with at my current position, which outlines a brief description of maintaining the grounds of the property and is followed with the ominous line of "all other duties assigned".   Two months ago, this included removal of both deceased and live bats from an attic.  I am not kidding. LIVE BATS.

I am consistently asked why I would ever choose this type of work, why I would choose to interrupt my nights with cell phone calls of "it's snowing, can you be here in half an hour?".  The simple reason is that it is, actually, easy.  Physical exhaustion, in my opinion, is far less tiresome than mental exhaustion.  And yes, I know what mental exhaustion is.  Mental exhaustion to me is spending a holiday afternoon with my best friend and her two sisters (I love you guys, I really do, but there's an awful lot of you and you seem to talk all at once).  I would assume a long day of mentally exhausting work would leave one with the same feeling - tired, drained, but happy.

Physical exhaustion just means your body hurts.  This winter, for instance, it meant that I couldn't sit properly because (if anyone has shoveled snow for any period of time, you will know) the "snow shoveling muscle" is my right gluteal.  Last summer, exhaustion was being unable to clench my hands closed because I had held a weedwacker all day, and going to bed knowing there were not enough hours before work the next day to get fully rested.  Other times, exhaustion has been feet so sore that I could barely walk, caused by standing for 8-10 hours straight behind a bar (even in brand new running shoes).  However, when I walk out of my job, my mind is fresh.  My body may be useless for a short period of time, but I reserve all my free time to use my kind for whatever I choose.  I can probably safely say that I reserve about 15 minutes a day outside of my job to thin about my job.  I bet most people who use their minds for work can't say the same.  "Work related stress" doesn't exist for me, unless you count trying to stress to my coworkers the importance of proper hand sanitization and nutritional habits.  So, I am no Mike Rowe, and I doubt I will start working in a fish processing plant or removing old mattresses for a living (did you see that episode? It was disgusting. It made me want to run out and buy a new mattress- however, the side effect of having a Body-using job that you love is also usually having no money).  But I would say I am firmly in the "Making the Case For Work" camp.    We might do the jobs that no one else wants to do, but if more people thought about it in a different light, maybe that wouldn't be the case.

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