I just finished reading a book that’s made a profound difference in how I view work. Entitled Nickel and Dimed, it’s by Barbara Ehrenreich and tells of her year-long foray into the world of minimum wage jobs. Waitress, nursing home aide, hotel maid, cleaning lady with The Maids, and “Wal-Martian” were a few of the jobs she held while subsisting on meager compensation and living in inadequate housing. Ha Ha. To call her accommodations “housing” is pretty funny. How many of you have ever gone “home” from work to find your landlord standing in your room to inform you that there’s been a little sewage problem and that, in fact, it’s in your room?
There’s so much I could say about Dr. Ehrenreich’s experiences, but today I want to zero in on a paragraph in which she’s describing her perceptions of her Wal-Mart tenure. “You could get old pretty fast here. In fact, time does funny things when there are no little surprises to mark it off into memorable chunks, and I sense that I ‘m already several years older than I was when I started….Yes, I know that any day now I’m going to return to the variety and drama of my real Barbara Ehrenreich life. But this fact sustains me only in the way that, say, the prospect of heaven cheers a terminally ill person: it’s nice to know, but it isn’t much help from moment to moment. What you don’t necessarily realize when you start selling your time by the hour is that what you’re actually selling is your life.”
Selling your time by the hour is actually selling your life! This fits into nicely to something I’ve been writing about for a few months, the idea that what you do for a living, if you do it long enough, will eventually become a way of making a life. That said, I don’t know why more people don’t spend the time and effort necessary to make their lives rewarding.
What you do, your self concept, your friends, what you think about, what neighborhood or community you live in, your income level, your status, your health, and just about every other aspect concerning adult life is related to occupational choice. I’m not big on statistics, but I’d venture to say that perhaps as much as 90 percent of your happiness or misery can hang on occupational choice.
Let’s start by thinking of our work as a calling, a vocation, instead of a job. Then read her book if you dare.