What’s in a job?

As a child you learn about a fairly limited number of job choices. There are the ones that kids typically imagine being: policeman, fireman, teacher, artist, professional athlete, doctor, and perhaps a handful of others. There are the jobs that you see people doing around town: cashier, plumber, mail carrier, and the people who repair bikes, cars, and computers. And there are the ones that your parents and other adult acquaintances do.

I had very little idea what any of those jobs were really like, even the ones my parents did. (I had a somewhat better idea what my mother’s job as a typesetter was like, than my father’s job as an actuary, because while I had visited his office, I had actually sat in my mother’s office while she was working, before they considered me old enough to go home to an empty house after school.) Knowing what a person does for a living doesn’t really give a clear picture of what that person’s workday is like.

As an adult, I have found it fascinating to learn about the thousands of different kinds of jobs people do, most of which I had never given any thought to until I learned about them. Everyone knows what a nurse does, right? I had very little idea what a nurse’s workday was really like until I got to know one, and later when I worked as a part-time receptionist for an oral surgeon. I thought being a cashier looked really easy – so easy it would be very boring – until I worked in a K-Mart deli and had to deal with a line of people all impatient to get their food served and paid for.

I remember my parents having to get larger house numbers, because the town wanted to be sure emergency vehicles could easily find every address. I didn’t realize just how hard it was to find houses by their address, until I started delivering pizza for Domino’s. When it’s dark, and you have a delivery deadline, it is really frustrating to drive slowly down a block and not be able to spot a single house number. A decade later, I filled in for a friend who had a newspaper delivery route, and found it just as difficult (and just as dark, though this time it was early morning instead of late at night).

I have worked mostly for manufacturing companies, and at each one I have been amazed at what it takes to produce the finished product. There are so many parts to mix, cut, assemble, paint, or unwind/rewind. There are so many support positions to get those parts where they are needed, when they are needed, and another whole set of jobs to get the finished products where they need to go to people who will pay for them. And every one of those jobs requires a unique set of skills and knowledge, and a particular kind of person who is well-suited to that kind of job.

(Along the way, I discovered that my skills and temperament matter a lot more than my interests. I loved Spanish and the idea of teaching Spanish, but I was not the person for the job, at least not for 7th through 10th graders. I thought there would be nothing very interesting about processing purchase orders, but I discovered the job could be quite satisfying, if not exactly intellectually fulfilling.)

But there are still a great many more jobs I know next to nothing about than those I am familiar with. (And in my varied experience, I have also been a bank teller and a church secretary, as well as having stocked shelves at Toys ‘R’ Us during the Christmas season of 1985, when Pound Puppies sold out within minutes and I could not put Transformers on the shelves as fast as people took them off.) Until my husband started working at WalMart, I had no idea what it took to keep their meat and produce sections properly stocked.

The Atlantic just published a piece on what people don’t know about other people’s jobs. They could only publish a small selection of the responses they received when they asked for input, but the ones they picked are a fascinating sample of those unseen parts of people’s lives around us.

What don’t people get about your job?


5 Responses to What’s in a job?

  1. modestypress says:

    The parallels in our pasts are so weird. My wife and I for a while owned a typesetting business. Hardly anyone today even knows what the word means. What kind of equipment did your mother use? (You might not have been old enough to even know.)

    I didn’t deliver pizza for Domino’s, but when I was in college there was a business called “Chicken Delight” which made deliveries, and I did that and had experiences like your in finding addresses.

    As far as manufacturing businesses, I worked on a Chevrolet assembly line, and was fascinated by the complexity of putting a car together.

    • Pauline says:

      Modestypress, my mother used a Justowriter. At one time I could recognize a few of the codes in the punched tape, and I thought it was fascinating to watch it fed back into the machine that produced the corrected output, both eliminating her (very rare) mistakes where she had backspaced and retyped, as well as inserting spaces to justify each line. At the time I had no interest in how it did the justifying; now I would be trying to understand the algorithms behind it.

  2. Karen O says:

    Lee delivers bread & related products to stores & restaurants. Sounds simple, right? But there is so much more involved than one would expect, as your post says. It takes intelligence & diligence, more than one would expect.

    As for me, I live a useless, worthless life as a housewife.

    Oh, wait. That’s just what one acquaintance thinks, but it’s not true.

    Yes, my girls are grown & homeschooling is finished. But I still take seriously my duties as a wife & mother-of-grown-ups & grandmother. I see my “job” as being available for my family.

    If I had worked outside the home in the last several years, I would not have been available to take care of my Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother-in-law for 4+ years. I would not have been able to sit with my mom for 6 hours at her chemo appointments, or help take care of her in her home when she was dying.

    And now, I babysit my grandson Forrest while Emily takes a couple college classes. They can not afford daycare or a paid babysitter, so if I weren’t available, Emily would not be able to take these classes.

    There are other things I do, but those are the most important.

    • Pauline says:

      Karen O,
      Working at the front desk, I sign for all deliveries – not just UPS and FedEx, but also Culligan water, supplies for the rest rooms and break room, and the biweekly resupply of beverage products (regular and decaf coffee, the various sweeteners to go with them, 8 or 10 varieties of teabags, and individual packets of flavoring to go in water to make lemonade or other drinks).

      When I started I’m sure I thought it was a pretty simple job, but I’m realizing how much some of them have to keep track of current inventories (though not without the freshness aspect that Lee has to be concered about), and making sure they deliver the right stuff to the right place (we have four “locations” in one large building complex), while keeping to a tight schedule. Plus they have to deliver regardless of the weather.

      By the way, I didn’t realize Chrissy had finished school. What is she doing now?

  3. Peter L says:

    Well, you understand what it is to be a teacher. Most don’t understand that their child is in a room with 20 or 30 others, so he or she cannot have my full attention. I cannot possibly know if he or she gets it unless he or she tells me. And with all the others in the room, I cannot spend the entire 47 minutes answering one person’s questions.

    And in the summer I work at a tourist cave. Lately they have put me at the cash register. It is indeed a difficult job when things get busy.

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