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?