Thoughts On Meaningful Work

I went out ot lunch today at a local place that sits on the first floor of one of the buildings in our corporate complex. I haven’t been here since I had the flu, because after eating their baked potato soup, I promptly went home and vomited.

I’ve been coming here for two years, and the turnover in the waitstaff is predictable. Most people try to stay out of food service if they can, or use it to pay bills to get through school or divorces. For some, a very few, like, say, my parents, it becomes a career. But not always because you want it to.

It’s not usually you’re first choice.

You don’t sit around in fourth grade and say, “I want to be a waitress with I grow up.” And if you do like the work, you’re not supposed to.

I’ve always had a terror of these sorts of jobs, likely inspired by my parents, who dreamed of something like what I’ve now got: my ability to walk out of college and at the very least get myself a 401 (K) plan, health benefits, enough money to pay rent in a decent town, time to pursue other passions, holidays off, paid vacation.

They didn’t want me to spend my relative youth the way they did, working 12-hour shifts, weekends, holidays, coming home smelling of burger grease and french fries.

The irony, of course, is that my parents did achieve that comfortable white collar life, the dog and the big house and the (mostly) college educated children, a little something for retirement.

And they did it flipping burgers. It got them where they wanted to be, just a little later in life than they probably wanted.

But when I’m here at lunch, watching a handful of the servers still working food service, paying bills, I wonder – do they have a plan? Do they want to run this place? Or is this enough? And are they OK with that? Am I? Because some people are OK with it.

I wasn’t.

Certainly, there are things I like about all of the jobs I’ve had. I worked harder as a waitress and had less freedom than the job I have now, and I make twice as much money now, only the labor we exert in serving others is seen as a lesser labor than sitting on our asses typing out words and numbers and running paper reports about actual work done by others.

I take some comfort in the fact that the tower crews whose work I report on make more money than I do. You know how they get up those 200 ft cell phone towers?

They climb.

I think I have some guilt about how I work. I have some guilt about being on the other side of the table. I don’t understand money. I don’t understand the value of work. I look around at what everyone else makes for what they do, for how hard they work, and it boggles my mind at how undervalued the people who actually do things are. We pay managers six figures to run reports and bitch about how they don’t know what’s going on in the field. You want to know what’s going on in the field? Put on a hard hat and get into the field. I spend all day reviewing tower audits, and I’ve never been to a cell site.

I remember, while working in the corporate office at the burger joint, when the VPs realized the company had grown so big that over half the office staff hadn’t come up from behind the grill. They’d never seen a deep fryer up close. My mom helped spearhead a campaign to encourage office folks to get their food handlers’ cards and go and help out in one of the burger joints for a day.

For paper pushes, it was an eye opener.

And, I think, for some, deeply satisfying.

We get so divorced from real, tangible work, hunched at our desks, making up reports, fielding information. But at day’s end you have nothing to show for it but a paycheck.

For me, hey, that’s really all I need.

But I must say, there are days when I’d like to learn how to climb a 200 ft tower and replace an antenna.

They’d pay me more, too.

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