Friday, June 06, 2014

So Who Cleans The Sewers?

I like reading articles on LinkedIn's 'Pulse', but sometimes I wonder whether the authors have really thought through their message. For example, a lot of authors tell people some version of 'do what you love'. Cynical folks, like myself, remind them that a lot of what we like to do does not pay well, if at all. Or to paraphrase my dad's advice, 'they pay you to work because you would not do it for free'. I understand the message, of course. It's great when someone can get paid a good salary to do something they really enjoy or feel is important. But there are a lot of things that need to be done, that are never going to be on anyone's wish list. And yet, those jobs have to be done.
One summer while I was going to college, I worked at Safeway as a 'Courtesy Clerk'. These are employees who carry groceries to your car, stock shelves, clean up messes, and generally go where they are needed to keep things going. The courtesy clerks also had to clean out the dumpster and truck pit behind the store. Safeway, like other grocery store chains, gets product delivered by 18-wheelers which back up to the loading dock. There's a small gap of a few inches from the back of the truck to the back of the loading dock, and usually a ramp between the truck and dock to carry stuff into the warehouse section. Things do get dropped or spilled, however, and they fall into the pit where the inclined ramp ends at the dock. After a while, time and heat cause the stuff to rot, and someone has to go pick it up and throw it away. The smell and feel of rotting vegetables, eggs, milk, and 'no idea what it is' is something nobody wants to encounter, but it's part of the job. Put on a rubber apron and some gloves to go to work. I hated cleaning out the truck pit but never complained; it was just part of the job.
A couple summers before that, I worked in a pet store. Sounds cool, right? Well, as the new guy my job was to clean up all the puppy and kitty poop. I also had to clean the snakes, something I never even thought about when I applied for the job. Again, not the cool experience but it was part of the job.
After college, I became a manager at a cinema. There are nice things about that kind of job, but there was an obscene amount of paperwork, I worked hundred-hour weeks in the summer, and customers sometimes became violently angry over some of the strangest things (I started looking for Rod Serling when a customer threatened to go get his gun if his popcorn wasn't fresh enough the next time he came to the show). But again, all of this was part of the job, and if it wasn't as if I could just ignore the parts that weren't fun.
In my experience, most jobs are like that. They have things that make them worth doing, but there's almost always some parts that are things you just endure or get done. There are also jobs which have essentially nothing to make them enjoyable, but they still have to be done. Someone has to make sure things keep working, stay clean, are safe, and are inspected. No matter how technology advances, no matter what is exalted as Job Satisfaction, as long as there are humans there will be unpleasant tasks and jobs to do, and we owe it to the next generations to be honest that honest work includes the parts we don't do for fun or glory. Some of the most important work you will do won't ever get even a single bullet point on your CV or resume, and some of the work that makes you a person of integrity will be low-paying, difficult and unpleasant. It's also important to respect those whose titles are humble, whose work attire is purely functional, and whose successes are usually ignored by everyone else.
If no one cleaned the sewers, everything else would fail.

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