Monday, August 8, 2016

My First Twenty-Four Jobs



'So what do you want to be when you grow up?'

I remember being asked that so many times.  And the answers I heard from myself and from others were usually rather standard:  'I want to be a doctor!'  I want to be a teacher!'  'I want to be an astronaut!'  'I want design software and become a zillionaire!'  Well, maybe not in the 1960s.

The expectation behind such a question was that one would grow up and have a career.  Which means one would get hired and work at the same place until one retired.  Or one would train for a profession and then go and do that profession until one retired.  So one could legitimately say, 'I am a doctor', or 'I am a national park ranger', or 'I am a librarian' or 'I am Marlin Perkin's sidekick Jim and will be shooting scenes of Wild Kingdom until one or the both of us can't chase lions anymore.'

There are still many people who find themselves doing what they were originally hired to do, or doing what they were trained to do in college.  But more and more, there are people like me.  I just compiled a list of all the jobs I've had.  I is sobering to think that people have actually paid me money to do these things.  Here it is, more or less in order:

Bag boy and Stock boy at Grocery Store (A&P in Anderson, SC)
Encyclopedia Salesperson (World Book (!) in Anderson, SC)
Printshop delivery truck driver (Campus printshop, Duke University)
Offset Press operator (Curry Copy Centre, Hilton Head Island, SC)
Math-Physics night shift librarian (Duke University)
Motel Maid (Aspen, CO)
Bookstore clerk (Chapel Hill, NC)
Campus Minister (Chapel Hill, NC and Williamsburg, VA)
House Cleaner (Ipswich, MA)
House Painter (North Shore area, MA)
Gardener and Lawn care guy (North Shore area, MA)
Handyman (North Shore area, MA)
Presbyterian Minister (Pilot Mountain, NC; Reading, PA)
Cambridge Summer School of Theology Administrator (Cambridge, UK)
Missionary (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Nairobi, Kenya)
College and post-graduate lecturer (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
Megachurch Pastor (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
Graduate School Lecturer (Nairobi, Kenya)
College and Post grad lecturer (Limuru and Nairobi, Kenya)
Receptionist (YMCA, Crozet, VA)
Front Desk Manager (YMCA, Crozet, VA)
Gardener (Waynesboro, VA)
College and Post grad Lecturer (Nairobi and Limuru, Kenya)
Personal Secretary (Nairobi, Kenya)

When people go off to college or head out to get a job, more often than not, they are thinking to themselves that they are training for their 'career move'.  That's what I thought when I left home and went off in search of a degree and qualifications and experience.  But a career track was not to be, for me at least.

Many others share my experience.  And it provides a fascinating window in how not just our economy has changed in 40 years, but how our society has changed as well.  And it's not something one can blame on the rigours of underclass life, or the lack of education or opportunity.  Many of us with a plurality of jobs are, if anything, over-educated.  So there I was, little more than a year ago, with a PhD from the University of Cambridge, sitting at the front desk of the local YMCA answering phones, wiping down machines and cleaning toilets.  It happens.

Just to say, much in our society is changing, in flux.  Nothing actually remains the same for long when you think about it.  The world that my grandparents, even my parents understood as their unchanging context simply does not exist anymore.

All of which raises the challenge, to me at least, that with the demise of career, what comes into sharper focus is vocation, or calling.  Or to put it differently, the job may change, but the vocation - the calling - remains the same.  It enables one to be just as comfortable preaching to 1600 people week after week as one is pulling weeds on a hot afternoon in a quiet corner of someone else's beautiful garden.  Satisfaction comes not from the position or the recognition or the perks, but from the doing.

I'm grateful for all my different jobs, and the opportunities I had to learn new skills and work with different people.  Ok, all of my jobs except one.  I loathed trying to sell encyclopaedias.  The only benefit I derived from that job (and a significant one, at that) is the realisation that I could never, ever be a salesperson.  Other people do it well.  Not me.  But all the other ones?  I'd do them all again in a heartbeat.  Even being a maid.  Especially if it meant I could live in Aspen again!