Today is one of those milestone moments for me: 28 years with my employer. Oh, my employer won't remember. I'm in local government and there are just too many of us. In fact a moment ago, I was talking to my Dept. Head, who also hits that mark this year. During our conversation she said to me, "How long have we been doing this job?" I laughed and said, "Exactly 28 years today for me." Her reply? "Oh."
Yep, that about sums it up.
I grew up in an era where Dads (mostly) went to work for years on end until they retired with the proverbial gold watch. I never understood giving someone a time piece when they arrived at a place in their life where they no longer HAD to be anywhere at a certain time. As a kid, I wondered how it would feel to be appreciated by someone for showing up, doing the job (and then some) and only missing work when it was absolutely necessary. I wondered if Employers contemplated what the workplace would be like without you.
The answer, I discovered, was that most Employers just want you to work in a timely and economical manner. The bottom line is easier to recall than an employee's face.
I recently read that the average American will have five "careers" in his/her lifetime. According to that, I have one more coming. Oh, I use to worry about changing jobs...even though I never left a job without another one waiting. I went from a Tele-Communications Operator for the state police, to a Paralegal for a free legal services outfit, to Director of Elections, then my current job as Director of a Sr. Citizens Center. I soon realized that after five years of learning a job, getting good at it, then trying to improve it, I got...bored. Okay, so I only lasted 2 years as a Paralegal but that's because the Lawyer did some morally questionable things I wanted no part of, so I left.
My work goal was simple: make a difference in life. Yet in the back of my mind, every time I made a change, I questioned if I was doing the right thing for the right reason. Was I striding towards improvement or running away from something I disliked? In the back of my mind was always the example set by my parent's generation: you worked to provide for your family. No one said you had to be in love with your job.
I'm pretty sure a couple of times Dad wasn't even "in like" with his job. For most of my life, Dad was in the furniture business, just like his father. My Dad's first experience with furniture was helping deliver it. I was never sure how you could find selling furniture to people fascinating, but it paid the bills. And paying the bills was the most important thing. Okay, it was cool to learn that my quiet Granddaddy had come up with the company slogan, "Feather your nest, with a little down." The man who owned the business built a country home, complete with fishing pond, which he named "The Nest". And in the hall was a framed poster of Granddaddy's slogan. I was always weirdly proud when passing by it. Today I understand why.
Being employed is a road littered with hills and valleys, broken up by the occasional high points. Watching Dad deal with his "career" taught me about dedication, dependability, perseverance and respect. I grew up in a changing South, one of the first kids to go to an integrated school. While it was fairly easy for the kids, it was a new concept for our parents and grandparents. Having been brought up on the Golden Rule, it was a natural concept Dad carried to work. As a kid I remember watching other adults walk around the black delivery men as if they had the plague. I thought it odd that it was okay for these men to carry furniture into their house...as long as they left quickly. But Dad treated everyone he worked with equally. I still remember Mose, the largest of those men, with his jolly laugh and kind smile. He once told me how much he respected Dad...because Dad respected him.
One of my siblings once commented that Dad's job was boring simply because he stuck to it. She didn't see the need to rise up through the ranks in a single occupation. To go from Sales, to Store Manager, to District Credit Manager and then Corporate Credit Manager wasn't something to be proud of in her eyes. It was boring. Period.
And yet, in spite of his company being bought out numerous times, which resulted in a pay cut and loss of his retirement fund after one buy out, Dad still went to work. He still did his job, to the best of his ability and beyond because work meant one thing to him: providing for the family. And he did it well. Sadly, Dad died of cancer before he could retire. At least he was spared the stupid watch.
But even in death, Dad's job and his sense of humor prevailed. Dad's last employer was located next door to the funeral home. Dad had lamented how much people spent on caskets, which had, what he termed, "limited use". I laughed that it was funny a furniture guy was demanding a plain pine box for the hereafter. But he made me promise...and he gave me a joke. Which is how, when I felt slightly overwhelmed surveying the sea of caskets, Dad provided me a way to handle it. As my family wandered around discussing the various choices, I stood in a corner shaking my head. The man at the funeral home, who'd known Dad for years, came over, probably thinking I was so overcome with grief that I couldn't focus.
I indicated we needed to step into the hall. He followed and asked how he could help. Trying to keep a straight face I repeated Dad's request. "Mr. Otis, Dad asked me to bury him in a plain, pine box. And he said to tell you that if I couldn't find one, you should send one of the guys next door (to the furniture store) to get you a box that the refrigerators come in."
I don't know if you're suppose to feel glee watching a guy at the funeral home try not to laugh out loud, but it felt right. With a knowing smile, Mr. Otis ushered me into the next room. There were a selection of "plain pine boxes" which looked remarkably like the high dollar ones we'd just left. Dad got his wish...and I didn't have to go get the refrigerator box.
Perhaps in the eyes of my sibling, I'm boring too, for staying with the same employer. But you know, "boringly normal" is what keeps this country running. The people who show up, do that tasks and keep the world moving along without seeking a spotlight. If everyone walked away when they were bored with work, nothing would ever get done...or they could find work as a politician.
Dad and I share the same work ethic: you're hired to do a job, you do it and you're compensated for it. Not well, granted. But I chose to work in public service because I want to make a difference. Some days I do, some days...not so much. Yet on the days it goes well, I feel like those adults I admired growing up: I'm contributing to the greater good. Working together makes life safer and easier.
And on those days when it's not so fun, I'm grateful I have something else of Dad's: his sense of humor. How else would I have made it in one spot for 28 years?