Monday, December 05, 2005

Jobs without glamor

My wife was in the check-out line at a grocery. There she heard a 19-year-old apologize for her unremarkable job. When her turn came, the girl began the same whine-apology. "Hey, you're working!" she said. "And that's good."

Then came a fuller explanation. As she passed items over the scanner, the cashier proceeded to explain her willingness to work an entry-level job. She allowed that there was "a reason" for it. She used the term again. There was "a good reason" she was willing to – what – humiliate herself? Work beneath her executive skills? Take a job several rungs below what she was capable of doing?

My wife is seriously bewildered at the idea that working for a living – even if it is by taking a job that isn't one's first choice or career ambition – is somehow dishonorable. She has trained three children to value work and to do their best at whatever is at hand. So she pressed the matter further.

"Are you in school?" she asked the girl. Aha! She struck the mother lode. She had hit upon "the reason" why a 19-year-old girl would work at a job without glamor or status. She seemed pleased to let Myra know that the company had a program that helped students with college tuition. Work so many hours over such a tenure with the store, and there would be money for classes and books. So there was a reason that no one should think less of her for checking groceries.

Where did any of us ever get the idea that life is worthwhile only for those at the top rungs of the ladder? That only certain jobs carry distinction or justify pride in doing them well? That we have the right to start at the top? Honest work is honorable work. It pays the bills and puts food on the table. It helps take care of the family. It provides opportunities to treat people with respect and do right.

Whether in your twenties, forties, or sixties, the issue is less top of the heap or mundane job than integrity. Worthy goals. Treating people the way you would want to be treated. So why not work your way up the ladder over time? Let others see your ability rather than sulk that you have to do an assigned task?

Know why this episode made such an impression on my wife? Our son got his first job at that very same store 15 years ago. Unloading trucks! He had to work his way up to that girl's cashier status. What's more, she really wanted to tell her that it was her son who introduced the tuition program she valued so much to the company when he grew into a management role with it years later!

If your task is honorable today, take great pride in doing it. It is a holy thing.

Reprinted from