Living Out Loud

On Work


I've been working in some way or another since having a paper route in the sixth grade. I tried to retire in 2020 and that turned into a disaster when I felt totally lost without something to do. In my life I've done landscaping, farm work, cooking in a restaurant, military service, carpentry, been a prison guard, a factory worker, a technical writer and worked in IT in healthcare, banking and education, both K-12 and higher ed. In all of those jobs I have maintained the attitude that work is something we do so that we can have the life we want outside of work. I have never let my job define who I am as a person. I've enjoyed much of my working life, and I have had some really good bosses along the way. I spent the most time working in public education, and I took advantage of opportunities to move up on that career path, but i never felt the need to keep doing more and more to keep earning more and more. I got to a point where I was comfortable on Maslow's hierarchy and I turned my attention to doing the other things in life that make me happy, riding my bicycle, hiking with my wife and visiting my grandchildren.

When I need to take a mental health day, I take one. When I was an hourly employee, I never, not one single time had any inclination to work off the clock. I'd just as soon cut off my leg than give any employer back unused vacation time. I am a cog in a machine that will exist long after I am gone. We are a very functional department, but we are not a family. I already have one of those. As an older worker today in a department full of younger people, I have zero ego tied into my position. I am doing things on my current job that I once would have considered beneath me, handing out keyboards, fixing printer jams, resetting passwords, but I took this job to do exactly that. I don't want to go to budget meetings, talk to vendors, make purchasing decisions or read contracts. I just want to be the old guy in the back who will help you if you're having a problem with your machine. 

People who are defined by their work aren't bad people. That's not what I am getting at. When someone is always ambitiously striving for the next level in their career, I just hope that's what makes them happy. I get kind of grossed out by extreme ego in anyone for any reason, but it is particularly gross in IT people who swell up because of the stuff they know how to type on their keyboard. We aren't doing heart transplants; we're just making sure the network stays up so Professor Smith can show the YouTube video he wants to his 3:00 lecture. 

I know how fortunate I am to work in a field I find interesting. I remember picking cucumbers until I thought my back was going to break under a hot July sun.  I remember the days on the cell blocks dealing with inmates for $15K a year. I remember what it was like standing on an assembly line at a Westinghouse Electric factory making things I didn't even understand until my fingers bled. These days, I ride to work with my wife, who works at the same university I do. I sit in a chair in an air-conditioned office in front a state-of-the-art Mac computer and I make people happy by making their stuff work the way they need for it to. It could be a hell of a lot worse.