The Job is a Teacher

Every job one does for a living has its dark sides, the ugly faces that come up only in the night time. And these are moments both of agony and understanding.

Night time does not have to be the wee hours between dark and first light, the area where time stands still and the world suddenly breaks up, grows wide and infinite, so that you do not know where to lean on or what to hope. Night time can happen on a sunny day, in a little moment when out of the blue something disturbing and freightening enters your space, fills your heart, and overwhelms you with despair. Work ain’t easy. Especially not in these times.

I am working in the restaurant industry, so I have carried my part. I am middle aged now, somewhat old in some folks’ perception, but I still do an 18 hours shift. If it has to be without a break and without something to eat. Remember, it is the catering business, and the term “sweat shop” does not only apply to factories in China, India, or somewhere in South America, where children are worked to death. We have them too, in the ports where cleaning brigades work the oil tankers, in the cabs driving around in endless circles for some pennies, in the restaurant industry behind the fancy curtains that shield you, the guest and customer, from the blood, sweat, and tears that it literally costs us to uphold the illusion in which you enjoy your meal, your evening.

Reality is when there is no space left to argue. This is the area when you encounter your limits and, more depressingly, those of your colleagues. When pure pressure brings out the worst, the most fearful, the most raging parts of people to whom, in normal life, you would not even talk to. Most evil things happening in life are not due to bad intention or stupidity, but to exhaustion and hopelessness.

I say these things not to impress you how tough I am. I am not. I just want to tell you where some of my thoughts and convictions come from. That is, I have seen some ugly and strange things (some beautiful too, by the way), still do, and these lessons were learned in circumstances that are difficult. As I said: Reality starts when there is no way left to argue. You do not argue, you simply do.

Doing. A job is about doing. And doing things with other people. That is where the difficulties start. Working in a group of people for an employer you do not care about, in a work you more or less like or dislike, under constant time pressure, most often at the edge of exhaustion. In the conflicts that arise simply from the cruel mixture of fatigue and pressure, when people face their limit in a bodily, psychological, and spiritual sense, things happen that most of us later would like not to have happened. But it is these wide open spaces that teaches us the most. Teach us about our life, our core and heart, who we are and what we can, about solidarity, respect, and failure. The job is a teacher. He teaches weird things.

So let me give you some of what I found in the sweat shop deep at night. Hope it will be of some use to you.

1. Do you want to be right or do you want to solve the problem? — In most cases you can not or should not have both. The decision is your’s and the consequences too.

2. Most people don’t work problem-oriented but hierarchy-oriented. — This too is a decision everyone of us makes and has to make. Concentration on problems dissolves boundaries between departments and groups; concentration on hierarchy dissolves solidarity and respect, shifts the burden of the work onto other people.

3. Your work should not place unneccessary burden on your colleagues. — This is about working professionally and fairly. Many people work without looking to the consequences of what they are doing. They follow an order, hush hush, leave stuff somewhere because someone has said so, and the colleague will have further work to do first cleaning up the mess before he can even start to do his own task. Creates lots of friction.

4. Energy and resilience bring you through the first nine hours of the shift, countenance and courtesy through the next nine hours. — This is something especially young people do not understand: Endurance has nothing to do with “power” but with attitude.

5. Much energy is lost because people fight against the work. — This is a sad point. In my opinion at leat 1/3 of one’s power gets lost because the person unknowingly quarrels with her work. This is the situation in which a superior starts to do something: either motivation by birthday-party or motivation by terror. It is the time especially in the night shift when all people are tired that the Big Lament starts. But if people knew — or somehow had learned — that they are (also) tired due to their foregone rejection of their work, it would be easier. Abandoning the fight against the work frees energy. Things become lighter. (I know that this is applauded heavily by every employer. Believe me, it is not about them, but about psychology, spirituality, and how to get you through the night.)

6. Problems resulting from keeping the mouth shut grow worse than those resulting from speaking out. — Yeah, we know that. It is about honesty and courage and most of us fail. And it teaches something very profound: There simply is no honesty without courage. And that means that lies are often accompanied by or are due to a lack of courage. So the next time do not judge your colleague hastily — the lie he spread stems perhaps from a lack of courage. (A disclaimer is in order here: Do not listen to this when you work in a dictatorship, the military, the mafia, or some other dangerous, potentially life-threatening environment. Here the consequences of speaking out may be worse than keeping the mouth shut.)

Nights end and days come. As of now the sun climbs over the hill. It is time to go to bed. Sleep well then, after all these long hours. May your shift end with a smile.

(You may find a postscriptum here)

 

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