Phil Gulley: The Value Of Work

Reminding people about the benefits of employment is a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Recently, I read on the internet that half of all Americans hate their jobs and would do something else if given the opportunity. No study was cited to back the claim, so I’m not sure it’s true. But if it is, we have a lot of foolish people in this country, because I can’t imagine anything sillier than doing a job you hate, day after interminable day. Unless, of course, you’re black or brown or female and have to stick with a sucky job because too many companies are enamored of white males. So I’ll qualify my remarks by saying if you’re a white guy working day after day for an employer you hate, there might be a leak in your think-tank.

Some of my high school classmates are now retiring, and they have been asking me when I plan to join their happy ranks. I’ve toyed with the idea, but I like my job and I have decided to stick with it, provided my employer sticks with me. I’m not sure what I would do if I were ever fired. I’m utterly useless at anything but being a pastor, but far too liberal to be hired by most churches. I’m so thoroughly incompetent, I would probably have to run for Congress.

There are as many reasons to hate just about any job as there are to like it. I wouldn’t enjoy a simple, repetitive job, but I know a man who spent 30 years fastening nuts to bolts on an assembly line and couldn’t wait to get to his job each morning. He said it gave him lots of time to think. He never told me what he thought about. I would have been thinking about getting another job.

Most of the time when people hate their job, it isn’t the actual work they mind, it’s their boss. I’ve had good luck with bosses, starting with my first ones, Orville and Esther Johnston, who were generous, compassionate, and fair. Orville and Esther owned Johnston’s IGA in Danville and hired me to stock shelves and sack groceries. I knocked over a pickle display once—Orville absolutely loved pickles—and he didn’t even raise his voice. He patted me on the back, told me accidents happened, and helped me clean it up. I’m not sure I would have been so composed if someone had knocked over my pickle display.

I have one person, Stacey, who works for me, which I suppose makes me a boss. We’ve worked together a long time, and it’s hard to tell which one of us is in charge. She’s just as likely to tell me what to do as I am to direct her. The problem with Stacey is that she’s a lot smarter than I am and we both know it, so sometimes when I ask her to do something, she knows it’s the wrong thing to do and won’t do it. She’ll just go ahead and do the smart thing. She never lets on that she’s smarter, and always makes me feel like her best ideas were my own. If I ever get elected to Congress, I’m taking Stacey with me to Washington. That way, when I do something stupid, I can have her go on 60 Minutes and redeem my reputation.

The toughest thing about hiring is how hard it is to know whether or not someone will succeed at a job until they’re actually doing it. Almost 63 million people thought Donald Trump would be a good president, but he’s turning out to be a dud, even worse than James Buchanan, who served up the Civil War on a silver platter. Of course, some people sensed Trump would be a disaster so they didn’t vote for him, including yours truly, but that will be of little comfort when we all die in a nuclear conflagration. Yelling “I told you so” while being vaporized is hardly recompense for being dead.

The worst thing that can happen job-wise is getting a zillion dollars a year to do a job you hate. I’ve always felt sorry for proctologists. That has to be the worst job in the world, but they’re stuck doing it because nothing else they could do pays nearly as well. Then there’s the stigma of it. If they’re at a party and someone asks them what they do, they can never give an honest answer. People would just stand there, uncomfortable, trying to think of something safe to say. What do you talk about with a proctologist? It has to be a lonely life. With his tiny fingers, Donald Trump would have made a great one.

Some jobs sound wonderful when you first hear about them—chocolate taster, for example—but after a while, even those professions would get old. I met a man once who had a job tasting new candy bars, but he gained a lot of weight and got diabetes, so he quit and began working for a company that made deodorant. Now he sniffs armpits. To me, that seems like a terrible job, but he loves it. He has lost 40 pounds, his diabetes has disappeared, and he always has something to talk about. He wishes the old TV show What’s My Line? were still on. “They’d never guess odor tester,” he told me. That’s what he calls his job, odor tester, which I admit, sounds a lot better than armpit sniffer.

If the Bible can be believed, Adam and Eve didn’t have jobs until they got in trouble with God and had to find work. Maybe if they had had a job in the first place, they wouldn’t have gotten in trouble. Since idle hands are the devil’s workshop, God should have seen that problem coming, and kept them busy with a few tasks around the garden—weeding, spraying, thinning plants. You can’t very well have people sitting around with nothing to do and expect anything good to come of it. For someone who is supposed to know everything, God sure dropped the ball on that one.

Whether we like our jobs or not, I think most of us can agree that working is better than not. I’ve tried both, and prefer employment, so long as I can pick the work. Sometimes my wife picks my tasks for me, and I don’t care for that nearly as much. Every Saturday morning, she has a long list of things for me to do, even though I’ve already spent the week thinking about the work I need to do, like motorcycle testing, grilling analysis, and hammock evaluations. Important things, that if not done regularly and well could result in serious injury, even death. Though my wife is safety-conscious, she seems to resent my dogged commitment to our welfare.

I’m not sure what I’ll do when I retire. I don’t care that much for travel. I don’t enjoy ethnic food, and am out of sorts when I can’t speak the native language. As for flying long distances on an airplane, I’d rather be an armpit sniffer. What I really need is a job writing about all the things I’m thinking about, but who in the world would hire someone to do that?