What Is My “Dirty Job”?

Of the five Mama Kat   writing prompts this week, there are several I would have enjoyed writing to. The Random Number Generator handed me #1: Describe a job you absolutely would never want to do.

What image comes to your mind when you read this prompt? Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe? Any of a number of Dilbert cartoons? Episodes of The Office?

For me, I can’t name one specific occupation that I would outright say, “I would hate doing that” (if we eliminate the illegal/immoral ones). Anyone who reads me regularly knows I am a huge believer in the “do what you love and the money will follow” philosophy. In a recent episode of the RunRunLive podcast, writer Ann Brennan talked about how she got a degree in business “like she was supposed to” but never warmed up to the field. Her calling as a writer kept nagging at her and refusing to be suppressed. Now she is a regular contributor to Eye on Annapolis and has written her first novel. (And, as a side benefit, she is really happy.)

Three things I consider fundamental about the work I do:

Cruelty is Out

As a manager, I have had to deliver negative messages. I have had to terminate people, put employees on Corrective Action Plans, notify them their only option for staying employed was moving to the subcontractor taking over their function. But a job that required me to tear people down or be cruel is one from which I would resign before I started. It’s not in me.

Where Do I Fit In?

I am not currently supervising staff, but when I was, one of my main principles was the belief that people engage more fully in their work if they understand where the task they are doing fits in the overall “plan.” When an employee is stuffing envelopes, for example, will they be more energized (and therefore productive) if they understand that the application they are stuffing, once it is in the hands of a family needing health insurance for their child, will result in a child getting preventive care and being able to succeed in school? Much better than “get these 500 envelopes stuffed today. Thanks.”

As an employee, it is important to me to understand where my task fits in the big picture. If I am data entering an application, will I be more careful if I understand that inputting a date of birth incorrectly will keep a child from getting health insurance (because it messes up the files)? I commend Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) for putting pictures of children up throughout their building – having a visual reminder that we are all here to serve kids sets the right tone for keeping the mission in mind.

I ran across this article about Generation “Why?” when researching my blog post. Honestly, I think I am a displaced GenYer.

Can’t do it, will never learn

You can love it and hope the money will follow, but there are some jobs out there that can’t be learned, no matter how much passion you have. For example, I am a huge fan of figure skating (hence my daughter Tenley’s name) but could not be an Olympic figure skater, EVER. An article I read yesterday by Whitney Johnson posed this question to people trying to be more valuable as job candidates: What do you do reflexively well? The author quoted Marcus Buckingham, author of Now, Discover Your Strengths, who stated, “Our strengths…clamor for attention in the most basic way: Using them makes you feel strong. Take note of the times when you feel invigorated, inquisitive, successful…These moments are clues to what your strengths are.”

There are some things out there (think: nuclear engineering) that will never be a good fit for me. There are other things (think: anything to do with reading, editing, writing, networking) that I keep coming back to, professionally and in my non-work life. Those are the responsibilities I am hungry to take on.

In his article “Job Versus Vocation – What I Didn’t Learn in B-School,” Andrew J. Hoffman says that students who ask “Where can I make the most money?” are asking the wrong question. Hoffman’s key questions are:

• What were you meant to do with your life?

• What do you want to do?

• Where do you most fit?

If I can’t answer those three questions (or I refuse to stay on a path that strives to ask), that is a job (and life) I would absolutely never want to do.

7 thoughts on “What Is My “Dirty Job”?

  1. I love your take on this prompt. It's great information you've provided too. I'm in the process of a job transition, so I'm very interested in this topic right now.

    On a side note, I'm thrilled that someone from my hometown stopped by my blog – even if I didn't know you when I was still back in Tally. 🙂

  2. I love this post. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. As the mom of a teenager who is trying to make college decisions, I encourage him to ask those very questions. It is good to think I am on the right track.

  3. Awesome piece, Paula. I love the way you link to so many different sources and pose really thought-provoking questions. It's like a dialogue rather than a rant. And I appreciate you sharing your personal experiences and thoughts on motivating staff.

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