Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Working For A Living

Over the weekend I did some shopping, and found myself at the J. C. Penny store in Bellevue Square mall. I have fairly pedestrian tastes in clothing, so it works about as well for me as any other store does if I can't happen to pick up what I might need from Costco.

The woman who rang me up was a remarkably pleasant Chinese national who gave her name as "Sunny." (I find it a touch annoying that she felt the need to adopt a name easier for Americans to say. You'd think a culture that has mandatory schooling for 12 years could manage to teach people how to navigate names that don't originate from reality television or English literature.) From the way she spoke, interacted and carried herself, it was pretty clear to me that she was vastly "overqualified" to be working in retail.In my experience, it's fairly easy to spot an American who feels that they're underemployed in a retail job, especially if they're young. They're the type who wouldn't take the job seriously if you put a gun to their heads. They ignore customers, don't bother to be polite when they do speak to you and generally act as if this whole working thing was little more than a obstacle between them and their time with their friends.

Sunny, on the other hand, was serious like a heart attack. She understood what her job was, and whether or not she felt it was beneath her, she was going to do what it took to do it right.

Her dedication to what I suspect was a fairly straightforward job started me thinking. For many of us here in the United States, work is something we do, and sometimes we do it unwillingly. Like so many other things in our lives, our work is about us, not in the sense that its a part of our lives that's intended to make our lives better, but that we expect it to directly serve us, and what we want out of life. And so we don't take it for what it is. We've done so much to make work into a four-letter word that perhaps we've lost sight of the fact that it doesn't have to be one. Sometimes, it's just work, and it needs to be done and if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right.

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