Make your Job Work for You
I mentioned in a prior blog how at my first job I tended a small rose garden. I could have ignored this garden like most inmates do when assigned jobs, but I chose to make it work for me by learning something that is of interest to my wife. My wife likes to garden, and likes roses. By learning how to grow and tend a rose garden, I became a better husband because I found another way to share in the things my wife enjoys.
Perhaps you are stuck in what seems like a bad job. Making it work for you might be different depending on why you think your job is bad. Does the problem stem from co-workers or management (or both)? Perhaps it is bad because it doesn’t pay well (you are not alone). Perhaps you do not feel challenged or adequately trained. As an inmate, I can still relate to these issue in my prison job, and believe me, I think my co-workers, my pay, my training, and my intellectual opportunities in my prison job by comparison are for worse than most jobs. But, I still think that anyone can make a job work for them, even a lousy prison job.
One thing I regret about my previous jobs is the missed opportunities to learn something new. My first job out of college as a tax accountant provided a plethora of opportunities to learn that I ignored. I remember doing the quarterly payroll and sales tax for a restaurant. Rather than take some time to learn about the restaurant business I simply did the forms I was told to do. It became a rote activity. I took a number from the report and put that number in the computer. I look back at that and think how fascinating it could have been to figure out what that number actually meant to this restaurant, and why it was important. I could have learned something that would have served me well in the future. Two years before I came to prison I had a restaurant as a client for my bookkeeping business. I didn’t keep them very long because that business has some unique aspects to it (liquor licenses for one). I could have done a better job with them if I had made my first job out of college a better learning experience. Instead I viewed it as a dead end, bad job. I was working long hours and only got paid $8.75/hour. Oddly, even the job that ultimately got me in prison was a job where I did try to learn some things, and those helped me start my own bookkeeping business.
My second job at prison was an easy job by prison standards. It was also easy to make the job work for me as well. I was a recreation clerk. I was in charge of issuing equipment to inmates. The best part of the job was that I had a room with a desk to myself. I could write or read without worrying about a sleeping bunkie or taking up someone’s space. I could us the time I had sitting there to achieve personal goals. Because I had to sit there I was able to fill up the time doing things that helped me learn. Of course, the obvious retort is that not everyone just sits at a desk with little responsibility so that they can read all the time. I’ll concede that, but that’s not my point. I know that no one spends 100% of their time at work “working.” Some is spent at lunch, talking on the phone, emailing friends, or just chatting with other employees. I’m not saying don’t do this, I’m just saying that there are snatches of time that we can use to learn on our own. My brother lives in Portland, and during the winter rainy season has decided that he would rather read the Wall St. Journal during his lunch hour than fight the rain going to the local mall to eat for an hour. He eats, but he spends 45 minutes reading, as opposed to 45 minutes going to the mall, waiting in line, finding a table, and then heading back to work. Similarly, use the downtime at your work to read an article in a trade journal, or some other publication you enjoy. I think finding learning activities to do during boring times, or downtime is a good step in making your job work for you.
My current job in the prison is actually a rare job for a prisoner. Out of the 580 or so prisoners here, 15 of us get to leave the camp every weekday and work someplace in town. I found this to be a great job, but I think I have vastly different attitudes about my work than other inmates. True, the out crew does require much more work, and far more strenuous work at that. But, there are benefits that I liked to make the job work for me. First, the church where I go provides us lunch every day. After dreary prison food, having a hamburger, a pizza, or some Chinese takeout makes the work rewarding. Not only that, but the work crew gets to choose what they want. Normally, in prison, you eat what you are served, or you don’t eat. On the outside, if you want a cup of coffee at 6 am, you either have your machine on a time, brew it yourself, or buy a cup. Simple enough. In prison, if you want coffee at 6 am, you have to wait until the chow hall opens, head over there, wait in line, usually for about 20 minutes, then when you get your coffee, it may be sludge. That’s not hyperbole. The coffee here is thick. Anyway, my point is the how I make the out crew work for me.
It is pretty easy to make the out crew work for me. I enjoy the fringe benefits so much and I don’t mind the longer hours and harder work, so it probably is a good job from that perspective, even though my pay is still low, and I get no intellectual stimulation from it. One thing that I did learn from this out crew that I use to my advantage is making the most of my time. I would often work alone. That seems silly, but finding “alone time” at a prison is practically impossible. Yet, on the out crew, there are jobs that you can do by yourself and not see anyone for an hour or more. I use that time to think about things, pray, and just be quiet. The discipline of solitude is something I cherish right now and I’m using my job to get that. So, if you have a job that engages you physically, but not your mind, then use that time to think about something you have read, memorize some verses (I read about a truck driver that did this). Anyway, just think, and you will be surprised at how valuable engaging solitude is, and engaging your mind.
In my next blog, I want to continue the theme of working, and elaborate on a concept I mentioned in an earlier blog, know who you work for.