Why do you work (here)?

If you are working at a job, I invite you to ask yourself the following question: why am I working here?  Am I working here to make money? Am I working here to make a difference with others?  Am I working here for no reason; I just work day-after-day-after-day?  If you watch people’s behavior, and listen to what people say, and listen to the advertisements,  commercials, and popular songs it seems like people can’t wait to get off work and have some time to do what they really love.

I remember my first paying job, it was gardening.  My father was a landscape gardener, with his own route, and his own truck. The truck was loaded with a lawn mower, edger, rakes, hoes, shears, garden hoses, etc.  During the summer, I would climb into his truck with him, and we would drive house after house from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and do the gardening for other people.  At the end of the day we would drive out to Coyote Canyon to the public dump and toss the lawn trimmings, leaves, and clippings into the land-fill.  By the end of the day, I was worn out from a hard day of work. The reason why I worked back then, was because my parents told me to. I was told that I was not a youngster anymore, I was 9-years-old and I shouldn’t be hanging around the house during summer vacation. I should be earning my keep. I remember after a long day, my father would hand me a one dollar bill for my earnings.  This was 1961.  To me the money was a plus. It was a bonus. It was something added to my family responsibility to help my family out. Oh, and I had hay fever, which meant runny noses, and puffy eyes… so I hated it.

Looking at this memory, I worked because I had to, because I was supposed to. Not because it was my passion, not because it was an adventure, but because it was there for me to do, and I would be a bad person if I didn’t.

Later my father changed careers to being the manager of a Japanese restaurant.  It was 1970, and I had just graduated high school. My mother didn’t want me just hanging around the house during the summer, so I worked as a busboy. I think I made around $1.60 an hour plus tips.  On a good night tips could be $8.00. I got to wear a shirt and bow tie, slacks, dress shoes, and a busboy jacket with a brass clasp. I actually enjoyed this job. I was 18-years-old and was working side-by-side with some “Japanese War Brides.” These were young, Japanese women in their 20’s to 30’s who had married American G.I.’s stationed in Japan and were brought to the States after being married. They were all cute, young, and flirtative to a young boy who was the son of the manager. I can see I worked there because of the social aspects. I got to be a peer with some real women. Some had kids, some didn’t, but I looked forward to each day of work.

BabyIn the summer of 1973 and ’74 I got a seasonal, part-time job at Disneyland in Anaheim.  I worked as a busman at the Tahitian Terrace during the summer. This restaurant had a Polynesian review with Tahitian and Hawaiian dancers.  I was also surrounded by Asian-American college students from all around Southern California. I worked here for the social aspects.  After work we would go bowling, or to parties, dancing, drinking, and enjoying ourselves. I was amongst young people my age, college students, and Asian-Americans.  I really enjoyed this. The pay seemed incidental to the socializing. It was insulated from the regular business world as we were considered “performers” in the big show, even though all we did was serve food and bus tables.

My next job change was in 1975. I was a waiter and a Polynesian Showroom & restaurant outside of Disneyland, in the real world of adults only. It was a Las Vegas Style showroom with Polynesian reviews with Tahitian and Hawaiian dancers, cocktail waitresses, and a large staff of young people, my age who worked the night shift.  I

Kono Hawaii Restaurant

Kono Hawaii Restaurant

worked here for the tips. I could clear $40.00 a night in tips alone, and on the week-ends, I could collect $100 in tips. Then there was the night-life. We would drink cocktails, go bowling, dancing, to the movies, horse-back riding, and a lot of parties.  There was a whole social life around this place. I worked there for five years as I worked my way through college. This was where I met my future wife, Vicki.  I worked there to put myself through school, and for the relationship possibilities.

Around this time in my life I hit a crossroads. I had studied biological science and decided that medicine was not my future. I studied Art, and taught classes as a graduate student while the professors were on sebatical and decided that being a college professor was not my future. I considered medical illustration which combined my two majors, but decided that this was not my future either.   Since none of my passions seemed to connect to ways of making money, I had to make a compromise.

Finally I got a real full-time job, working at a family-owned landscape/irrigation contracting company. My office was a converted garage. I was a cost estimator, doing take-offs, pricing sprinkler heads, and tagging trees. I was doing this job to pay the bills. I had an apartment, car payments, utilities, and was planning on getting married. I worked here because I now had responsibilities. It was 1979 and I was making around $300 a paycheck. It was a job of convenience, since my mother was the office manager. At times I would find myself dozing off as I was bent over landscape plans, counting shrubs with a clicker. Later, my father, joined the company as a sales manager.  For one year and a half I worked in the same office as my mother, father, and the family of the owner.

Jim@work2004

Then came an actual career change. In 1980, I was offered an estimator position with a civil engineering firm. While doing volunteer work, I had by chance met the owner, of a small engineering firm, and it was a great opportunity to expand my abilities and my income.  At first I was hesitant, because I had no engineering degree; I had degrees in Biological Science and Fine Art.  However the owner, (who also didn’t have an engineering degree, in fact no college degrees at all) encouraged me that measuring and counting sodded turf and palm trees were the same as measuring and counting asphalt roadways and street light poles. So I took the leap and became a “cost engineer.” Now I was working for the adventure of it all. The projects were very large; hundreds of thousands of acres of residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional development. My budgets were now in the millons and billons of dollars. I became a manager, and trained people to do the work I did, and became an expert in my field. Now I was working for the accomplishment of the job, the large scale of the projects, the problem-solving and trouble-shooting. Money now was just a side-issue. Social life fell to the way-side. On the week-ends I would stay at home with my wife and children to recover from the stresses and strains of my career. I now worked, because it was a challenge, and my calling. That same year, 1980, I was married, and started a family. Now I worked to support my family.

The years became a blur, I stayed in the same job for decades. I had two children. Vacations came and went, co-workers came and went, even the principles and owners of the company came and went. It seemed to be endless, and eternal. The pay was good, the benefits were good, and I liked what I did 52 weeks a year.  I had found a niche, a place to exist. Work became a way-of-life.  I changed my political beliefs from Liberal/Democrat, to conservative/Republican. I worked with land developers, who were building hundreds of thousands of acres of residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional communities.  My life had direction, a purpose, and a routine.

I recall when my wife was contemplating a career change from being an office manager for a Optometrist and returning to a job she had quit back when she was 20’s as a airline customer relations person we saw that it was a big cut in pay.  However she wanted to do this because now that she was older, experienced and more mature; she felt she could do this job that had left in her youth.  I didn’t want the cut in pay, but I also wanted her to be happy and fulfilled. I agreed with her decision and she started her new career. She was working for the adventure and fulfillment of it, not just the money.

Then, in 2008 the global financial melt-down happened. The financial support for the thousands of acres of land development we were involved with disappeared, over-night.  I went from having a four-person department to only me. The work disappeared, and soon I was working a 32-hour week, then a 20-hour week, some weeks there were no hours to charge at all. I tried taking on part-time jobs estimating for my cousin, then for a few years I also worked part-time for an educational corporation.  Now I was working for survival.  I was working to keep my house.  I now became thankful for the littlest of jobs, the simple opportunity to be useful, to make a difference, to make a contribution.

The years from 2009 to 2012 were so long and drawn out, it is hard to believe that things stayed the way they were for so long.  My wife and I kept finding ways to make things work, we made less money, bought less things, but still enjoyed our lives to the fullest. Because she had followed her dream to work for the airlines, we could now (at no major expense), travel to Washington D.C., Vancouver, Canada, Paris, France, now we are planning a trip to Disney World/Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida.  Even during “hard times” life can be wonderful.

By asking yourself the question “why do I work here?” you begin an inquiry which allows you to observe yourself, and see what is there, then put the answer to the question “why do I work here?” aside; and create and invent a new answer to that question.  It is the answer to that question, which gives me my experience of working, my emotions, my feelings, my attitude.  Such freedom to investigate and then create, allows me to live my life powerfully, and live a life that I love to be living.

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