For the sake of argument

You don’t have to like your job

MAXWELL DROKE SAYS October 10 1959
For the sake of argument

You don’t have to like your job

MAXWELL DROKE SAYS October 10 1959

You don’t have to like your job

For the sake of argument


When a matron I know was five years of age she was taken by her grandmother to visit a nearby city. There, for the first time, she beheld sweating, dirt-streaked men digging a ditch. She was deeply disturbed that such things had to be and questioned her grandmother about it. Were these men happy?

"Now darling," the grandmother said, "you are not to trouble your head for a moment about such matters. There have always been two kinds of people in the world. There must always continue to be. There are the plebeians to hew the wood and draw the water; and there are the patricians who live in comfort from the labors of the more lowly. That is the way the world is made up. There is nothing you or I can do about it. Now, you finish your ice-cream soda or we'll be late for the picture show.” Grandmother was a patrician.

Doom of tedious toil

Undoubtedly the indifference of patricians to the fate of the lowly has slowed by decades a more equitable distribution of labor. Even now it is not the compassion for plebeians but the growing cheapness of electricity and other energy sources that has emancipated the laboring throng. Kilowatts have become cheaper than muscles. At the same time there has been a steadily increasing demand for people with a little more "book learning" and background to operate all this new machinery. I he consequence has been that we are educating our people out of drudgery and into a higher type of service for the community. The result will be the decline and eventual doom of tedious toil.

We are not at that point yet nor shall we be within the lifetime of your children. Unquestionably, there is a great deal less tedious toil than there was a decade ago. There will be even less a decade hence. There will be some, however. There will be tasks that are

dreary and dull and highly unpleasant. And someone will have to do them.

Strange as it may seem to the effete, there are persons who prefer to exercise brawn over brain. They don’t want thinking jobs. They want to be garbage collectors because there’s good money in it. Yes, that is the catch. Once we paid a very low rate for our menial tasks because there were a great many people available who could do nothing else. They had to take what we offered or starve. No more. Brawn workers are in short supply. They have to be paid on a par with the brain workers or they'll take the next handy job. Of course even the "brawns” are smarter than they once were. They have to be. Because even they must handle complicated machinery and keep simple records.

It should not be assumed that, because we are in some degree putting drudgery on the shelf, your children will of necessity settle down happily to such labors as come their way. There has been a great deal of rank foolishness written concerning the Joy of the Job. This may be as good a place as any to dissipate some of it.

In North America today there are more than 70 million persons gainfully employed. Some recent statistics indicate that about half of these men and women experience no great sense of satisfaction from their daily labors. There are prophets who forecast that this percentage is likely to increase.

Isn’t it, therefore, about time to discard some of our more persistent notions concerning the Glory of Labor and the moral compulsion to glean joy from the job?

When our part of the world was young and primitive, dreary drudgery and ceaseless toil were the common lot of man. There was no acceptable alternative. So our early forebears invented the myth that labor is ennobling; preached a philosophy of salvation-throughsweat. In continued on page 75

continued on page 75


For the sake of argument continued from page 8

“Even if you hate your job, you have a gift your fathers never had — time of your own”

those days the honest husbandman who found no delight in diligence faced scant recompense indeed, save in the hope of heaven.

So the myth was a necessity. But it was a pure invention. There is no foundation for it in any enduring moral code. You will search the Bible in vain for a testimonial to the Joy of the Job. On the contrary, the curse of the Creator upon Adam is revealed by the decree: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.

"To business that we love." said Shakespeare, “we rise betime and go to 't with delight.” But all over the land, it must be said, millions rise reluctantly and go to their labors with resignation rather than rejoicing.

This is a great pity. An even graver tragedy lies in the fact that these unhappy workers carry with them an added burden — a conviction of guilt engendered by a shabby, threadbare Puritan precept. They feel, vaguely and uneasily, a sense of failure. There should be pleasure in work — and it isn t theie. This frustration nourishes neuroses.

We all have to work. But we don t have to like it. That is a simple truth that badly needs reiteration. To face with indifference. or even active distaste, tasks that seem to us menial or meaningless is a perfectly natural reaction. There is in this attitude nothing either abnormal or immoral. Certainly there are a favored and fortunate few who find in their occupations full opportunity for the idease of energies and enthusiasms. Iheic may be soul satisfaction in designing a licet new motorcar. However, there is precious little stimulation in endlessly tighten i n Ü nut A-16 on an assembly line. It is unrealistic to pretend that there is.

So what. then, is our counsel to our children who may find their work a chore or a bore?

First, if you are numbered among the dissident workers, analyze your individual situation. Do you have precisely in mind a type of congenial employment for which you have special aptitude and training? Exclude those nebulous dreams of “a better job.” For we arc concerned now only with well-defined desires. If you have unusual qualifications for another type of work — something you believe sincerely will prove more congenial — and if you are in a position to make the move — then take steps to get the work you want. You may not be any happier in the new vocation — there is drudgery and frustration in every occupation. But you have every right to try.

Let us assume, however, that you ;ue compelled by necessity, or impelled by prudence, to remain in your present position. Accept the situation philosophically. You still have a precious gift — a gift no earlier generation could claim in such abundant measure. You have time—time of your own. to spend its you will.

This gift of time is relatively new. As recently as 1870 a leading department store opened its doors daily at 7 a.m.. closed at 8 p.m.. except Saturday, when the closing hour was 9 p.m. Clerks were expected to be on hand well before the opening hour and to put their stocks in order after the store closed. They were required to sweep floors; dust furniture, shelves and showcases; trim wicks, fill lamps, clean chimneys — and even make their own quill pens! In addition, a store

bulletin of the period decreed that each male clerk "shall bring in a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s business.”

It is to be assumed that an average employee hadn't much energy for mis-

chief after a fourteen-hour day on such a job. Still a benevolent employer took no chances:

“Each employee will attend fast meeting on Thursday. Also you are

expected to attend your Sunday school.

"Any employee who smokes Spanish cigars, uses liquor in any form, gets shaved at the barber shop, frequents pool halls or public dance halls, will give his employer every reason to sus-

picion his integrity, worthy intentions

and all-around honesty.”

Well, we have journeyed quite a distance sociologically in ninety years. Now, with the changing scene, you have many more hours to devote to activities beyond your daily occupation. Have you ever considered how much time you really have? Let’s see:

Twenty-four hours a day multiplied by seven yields 168 hours a week. To an average job, these days, you probably devote no more than 40 hours a week. This leaves a balance of 128 hours — more than three quarters of your total time. This is theoretically “free” time, to invest as you will. Of course, you must eat and sleep. So let’s make another deduction of 12 hours a day — 84 hours a w'eek — half of your original allotment. And what have we left? There is a balance of 44 hours of leisure — actually, more than the total time you devote to your daily job! And we haven’t taken into account statutory holidays and your paid vacation.

With these precious hours you may now turn lo any avocation you desire. Run down the alphabet of hobbies and make your choice—anything from tinkering with automobiles to playing the zither. Surely lack of time is no longer a valid excuse for inaction.

Of course, there are difficulties, obstacles, distractions. There always have been. Don’t delude yourself with the alibi that you need “more time” to put your air castle on a firm foundation. Leisure can become a debilitating disaster. Let me tell you a true story:

In England, in 1775, there was born a young man who had, so far as we are able to learn, absolutely no aptitude for


My offspring seem, in many ways,

To multiply on rainy days.

Confined with all the roar of them I swear that there are more of them.


business. Nevertheless, he was compelled by circumstances to spend thirty-three years of his life performing distasteful clerical duties in a London countinghouse. Twelve hours a day he worked, six days a week, the year around. At home the care of a periodically demented older sister took much of his strength, left little leisure.

Yet, somehow, this man — his name was Charles Lamb—found time—made time—to create a prodigious quantity of prose and verse, including essays that give him enduring rank among the masters of his craft.

Then, in his forty-ninth year, this mild, busy little man realized the dream of a lifetime. He was retired on an annual pension — given the great gift of time. With his sister no longer a burden, he moved to the suburbs to revel in writing. The leisure proved demoralizing. Until he died eight years later — as the result of an accidental fall — Lamb frittered his days away, unable to create a worthwhile line.

Now, it is certain that few of us could become immortal essayists regardless of how much — or how little — time we had at our command. But we can do something — raise mushrooms, start a

goldfish farm, become an authority on ceramics. In fact I personally know dissatisfied jobholders who have found relief and relaxation in these very avocations.

Years ago. I knew a streetcar motorman who had a passion for posies. All his life he had wanted to grow flowers. Unfortunately he lived in a city flat, with scarcely room for a flower box. But out on the edge of town, at the end of his run, the streetcar company owned a barren, unsightly quarter of an acre, used as a turntable. Here, on each trip, the motorman had a layover of seven minutes. With this time, amounting to scarcely more than an hour a day, our motorman cleared, spaded, planted and cultivated that unpromising tract. In a matter of weeks he transformed it into a bower of beauty. In the process he transformed himself from a disgruntled, dejected workman to an animated, vitalized person with a consuming personal interest.

Undertaker turned actor

This brings to mind the case of another flower enthusiast — a man who didn't even know he had an interest in growing things until he developed it quite by accident. He operates a cottonbag plant. It is a lucrative but hardly an inspiring occupation. To employ an active mind he turned to various hobbies. Then, ten years ago, a neighbor gave this man a few scrub camellia bushes. They flourished and flowered. Our friend’s interest grew correspondingly. The next season he bought some better varieties. Finally he acquired a small greenhouse, then a larger one. Today he is a recognized camellia expert. The creator of many new varieties, his services are constantly in demand as a judge at flower shows all over the country. The bag business still yields him a living, but camellias give him a rich and satisfying life.

This story brings out a point worth noting. Not all of our restless, yearning malcontents are wage earners. Many an individual with a prospering enterprise is vaguely discontented — perhaps because, like a friend of mine, youthful ambitions were thwarted through some unavoidable circumstance. This man wanted to be an actor — he wound up an undertaker! The fine, long - established family business had to be carried on by someone. As the only son he became, at the sudden death of his father, the unwilling but inevitable nominee.

He used to brood over his fate. However, the last time our paths crossed he looked ten years younger; I have rarely encountered a happier mortician. The solution was simple. Since he couldn’t go on the stage, he brought the stage to his town. He launched a local Little Theater movement. It was prospering. And he couldn't have been more elated over a Broadway triumph.

It all comes down to this: If you can't find joy in your job. don't let it bother you. Seek an outlet for your creative urges in a congenial avocation. ★

This is an excerpt from Yon And The World To Come, copyright 1959 by Maxwell Broke, to be published later this fall by Harper & Brothers.


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