Tag Archives: career

A History of Labour – Part I

I once heard that: life is the sum of the decisions we make.  Which does hold a certain amount of truth when I look back at my career at least.  My current job is very much the sum of everything I have previous done and learned.  So I thought in the interest of sharing a bit of history of my jobs over the years might be useful on what worked and where I screwed up to help me along my path to early retirement.  Yet because I believe I am now on job number 12 or 13 (my count is most likely wrong) since I got my degree, I won’t just be writing this for the next few months.  Instead I’ll try to provide a new episode each week and we we eventually get around to my current job.  I will caution many of these posts will be very long, because it really just takes that long to tell the tale.

To start, we will skip past my various odd jobs growing up and my teenager years and instead jump right to the beginning of my career.

Year 0 AD (AD = After Degree)

I learned at and early age I tended to be further ahead of most of the people I know in life experience. So while every else just got their degree in the spring of 2000, I also was planning to be married that fall.  Which does makes sense in the respect I met my future wife for my first day at university in 1996, so after four years of dating. (Which by the way dating an engineer while getting their degree is like dog years…honestly we are shitty boyfriends as we tend to have horrible schedules with just 40 hours of week of lecture and lab time and then homework on top of that.  My wife likes to say she earned her engagement ring and it is basically true.)

Anyway the odd part of getting married was I wasn’t looking too hard for a career job at that point in my life.  I didn’t particularly want to move to Alberta as many of my classmates were at that time, but I wasn’t going to be supported by my parents anymore, so I fell back on my old skill set and got a job at a local pub in the kitchen.  The pay suck and I was grossly over qualified for it, but as I explained to the kitchen manager I needed to pay rent.  He decided to take a chance I won’t be around long.

It worked out well for him.  I could already cook because my mother insisted we learn that skill (god bless her foresight on that one) so I learned the menu in like two weeks.  Perhaps the only real downside to the job in general was I worked the evening shift so I started late afternoon and didn’t finish until after midnight. Beyond that I actually like my boss and co-workers overall.  Nice people for the most part which was just about required to deal with our weekly hell: wing night.

Normally cooking an order or two of wings on any given night wasn’t a big deal.  Yet this particular pub they had a wing night and a cheaper beer night on the same day, so in an university town your business tended to be outright nuts on those nights.  We literally went through  tens of thousands of wings those nights in several hundred orders.  The entire thing was a stress inducing hell hole of work which to this day provides me with a measure of respect to serving and cooking staff in restaurants.  Getting slammed sucks, but doing it for three hours straight ever week is just insanity.

Yet during my basic training at that job, I started to make a few changes just to help me do the work.  I started a closing checklist as I could never keep all 26 steps straight in my head.  I helped reorganize a few things around the kitchen to make the work go a bit smoother.  Then by chance about six months in the night shift kitchen manager quit and I was offered the job.  Despite being one of the newest guys on staff (yes this pissed off a few of the more senior kitchen staff members).

I initially said: no.  The job did pay an extra buck an hour which was nice, but I was concerned I would be settling in here which when I still hadn’t even started my career yet was freaking me out.  In the end after a few weeks of realize I did half the job already anyway.  So I ended up training the new staff and getting used to managing people around who were mainly older than I was.  Oddly I realized early on that if you treat people as well people, they don’t give a crap if you are ten years their junior.

All in all the job ended out working just fine to help us pay our bills until after we got married.  But for an additional complication I was also trying to stay in Saskatchewan…mainly because all our family was around either Saskatoon or Regina.  But I was rapidly finding that wasn’t going to be possible.  So just when I got my head around starting to apply for jobs in Alberta then I got a interview out of the blue for a job that I didn’t even apply for.


Lessons Learned

  • Do a good job regardless if it isn’t hard.
  • Learn to cope with stress or go insane.
  • Being competent is a good way to earn more.
  • Make things better where you can.
  • Service level work is an excellent motivator for getting an education…thinking of doing wing nights for the next forty years was an excellent motivation to keep applying for jobs in my field.

Financial Progress – Almost none.  I covered expenses and made minimum payments on our $60,000 in student debt that my wife and I had.

The Passion Career

I’ve told this story a few times before, but perhaps a short recap would be useful.

Once upon a time there was a young boy who dreamed of being a writer for living, but upon getting to high school and learning how little that could pay (in fact there was a recent story on that saying the average writer in Canada only makes about $12,000/year) he decided to instead leverage his math and science talents into a degree in Chemical Engineering instead. Somewhat unsatisfied with his career choice he became obsessed with the idea of early retirement or financial independence which would let him then switch back to his dream job of being a writer with out needing the money from it. He figures he could do all of this by his 40th birthday or so.

While this seem sort of practical way to do things to me it doesn’t acknowledge that until very recently I always doubted that I could be a writer. Self doubt in my ability to write has always haunted me and despite any success to the contrary I always thought writing for a career was more fantasy than reality for me.  That is why perhaps I would write posts here, but often ignore my writing other projects.

So while I like the idea of the career advice of follow your passion I tend to be a bit wary of it since I find people easily confuse excitement for passion. In fact I just recently read something that I thought nailed the difference between the two. People that found their passion in their work life don’t talk about how exciting, challenging or stimulating the work is but rather they speak in terms of meaningful, significant and fulfilling their work is.

I find writing fulfilling to me. I’m more complete when I have done some writing, but I also understanding writing a book is a LOT of work. For example, so far this month I’ve written 19,000 words on my novel and I can assure you the majority of it wasn’t exciting. In fact, long stretches of it are making me sit down at my desk and slog through a scene that I need in the book but I’m not even that interested in writing at that moment in time.

I find there are a lot of ‘want to be’ writers in the world. They love the idea of writing as a career in their fantasies, but often don’t actually finish a manuscript. They end up burning through their excitement in the first five chapters and then facing the long painful climb to finish the book they give up. I get that since I’ve done it numerous times myself.

Yet when I speak to actual writers who do this for a career they often comment on working six days a week, the horrors of having an editor or agent rip your beloved book to pieces, and the the tough work keeping up social media and other means of promoting their work. Being an actual writers means you get fulfillment from your work even when the entire process can be painful and you know won’t get easier as you go along.

So yes, go for passion in your career if you want, but please do keep in mind the difference between passion and excitement.  To be successful in just about anything requires doing work that isn’t always exciting.

What are your thought on doing your passion for career advice? Pointless, a dream, possible or just difficult to do?

Balance: Myth and Reality

Ugh, if I read one more article about work-life balance that doesn’t provide any useful ideas or solutions I may have to vomit.  Seriously people, I understand we are all very busy but can’t the media take a bit of time to come up with something useful for the average person.

It’s interesting that we tend to paint ourselves as the hero (or heroine) of our story, we are suffering in our daily struggle, but that is to be accepted.  After all, there really isn’t anything to do to improve our work-life balance.  Technology has invaded our personal life and now work won’t leave us alone even when we are at home.  Then there are the constant cut backs at work that squeeze more and more effort out of our remaining time there so we have no choice but to work longer to keep things up.  Yet there is one big problem with this paragraph: it is utter bullshit.

So without further ado let’s deconstruct the myths in that last paragraph:

  1. Technology has invaded our personal lives – This is so common of a myth that people complain about it on their bloody personal phones as an issue.  So here is the reality, take some control and ownership of the issue.  First disable all those horrible notifications on your apps.  You don’t need a ping noise every time someone likes your last Facebook post so turn it off.  Then turn off all the other ones except perhaps the ones you do actually find useful…like when someone texts you.  Then proceed to develop some healthy habits with your phone…like it is ok to ignore it while driving.  The world won’t end if the other person has to wait 10 minutes until you are home to answer a text.  Then also learn it is ok not to read your work email after hours.  I glace at the title of my emails and unless it is in all caps saying “ANSWER THIS NOW OR YOUR ARE FIRED” I will get to it tomorrow.
  2. We have no choice to work longer to keep things up – I really hate statements like this, but in fact just because the choice is not very pleasant doesn’t mean you can’t make a choice.  I personally choose to put in my agreed 40 or so hours a week and then forget about it.  I do the best I can, but realized years ago that I’m NEVER getting caught up on my work.  Because even if I managed to do that they would just give me more to do.  So by working longer hours all you are doing is putting a band aid on a gun shot wound.  Face the fact that you don’t have enough resources or you are doing things you don’t need to do. Learn to say to requests, “That’s nice, but I can’t help you.” or go with the classic “No!”.  By working longer, you are just making things worse for yourself.
  3. We are suffering in our daily struggle, but that is to be accepted – Dear lord, what the hell is wrong with you people that you thinking suffering is to be accepted or normal?!?! Suffering isn’t normal and frankly a lot of your issues are of your own making.  You worry what others think of your work (ie: should I put this in the report, will they get mad at me for telling them someone bad?), you don’t want to be the guy that leaves early or comes in late or you think that if you suffer long enough you will get some sort of reward.  Screw all that you can’t control what other people think of you so stop worrying about it.  I personally always put the bad news in my reports (otherwise how do management know about it?), I occasionally come in late because of traffic or leave early because I have nothing I can get done in 10 minutes anyway.  Then lastly, suffering never results in a promotion, sorry to shatter your illusions.

Then of course there is the ultimate solution to work-life balance…work less!  Shocking I know but the majority of people I know really shouldn’t be working full time based on what they have going on in their lives.  So either get rid of more of your life or get rid of more of your work.  Then you have a hope to hit a balance point but the in mean time stop beating on your head and complaining about the headache…instead try something novel like do something about it.

This rant was brought to you by coffee, too much work and inspired by the Globe and Mail.