Sunday, October 10, 2010

random thoughts about jobs, work, pride and happiness

I’ve been thinking of so many people I’ve worked with who are employed in jobs they don’t enjoy. Sometimes it’s unavoidable to work at something you’d prefer not to. Young people who are earning money to pay their uni fees, or who are saving to travel and young couples paying off a mortgage. Many of these people are able to remain positive and enthusiastic as their goal more than makes up for what they see as a short term discomfort. They are able to maintain a positive attitude and the sense of purpose ensures their mental wellbeing.

But how about those whose circumstances aren’t quite so privileged? I was watching a street vendor the other day. His tray of goods was about 40 cm square, and he was taking great pride in displaying his meagre range of goods to be most enticing to passers-by. He constantly buffed and polished each item, arranging and rearranging as goods were sold. The goods were displayed with the largest chunky bangles at the back, through in descending order of size down to the tiny toe rings at the front of the tray. Everything was neat, and good use was made of empty space – the “less is more” artistic mode of expression.

In dramatic contrast was a vendor not far away. He had a similar range of goods, but they were jumbled all higgledy piggledy, tarnished and unenticing. It was an interesting insight into what could be seen as ‘making the most of your circumstances’. One of those men will possibly go home at night having had a disappointing day of sales, his apparent grumpiness wasn’t drawing tourists to buy; the other was experiencing positive interactions with customers, and earning some money as well, his cheerful welcoming smile drew tourists, and even though not all of them bought goods, they all interacted positively.

Another event I was most bemused to observe was a small group of Roma women (gypsies) ranging in age from approximately mid 20’s to mid 50’s. They walked as a cheerful group into a tourist precinct laughing and chattering happily amongst themselves. It was early, and there weren’t many tourists about. But as soon as a busload of tourists was disgorged from a bus, it was all action stations. Clothing was tweaked, faces became sad and mournful, plastic cups were produced from capes and shawls and rattled in front of the new arrivals. Then when the tourists moved on, they regrouped, faces became animated and smiling again and they appeared to brag about their success. I couldn’t help but wonder if they go home at night and compare notes “tough day at the office today” or variations on the theme, depending on whether the tourists have been generous or lean.

These women appeared to be taking a certain pride in their work, apparently supporting each other and they appeared to be celebrating their successes as well. Were they proud not only of their ability to badger tourists into giving money, but of their acting abilities as well? It was an interesting observation, made all the more entertaining when I realized I’d been watched watching them. (One of the more senior women had been watching me - thankfully without malice as they can be somewhat intimidating when they are ‘in your face’).

But, I’ve been wondering: What would happen if someone from this group wanted to break with the norm and do something completely different. How would they fare? Is the group expectation too strong to challenge? Would they be supported or ridiculed?

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