Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Ghosts of Jobs Past - Part 1

I work as a contract employee for the Army.  A significant part of the last two years have been embroiled in upheaval.  Every time the contract I am working on is rebid, there is a chance that I may wind up without a job.  I’ve been working on various contracts for over eleven years and have had various outcomes at rebid time - company loses rebid and I get hired by the winning company, company loses rebid but is able to find a slot for me in another organization, company wins rebid.  I’ve never had a gap in my employment, but the older I get the more tenuous my position seems to be.  I was able to ride out the past economic craziness because the defense industry was so strong, but I also know that I can’t count on this forever, and I have been known to make myself crazy worrying about what might happen after the current contract expires.
This uncertainty has had me reflecting on past jobs and trying to figure out how I got to this point in my life and what I can glean from my past employment to help me if I need to start over.  The first job I ever had was babysitting for neighborhood kids, and it got me to thinking that babysitting as a teenager was a lot like what I do now.  Back then, if people didn’t need a babysitter, you didn’t work.  It didn’t matter that you were a great person or if the kids loved you.  If the family you sat for didn’t have a wedding to go to or a New Year’s Eve party, they didn’t need you.  Probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to appreciate is that no matter how much an employer likes you and the job you do, if the work or the money to pay you isn’t available, you don’t work. 
I couldn’t do much about my neighbors’ social life, but I figured out pretty quickly that I could make myself more attractive as a sitter by straightening up the house after the kids went to bed.  Seldom was I the only sitter that a family might hire and while we were all equally responsible, I stumbled onto the fact that people really appreciated getting more than they’d counted on and actively worked that angle.  I wish I could say I was crafty enough to have started doing this intentionally, but the truth is that I was probably bored one night and there wasn’t much on TV, so I went into the kitchen and washed the dishes in the sink.  The response I got was so overwhelmingly upbeat that I continued to look for ways to get that positive feedback that would tell me that I was valued by the family that hired me.  It made an impression that has stuck with me ever since and has served me well. 
I also learned to pay attention and to notice when other people do things right.  Had my babysitting customer not noticed what I did, the chances of me doing it again would have been unlikely.  The simple fact is, everyone hears about it when they do something wrong.  When someone does something right, it is well worth the time it takes to notice it and remark on it.  It’s kind of like writing thank you notes.  Writing a note is the right thing to do out of gratitude for a gift or act of kindness, but on a practical level, it usually leads to more gifts and acts of kindness.  It seems kind of crass, but it really is how things to work.
I suppose then, I need to remember what I learned back in junior high school.  I need to remember that I shouldn’t worry as much about whether or not there will be a job for me when the next contract comes up.  It will either be there or it will not and it is a big waste of time to focus my energy there.  I need to keep my attention on doing the best work that I can while looking for ways to improve the job that I am doing and acquire new skills and knowledge.  I also need to find all that is right with my situation and build on that.  Besides, at some point I decided I needed to do something other than babysitting, and I ended up getting a job at the mall.  If dorky sixteen year old me could figure that out, I am pretty confident that adult me will be able to if or when the time comes.
The Butcher

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