The joy of the thankless job

“Winners, no kidding, adore crummy jobs. Why? Because those jobs allow lots and lots of space. Nobody cares! Nobody is watching! You’re on your own! You are King! You can get your hands dirty, make mistakes, take risks, perform miracles!  The most common lament of the “unempowered” is that they don’t have “the space” to do anything cool. To which I unfailingly rely:  Rubbish!
Bottom line:  Relish the “little assignment or “chore” that no one else wants! SEEK IT OUT!  It’s a license for self-empowerment, whether it’s the redesign of a form or planning a weekend client retreat…you can turn it into something grand and glorious and Wow.”  – Tom Peters

Most mornings when I run through the streets in the pre-dawn darkness, I see sewer workers with their lights and scaffolding, doing whatever it is they do down in the bowels of the town.  It’s mysterious to me and a little frightening, but I also have a large admiration for those who do this work.  Thanks to them, the average citizen can use their home’s plumbing without a thought of what happens when things go down the drain.  I’m sure that, to some who feel they must wheel-and-deal is the world of high finances and power, my cushy white-collar job would appear the same.

When I am my best self, I love the thankless job.  Doing what others don’t want to do is a huge opportunity.  Because most are just happy to keep their distance, you can shape it lovingly in the way you want.  (I always think of what Mother Teresa said: “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love.”)

As I celebrate my 21st anniversary at my company this week, I think about a favorite project, one that I completed early last year.  I won’t go into the details, but I will say that I literally had people tell me, “I’m glad I don’t have to do that.”  Others just looked at me sadly and wagged their heads.  As it turned out, it was the most fun and rewarding thing I’ve done and I would welcome the opportunity to do something like it again.  (Of course, it helps when it turns out well.)

I can also remember the first year of high school football, when the newbies were given the chore of  getting to practice early, retrieving the tackling dummies from the shed, and putting them correctly in place.  If anything wasn’t as it should be, you would hear it from the coaches.  Even though I only had to do that for one year, I actually did it every day of my career (and didn’t miss any practices during my four years).  I’m not entirely sure why I did that but I think it had to do with making a contribution that was free from most second-guessing.

By doing something well that others don’t want to do, we derive a large satisfaction that we know comes from some place inside.   It’s the paradoxical joy of the thankless task.


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