(The image is a screen shot from Mary Poppins of Bert the chimney sweep.)
Mary Poppins said ‘In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the job and SNAP! the job’s a game.’ I agree, but it can be hard to find the fun in a job that you’re really bad at.
I feel sorry for people who are bad at their jobs. Waiters who get orders wrong, accountants who can’t count, receptionists who lose bits of paper. I have totally been there.
A lot of the time, I’ve been able to tell myself that it doesn’t really matter, that it’s just a temporary, menial job and not a reflection of my true value. But in the moment, when it takes me 15 minutes to slice prosciutto in a deli, or when I give someone the wrong cat to take home at a cattery, or when I try to charge someone $17.60 for two bananas and a bread roll in a supermarket, or when I simply can’t clean hotel rooms in under 28 minutes per room, I find it hard to keep perspective. In those moments my own incompetence is demoralising and depending on the reaction of other people, hurtful. When someone rolls their eyes at me, makes a horse-snorty noise or starts tapping on a counter my embarrassment is made even worse when I know they’re right. I am bad at my job.
I was bad at being a bacon factory worker. As I’ve already discussed I found many of the factory processes incomprehensible and I was often confused about what I was supposed to be doing. This could be very frustrating for my co-workers.
An example from my diary:
Day 11: Monday 11 December
Not a good one.
Pam: “Oi! You don’t just let meat fall off the belt!”
Me: Apologise as humbly as possible and try to remember her seniority and respect her experience.
Quite hellish actually.
Not everyone at the Pig was like that. For example, Bruce used to be a beekeper until the drought of ’93 killed all his bees, and he came to work at the bacon factory. He said he didn’t mind the work, and said at least the job was stress free. I decided that Bruce was very zen (even though I wasn’t quite sure what that meant). I saw Bruce as a role model for calm acceptance of factory life.
One day I was working with Bruce and Pam on a slicer. I tried to help Pam push a trolley to the chiller. It was a disaster and she screamed at me. The next time we filled up a trolley the same thing happened. Meanwhile, Bruce’s eyes were twinkling above his beard net. I think he was mildly amused. When I returned to the slicer, in the laconic understatement of the early noughties he said, ‘Is Pam a bit angry with you?’ Later, I asked if he would swap jobs with me, so I wouldn’t have to work with Pam, and he agreed. He was a nice man.
Pam often raged at me about bacon related issues. I could not understand why she cared so much. It was only picking up bacon and putting it back down again, after all. I hated being bad at it, but I also couldn’t understand how she could care enough to scream about it.
I’m not condoning workplace bullying but I now have a different perspective on the situation. Pam worked in the bacon room year in year out. She was a good bacon factory worker, she took pride in her work. Every summer students like me came along, and for two months earned more than she did on casual rates. We were crap at the job and she had to pick up the slack. I’m sure we also acted like the work was unimportant and beneath us.
At the time, I thought Bruce was a paragon of virtue and Pam was hysterical, but now I see they had different strategies to deal with the drudgery of the work. Bruce stayed calm and meditated (for all I know he was actually planning a homicidal rampage, but I imagined he was thinking of a flowing river). Pam took pride in her work and became a bit obsessive about it.
Now that I’ve found work to do that I’m not completely terrible at, I’m a lot more like Pam than Bruce. When I returned to work after having my first child someone said to me, ‘Does your job seem a lot less important now?’ The answer was no. When I was on maternity leave I didn’t think much about the office but once I was back, I cared.
I care about the things that I spend my time on, not just the fun bits. My life is not just larks on holidays with my friends and family, or my hobbies or my writing. My life is also the Annual Report Disclosure Index, the washing, and creating a family medical appointments spreadsheet. Sometimes at work I’m given a task that at first seem unspeakably dull but once I start work on it I find I’m fascinated and develop strongly held opinions.
Of course, I try to keep a better sense of proportion than Pam did, and not to shout, but nothing I spend my time on is likely to be completely stress-free, and that’s not a bad thing. For me, the stress is the element of fun. SNAP! The job’s a game.
Next time at the Pig: Socialism and the revolution
Apparently a lot of people make New Years Resolutions. I am scornful of this. Don’t they know this doesn’t work? I think. What’s so magical about 1 January? I scoff. They won’t last a week. I snicker.
However, I think August is the perfect to time to report on key projects and assess progress against KPIs all as part of reaffirming commitment to the spirit of continuous improvement.
It is in this spirit that I am reflecting on my progress this year.
Have you read all of Dickens? I imagine myself saying every time someone is doing something I don’t approve of and consider a waste of time. Like watching television shows that I don’t watch or playing golf. To be fair, I have not read all of Dickens either and I often watch Neighbours and sew cloth napkins. Actually, let’s not read all of Dickens. I won’t judge if you don’t.
Earlier in the year I decided I would not watch Neighbours unless I was doing my stretch and strength exercises at the same time. The goal was to be able to touch my toes and not feel my brain. It hasn’t worked. I still can’t touch my toes and my brain thinks all kinds of nonsense and some of it hurts. The good news is that Karl and Susan’s marriage seems solid at the moment. This proves that anything’s possible so I will keep chipping away at it.
I feel terribly guilty about milk. Those poor cows.
But cheese! And flat whites! (I don’t like soy milk, it tastes like beans. And the first time I had an almond milk coffee I couldn’t believe they were allowed to charge money for it because it tasted like sick.) I have cut back on dairy but I haven’t cut it out. It’s yet another example of my self-serving and inconsistent ethical framework.
Leaving aside whether half-measures are evil, there are definitely still some low hanging yoghurts that I could pick off my dairy consumption tree. I’m going to start having oat milk on my cereal. After all, oats and oat milk are old friends.
This still leaves a fair bit of dairy in my life, however, mothers don’t mind giving up their babies to slaughter if it’s contributing to the production of Camembert.
A few years ago a friend of mine said that she never reads trash mags. Not even at the hairdresser’s? I said. No, never. She did not know who the Kardashians are.
Inspired, I also stopped reading trash mags. I stared resolutely at the pot plants in waiting rooms and took out a novel. I waited for the knowledge to leave or at least stop flooding in. But it didn’t. I still found out that the Duchess of Cambridge never has bare legs in public.
It is the internet’s fault. Particularly, the naughty Age website. I go to the site planning to read about new crop rotation techniques and political affairs but I actually click on swimsuit articles and famous faces (particularly if they look funny). So, I am resolved to find a truly worthy news site and only visit that when I’m not reading Proust.
You’re welcome to snicker, she won’t last a week, any time you want.
(This duck looks calm on the surface but is actually on fire underneath the water.)
I pretty much have it all.
A house, children, sometimes a job and appropriate footwear. I’m very busy and important. So how DO I do it? I’ve squeezed yet another task into my hectic day and written a list of my top life advice on how to do more and be more like me.
As you’ll see from the list below, no socio-economic issues or privileges are involved at all. It’s all just about phones, coffee, water, exercise and stuff.
When I make myself a coffee (I indulge in Nescafe Gold but you do what you can) I always put the milk in the cup first and dissolve the coffee granules, before pouring in the hot water. I think it tastes better and adds a little element of luxury to my day.
2. Coffee again
Sometimes at work I stir a spoonful of Milo in with my cup of Blend 43. I call it ‘a delicious Nescafe mocha’ and my workmates never get sick of hearing about it.
These days I never listen to podcasts in the shower. I used to, but the volume wasn’t loud enough so I couldn’t hear them properly. Now I pause the podcast just before I get into the shower and switch it back on when I get out to dry myself. That way, I don’t miss anything but also minimise the moments of silence where I might contemplate the meaninglessness of existence.
I always take the stairs at work. It is good exercise and for a short time, no-one can see me in the stairwell so I can let my face relax and express my true desperation or laugh.
When I’m with my children I never look at my phone while I’m looking at other parents looking at their phones and judging them for looking at their phones. Most of the rest of the time I am looking at my phone for a very good reason.
When I’m thirsty I’ll have a drink of water. This is absolutely essential if you want to keep up with a busy schedule and not die.
I don’t wear make-up and this saves a lot of time. How do I disguise bags under my eyes? I let all my minimalist grooming habits distract from each other in a virtuous circle.
I’m working on the Annual Report at work at the moment. It’s fairly boring but, in every job that must be done there is an element of fun, you find the fun and SNAP! the job’s a game.
I’ve re-written the CEO’s message somewhat in the style of PG Wodehouse (who is, of course, inimitable).
When I say it has been a successful year for the museum, I suppose you all know what I’m getting at. That is to say, masses of tots and their guardians flitting and sipping amongst our exhibitions, while our researchers gad off to Port Philip Bay to get in amongst the squat lobsters with a merry call of ‘What ho Bill, this one looks unusual!’
So I suppose I could just draw a line under it and say pip-pip then. But something tells me I shouldn’t. There are sticklers for form, who will not be satisfied until the CEO’s message is 350 words spanning half a page. Very well then. We CEOs can accept the cut and thrust with the best of them and rally to the whatsit, if you know what I mean.
I don’t know if you’ve ever received an award that takes longer to say than the project took to complete but I can tell you the bally things just can’t stay away from me. The National Museums Award (Bronze Category) for Interactive Displays and Experiences from the National Museum of Galleries and Fob-Watches is just one I could name, and then collapse exhausted calling weakly for a cup of the restorative.
We have also been dashed lucky to receive quite a bit of ready money from the State Gov of V in the past fin y. Coming as it did at a tricky corner, behind which lurked any number of bookies and creditors, this dollop of the good stuff was received with a hearty sigh of relief. The funds will allow us to keep the high standards of accommodation that our weevil collection has come to demand, and still leave a bracing amount over for festivities, the sporting chance and this, that and the other.
I would like to pass on my deepest and most sincere thanks to our staff, volunteers and all the other chaps who buzz around cluttering up the place, for for their hard work, dedication and so on and so forth.
In our kitchenette at work there is a whiteboard that hosts a rotation of inspiring quotes to help us be better public servants (one time there was a quote by Ayn Rand, but I think that was a mistake).
This week’s quote says: Either you run the day, or the day runs you.
Productivity surged to an all time high. After reading that sentence my colleagues began taking control of their Outlook calendars, making sure that they got difficult tasks done before lunch, and blocking out time for nature appreciation.
What’s more, I’ve found that this inspiration quote format works well for many other verb/noun combo.
Either you rort the finance system, or the finance system rorts you.
Either you waste your time on Facebook, or time wastes you.
Either you pacify the masses, or the masses will pacify you.
But I didn’t add those gems to the whiteboard today. Underneath the original quote I wrote: Either you do the poo, or the poo does you. I ran away giggling. I’m not back in until Monday.
I thought I would put this quote against an inspirational background. However, it seemed vulgar when I did that, so I’ve changed the font to Wingdings 3. Feel free to share.
When I’m bored I write things.
That’s why I wrote my first book, Loving Richard Feynman. It wasn’t because I had an idea burning inside of me like a really hot burning thing. I didn’t feel compelled to express my myriad of thoughts and emotions or otherwise burst. It was because I was living overseas with no job and no friends and I was really, really bored. Writing took up time and gave me a sense of purpose and achievement (sometimes).
A lot of the things I write because I’m bored never actually ‘go anywhere’. I show them to a few relevant people, hopefully they enjoy it, then we all move on. They don’t become published books, or plays, or official merchandise.
Metaly, I’m a little bored tonight, which is why I’m writing this. Here’s some other things I wrote just cos I was bored:
Fake Cosmopolitan quizzes
I wrote these in high school when I often found school life less than completely stimulating. My quizzes had titles like, Are you a Sex Maniac? and Do I Hate You? They are too rude and angry to reproduce.
Fake essay questions
When I friend missed a class in Year 12 I told her we had been given an extra essay to do. The questions I made up were on Maestro by Peter Goldsworthy
“Rosie wasn’t wearing any knickers”: Paul’s growing sexual awareness completely overtakes his life to the extent that the Maestro and the musical world must always take second place. If the Maestro had worn no knickers, Paul would have shown more interest in his life’s story and learning the piano. Discuss.
My friend believed me for about thirty seconds and her panic amused me.
Public Service Fortune teller
I’m not saying that I’m ever bored at work, because my job is very stimulating and busy. But one day I did find time to make this at work, presumably at lunch time:
I’ve been told this could be turned into merch. Wouldn’t you just love to get one of these in a Kris Kringle? Personally, I would prefer an Oxfam duck.
Public Sector Values Compliance Training questions
Once again, never am I less than flat-chat and fully productive at work. But one day after work when I was a little bored I wrote these additional questions for an on-line training course we’d all just completed.
You are having difficulties with a colleague at work. You suspect that she rushed a particular assignment and did a poor job. You are concerned this will reflect badly on your department and make kittens sad.
What should you do?
(There may be more than one correct answer.)
a) Talk to your manager about your concerns.
b) Resort to force
You are invited to talk to the Parliament. Which of the following questions might you be asked?
(there are 2.4 correct answers)
a. How was your weekend?
b) Have you ever been to Long Island?
c) How are things going over there at your government department, agencies or statutory body?
d) Are we at the end of history?
e) How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
You should not be responsive, responsible, accountable, transparent nor nice to old people in the workplace.
Fortunately all of my colleagues were able to pass this test. See how you go. The answers are in your mind.