Do you enjoy your work?

By Caitlin Kelly

IMG_20160801_091455254

Most people don’t.

It’s shocking, and sad, that so few Americans enjoy what they do for a living; every new Gallup poll finds a majority of them, two-thirds, “disengaged” — a state of affairs that leads to endless, tedious screeds on LinkedIn and Twitter about how to “engage” your staff.

If you hate what you do all day, you’re unlikely to do it well.

That photo above is of one of Jose’s credentials; he’s been working freelance with the United States Golf Association for a few years now.

He got the job thanks to a few introductions, (and his excellent skills!) The man loves golf. Now they fly him across the U.S. to photo edit their major tournaments.

I lost my fancy newspaper job in 2006 and freelancing was going poorly. So, in September 2007 I took a part-time job as a sales associate, for $11/hr and no commission, at a local mall.

Long past my teenage years, I was the oldest member of our 15-person team, including our manager and assistant manager.

Initially, I really liked the job.

And yet it’s a job everyone knows is nasty — crappy pay, no challenge, tedious and repetitive.

Any job, if you enjoy elements of it, can make you happy

My fancy newspaper job had actually been a year of misery, (details tedious), the most difficult experience of my career.

So being once more liked, accepted, even welcomed — albeit into a low-wage, low-status part-time job, healed me. No one was trying to force me out. No one refused to speak to me if I said “hello” to them.

malled cover HIGH
My second book, published in 2011

I was good at selling, able to relate easily to a wide range of customers, from the emissary for an Arabian prince to Finnish bankers to a Boy Scout. I loved the variety of people who shopped in our store, (The North Face), and being able to help them.

When you emerge from a job, no matter how prestigious or well paid, where nothing you ever do is deemed good enough, simply being able to please someone is a real solace.

It was for me.

Working retail also allowed me to use my French and Spanish skills occasionally, sharing travel tips with shoppers who were buying a backpack to train across Europe or a suitcase to go to Peru, places I’d been to and could discuss helpfully.

FullSizeRender(3)
One of my first national magazine stories, examining what happens in an animal testing lab.

Every job, even the most putatively glamorous you can think of, has elements you will probably never love — highly-paid actors often loathe the press junkets and conferences and interviews they have to do to promote their films. They just want to act!

So I appreciated this recent essay:

First, make sure you choose a career or project that you enjoy pursuing, one that offers present benefits for you. Keep in mind that unless you find small pleasures in your daily routine, you will not stick to it.

Second, add present benefits to your working hours. Listen to music, make friends and break the routine with social activities. Do whatever makes you happy at work; you can stick to your career goals longer if your work is enjoyable in the moment.

Third, bring to mind those present benefits that do exist at your work. Maybe you just have not been paying attention to them…You can similarly motivate yourself to engage in your work by directing attention to the positive aspects of your tasks.

As I write this, I’m wearing a sweatshirt and leggings, no make-up, hair unbrushed, listening to classical music on the radio aloud, (no need for headphones.)

I don’t have to get dressed or waste hours commuting, crammed into a crowded train or traffic or subway, leaping pools of icy water and slush.

I don’t have to pretend to like mean co-workers or a bullying boss.

I’ll go to the gym when it suits me, or go for a walk, or (rarely) even go to an afternoon movie. The freedom to set my schedule matters enormously to me.

I usually eat all three meals at home, saving time, money and calories. My husband is home today as well, sorting through a mountain of 2016 receipts to make sure we get every possible tax deduction from our combined freelance incomes.

Do I enjoy my work?

IMG_20160617_102113083 (2)

Yes, I do. But I also clearly enjoy the conditions in which I perform it.

What do I still love about writing, editing and teaching?

— Meeting and speaking with an amazing array of people, from Queen Elizabeth to convicted felons to Olympic athletes.

— At best, working with smart, tough editors and clients who expect high levels of skill and emotional intelligence.

— Finding and sharing complex stories with millions of readers.

— Learning something new with every story I write, whether pension reform, utility deregulation, air turbulence, Broadway stagehand work or apotropaic traditions in house construction.

— Connecting worldwide with fellow writers, some of whom are generous enough to share referrals and clients with me (and vice versa.)

— Meeting smart younger writers through my blog and Twitter.

— Helping others think more clearly and communicate more effectively. Here’s my website, with my classes.

— Intellectual freedom.

That’s not even a complete list!

How about you?

Do you love your work?

If not, what’s your exit strategy?

Should a teacher publicly praise or shame their students?

By Caitlin Kelly

Pratt's library -- with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus
Pratt’s library — with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

In a few short weeks, I’ll finish the first semester teaching college at Pratt Institute, a highly-regarded private college in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

I’ve loved it, but I’m pooped!

“Teaching” is really a one-word shorthand for describing the multitude of feelings, behaviors and interactions that happen in each classroom, ranging from pride, joy and satisfaction to shame, frustration, even anger — those of the students’ and the teacher’s!

I really enjoy teaching — I teach writing to freshmen and blogging to four seniors — but was taken aback by how much emotion also swirls around my classrooms. I knew that adolescents like, and need, to push back against authority figures, especially in college as they start to discover their own intellectual abilities, and their limits, in a tougher setting filled with strangers.

I didn’t anticipate how challenging it would be to manage those emotions publicly, making snap decisions in the moment how to respond to pushback or rudeness while knowing the wrong choice could destroy whatever classroom environment of trust and enjoyment I had been able to create.

One of the many challenges I’ve faced as a teacher is when, how, where and if to chastise a student for their laziness or poor work and when to praise them.

Publicly or privately? Face to face or in an email?

I remember all too well what both feel like as a student.

So I was intrigued, and a little horrified to read this New York Times story about the ClassDojo app now being used by many American teachers:

ClassDojo, a behavior-tracking app that lets teachers award points or subtract them based on a student’s conduct. On the board was a virtual classroom showing each student’s name, a cartoon avatar and the student’s scores so far that week.

“I’m going to have to take a point for no math homework,” Mr. Fletcher said to a blond boy in a striped shirt and then clicked on the boy’s avatar, a googly-eyed green monster, and subtracted a point.

The program emitted a disappointed pong sound, audible to the whole class — and sent a notice to the child’s parents if they had signed up for an account on the service.

ClassDojo is used by at least one teacher in roughly one out of three schools in the United States, according to its developer. The app is among the innovations to emerge from the estimated $7.9 billion education software market aimed at students from prekindergarten through high school.

I was badly bullied in my Toronto high school, and every day meant listening to the taunts and jeers of a small group of nasty boys. Praise and kindness, from any source there, meant the world to me in contrast.

One day — and thank god for Mr. Stickney’s compassion — I lost my shit. The redheaded asshole, whose nickname (yes, really) was Moose, kept droning onandonandonandon, a litany of the same old insults toward me, as he sat in front of me in 12th Grade math class.

Our textbook that year was hardcover, thick and heavy. I raised it, and whacked him, hard, on the back of his head.

Finally, blessed silence. All I wanted was to be left in peace, to learn.

“Caitlin, can you please sit at the back of the classroom?” Stick asked.

I could, and did.

Being a student, whether you’re four, 14 or 20, means making yourself deeply and publicly vulnerable to the judgments about you made by fellow students, your teachers and school administrators.

If they’re kind and sensitive, (and it’s usually a mixed bag), school can be a place you look forward to and thrive in — or a special daily sort of hell.

In my early teens, I had become something of a troublemaker in my Toronto boarding school, miserable and frustrated to be parked there while my parents were….elsewhere. By the end of Grade Nine, I was asked to leave.

An app like ClassDojo would have made my life even more nightmarish, making clear to every class how much trouble I was in and dragging them down with me. It would have further concretized the alienating and shaming consensus that I was something annoying to be gotten rid of — instead of the deeply unhappy and smart little girl that I was.

It was bad enough that our area’s neatness, and our behavior, was graded every single day on a chart by the door of our shared bedroom. Public shaming is not an effective way to motivate!

No one simply bothered to sit me down and ask: “How are you? What’s going on with you these days?”

There’s no app for compassion.

There’s no app for sensitivity.

Teacher — students — what do you think of this sort of thing?

Would you use it? Are you using it?

 

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow (Up)?

Disc Jockey in Training
Image by Photography By Shaeree via Flickr

Did you know?

Do you know now?

Sean Aiken, a young Canadian man and recent college graduate in 2007, didn’t know what he wanted to do for a living — so he worked 52 jobs in one year to find out.

The recent premiere of the documentary about him, shown in Vancouver, Canada, where he lives, sold out. I can see why.

I love the idea of testing out 52 jobs to find the one that might fit!

Maybe because I never doubted what I wanted to do, and knew from a very early age that I wanted to be a writer. (My dreams of being a radio disc jockey were dashed after one visit to CHUM-FM, then Toronto’s number one rock station, when I realized DJs at commercial stations don’t just play their favorite music all day.)

I grew up in a family of professional communicators — all freelance — who wrote television series, directed feature films and documentaries, wrote and edited magazine articles, so it seemed perfectly normal and logical to:

1) not have a “real” job but sit around the house and negotiate with agents and work when necessary;

2) have a ton of creative ideas all the time, knowing full well that some of them would never sell or find favor;

3) fight hard for the ideas I truly believe in and find supportive partners to pay for them, because someone will always say no — but someone will also, quite possibly say Yes!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but their behavior and experiences strongly shaped my notion of what “work” means. It includes a lot of travel, whenever possible, meeting lots of new people all the time, creating your own concepts — whether articles, films, shows or books, having the self-confidence and stamina to hang in there when times (as they certainly have) get tough. (It also means living within your means because a fantastic year can easily be followed by a leaner one and you need cash in the bank and a low overhead and no debt, all good lessons to learn.)

In 2007, I took a part-time job as a retail sales associate at a mall. Eye-opener! I was 20 to 30 years older than all my co-workers and had never had a job requiring me to stand up for five or six hours at a time, let alone deal with the public in a service role.

I stayed two years and three months — and wrote a book about it: “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” is out April 14, 2011.

In it, I talk honestly about what it felt like to go from being a newspaper reporter at the U.S.’s 6th.-largest daily to wearing a plastic badge, folding T-shirts for $11/hour. I also talk to many others about what our jobs means to our identities and sense of self-worth.

What we do at work, at its best, is who we are, not just something we do to earn a living.

I recently took an amazing test designed to ferret out our work-related motivations, administered on-line. In 15 minutes, it tactfully and succinctly forces you to face your deepest values….

Why do you work? What do most want, and enjoy, from your work emotionally?

James Sale, a British executive who created this system, is offering it FREE to anyone who emails him before February 28 and says, in their subject line, “friend of Caitlin Kelly.”

Email him at

And be prepared to learn a lot, some of it perhaps even a little painful. I did. I learned a great deal about myself and suspect you will too.

The test measures nine key indicators of what truly, even unconsciously, motivates us in our work, whether you are a Director (likes to be in charge), Defender (very attached to security), Creator (yup, me), Searcher (me, too), Spirit (that was me.) You might most powerfully wish to be a Friend, A Star or a Builder.

But if your current work is not allowing you to express your deepest self, it can feel like a straitjacket, no matter how much status, income or lifestyle it provides.


Do you love your current work?

If so, why?

How did you discover this was the right fit for you?

We Work, Not Just For Cash, But Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, Argues Daniel Pink's New Book

Paper money, extreme macro
Image by kevindooley via Flickr

If you’re lucky enough to have a job, or paid work, in this recession — do you enjoy it? Do you jump out of bed each day eager to get to it?

Or is it a means to an end: gas, groceries, clothing, housing?

Daniel Pink’s new book “Drive” has received rapturous reviews. It’s interesting, and largely re-caps and makes more widely accessible the thinking of many academics working on issues of behavior and motivation.

He posits three reasons we really work: autonomy, mastery, purpose. Without these, work is just…drudgery. He offers a number of studies to prove that offering more money or other rewards can actually de-motivate people. We work really hard, if we’re in a job or career that fits us well, if we find these three elements in our work, whether we’re bussing tables or arguing case law.

I wonder how much each of these three matters, or matters most. I worked part-time as a retail sales associate at a clothing store for more than two years, which surprised most people who know me. Wouldn’t I be bored? Hate the lack of power and money?

In fact, the first two factors made the job, initially, appealing. Our boss was hands-off and let us do our jobs as long as we did them well. That mattered a great deal to me. I had never done a job like that and, whether it looks it, selling is difficult! It demands a wide range of skills, even for crap pay. I really enjoyed the challenge of learning and practicing a new skill set.

It was door number three that never worked well for me — purpose. It’s instant gratification to have someone walk up to you, ask for help, give it, make them happy. That’s purpose. But, in the long run, pushing costly nylon didn’t resonate for me in any deeper way. It made a lot of profit for a big corporation far away. Yes, it employs people, here and overseas. It still wasn’t enough for me.

I think this ideal is…idealistic. Many jobs are just plain, hard, boring, repetitive work with almost no way to sex them up into something cool, where AMP show up on a regular basis. So, is his argument an elitist one? Aimed only at people who live to work, instead of those who, more practically if less amusingly, work to live?

In your daily work, do these qualities matter to you? How and where do they manifest?