Skull Crackers and Stoic Philosophers.

I once saw the perfect job advertised. It called for a Brand Manager for Tim Tams* and I cried out ‘that’s mine!’ in spite of the fact that I hadn’t actually worked my way up through marketing or the world of fast moving consumer goods. I felt that I had been doing the role on a voluntary basis for many years. It was inevitable that I should be paid for it. *Chocolate biscuits for those who are tragically living outside the Tim Tam market. 

What exactly would constitute a difficult day in this role? “Work was a nightmare, today. No-one wants to know about Tim Tams and we just can’t sell them for love or money. And then to top it off, I had to attend another taste testing!”

I’m sure the incumbent must be deliriously happy, but are they? I know that some of the most well paid and even glamourous jobs I have worked around have been filled by particularly whiny individuals.

One beloved manager of well paid workers would counter unhappy gripes at work with a stock phrase ‘Well, at least you’re not digging ditches!” But is ditch digging the worst job in the world? In my twenties I thought I’d found another contender for that title. Walking through an abattoir one day (don’t ask) I met a fellow who was cracking the skulls of sheep and flattening them. He saw me observing him and smiled and winked as he pressed the skulls down at high speed on some contraption. I might have found that flattering had I not been on the verge of throwing up. The role of Skull Cracker was at the top of my list of ‘shit jobs’ for some time, but here’s the thing; he seemed really cheerful. He’d been there for a long time. He was well known as a happy, low maintenance employee.

I’m sure the odd teacher threatened us with a future of scrubbing toilets (or unemployment) if we did not work harder. But I felt eternally grateful to the strangers who kept public toilets in pristine condition every time I had to take my babies and then small children into one. Those unseen individuals became my heroes and I truly understood a phrase from Charles Dickens. “No-one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

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And so my list of ‘shit jobs’ is changing as I get older. I once thought beauticians and air hostesses were glamorous. These days, whenever I walk past a Nail Bar I know I could not breathe in those toxic fumes all day while crouched over a stranger’s extremities. And don’t get me started on waxing. Is there any sense of lightening the burdens of the world as you lighten the foliage of the hirsute?

There’s no shortage of applications for cabin crew. Clearly other people still think it’s glamorous but just look around you at the seat configuration of today’s economy sections. The inhuman confinement of adults at high altitude is a guarantee that the crew will have to deal with increasingly angry and distressed human beings. How’s that for a fun day at work in tight shoes?

A dream job can be a nightmare or just be seen as one to someone who is perennially unsatisfied. A Skull Cracker may genuinely love what they do. So much is down to the person, or as the Stoic Philosopher Epictetus once said, ‘Men are disturbed not by things, but the view which they take of them.’ He was born into slavery. Perhaps he knew a thing or two about resilience.

So what, exactly, is a great job or a terrible job? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

7 thoughts on “Skull Crackers and Stoic Philosophers.

  1. I agree with you – the people who clean public facilities are unsung heroes in my opinion. What they must have to contend with, and for basic wage too! However, $$$ need not be a factor. I’m perplexed why someone would want to be a Kardashian, or a Proctologist.
    Luckily I have a great job, with nice money & benefits, but the best part is the funny & interesting gang I work with.

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  2. These are such a good read!
    My perception of the best job has changed as i have gone through different phases in my life. However one aspect has firmed & remains to this day: the best job is one that engages me; meets-&-stretches my skill level; where issues are open for discussion & where people are supported. Money, whilst always necessary to a reasonable level, would not be the determining factor: satisfaction & a sense of going to work to contribute to a shared outcome whilst being valued as a team member: priceless. And rarer than it should be.

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  3. A great job can in many instances be a function of the boss and not so much the industry ….I have worked in a dream company but it was terrible due to the boss’s attitude and conversely worked in a completely unattractive company with great boss where I looked forward to going to work every day. Workplace culture was for many years played down as an attraction but today this is more important than ever.

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  4. Many years ago in Myers, a young, enthusiastic gentleman in the men’s clothing department helped us buy a suit my husband desired – not that he has much desire in that department: he hates suits. The salesman was patient, non-pressurising, and guided us to the least expensive suit in the overly exorbitant rack. Not only were we advised that a tailor would alter the suit in half-an-hour, but we were given a coffee and, dare I say it, a Tim Tam voucher, in the local coffee-house whilst alterations were made. I came out thinking that it doesn’t matter what you do in life, it’s how you do it that matters. He was a stand-out, and we let the manager know.

    The most amazing toilets I’ve seen are at Paris Orly Airport and in the Edinburgh Scottish Art Gallery: both decorated artistically. I guess toilet-cleaning is sooo much better than it used to be, particularly if as a cleaner you get to wear ear-muffs whilst the hand-dryers run full bore.

    And Inugo, our amazing pintxos and wine-tasting host in San Sebastián, performed his role with flourish: not only did he pour a white Basque wine from a spout with his arm elevated above his head, but he taught us to elbow our way into the teeming pintxos pubs, and somehow re-coalesce in the teeniest of spaces so we could consume vast amounts of squid and octopus plus tentacles, and imbibe Rioja Gran Reserva, near the deafening kitchens. And all with a smile. Thank you Inugo – by the end of the evening we were looking forward to meeting Outugo, as we were wanting to totter home.

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