Andrew Matthews mentioned in his book that we should always give our best in all the work that we do, even though we are not particularly thrilled about it and even though we are stuck in death end jobs that we do not like.
In his book, Happiness Now, he gave an example of a person known as P.C Taylor who removes garbage from the underground tubes in the subway tunnels of New York. He spends his life in the dirty, rat infested tunnels hurling garbage and killing rats- a job he held for 25 years.
When interviewed, P.C said he loved his job and is proud of it because he said, “Homeless people live down there in those tunnels. And I’m helping to give them a better home. And while I’m helping the homeless, I’m putting my two daughters through college!”
My mom spent more than 30 years working in the second and third class wards in a government hospital as a staffnurse. If you’ve been to a government hospital in Malaysia, walking into the old buildings of second and third class wards feels depressing. Even the walls seemed to tell stories of countless depressed patients- past and present who had lived there. I noticed that nurses in first class seemed to be more free and have more time sitting around.
I have asked her once, “the work load in second and third class is really unbearable from what I observed- the nurses have to work non stop to help endless stream of patients. First class ward (air conditioned) seemed like a much more pleasant place to work. I am surprised that you never seemed to complain even though the workload is crazy and the pay sucks.”
My mom replied, “first, I really dislike gossips and sitting around talking about other people. And you know, somehow, the second and third class patients mostly consist of the poor who cannot afford proper medical healthcare. Helping them gave my work meaning and I don’t feel that it’s tough. Of course, you are on your feet all the time but there are also short resting times in between.”
In the past (before my mom got forgetful and less mobile), we baked jam tarts once a year as Chinese New Year approached. In the initial years, Danish butter cookies were included as well. Her cookies, especially her jam tarts were the best (according to my friends who are crazy about her jam tarts) because she would spent hours scraping and cooking the pineapples into jam. And she will take the huge Dumex tins packed with the tarts and butter cookies and distribute to the patients during tea.
She did for many Chinese New Years, never expecting even a single ‘thank you’ in return. It’s a nice gesture that she did and she felt that at least for patients who had to spent the festive time of the year confined to the impersonal hospital bed that it offered them some deal of comfort.
Sometimes we tend to think that the previous generations of ‘loyal workforce’ tends to be silly or are just too loyal to move for greener pastures.
But we could learn a lot from the mindset of those who worked for the same organization from start till retirement. Some of my mom’s friends actually got quite rich by going to work in Saudi Arabia or going to work for private hospitals. But my mom never took those opportunities because her priority was her family- she had decided and that was it- no doubts or questioning or analyzing.
Some of her friends may be rich beyond even today’s average wage earners- through having pension, properties collecting rental, money from Saudi, savings from working in private hospitals- but if you ask me, there’s less contentment and acceptance on life in general.
Sometimes the answers cannot be found in a better pay, a different job or a windfall. The happiness lies in our fundamental values. In every job, by learning to give it our best, by doing it because it’s right and not because it will earn us respect and admiration, the work itself become enjoyable and would not suck the energy out of us.