All work matters

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Some teens are raised to know the value of a dollar, some aren’t, radio talk show host Laura Ingraham said this morning. I agree.

Ms. Ingraham devoted the first part of this morning’s show to teenage jobs, about a downward trend in the percentage of American teenagers with jobs. Some say there are fewer available jobs for teens. Others say jobs teens once held are now held by immigrants.

Ingraham remembers how she and her parents “always worked,” sometimes two jobs. “You did what you had to do,” she says. “Nothing was handed to us.” Neither was there an expectation anything would be “handed to us.”

Whether or not teens work, Ingraham decided, “depends on how you were raised.” Some kids say to their parents, “I’m going out. I need some money.” And the parents hand the kid a twenty without so much as asking, “What did you do this week to earn this money?”

In the early 1990s, Maine House of Representatives GOP office Chief of Staff Muriel Mosher heard me talking again about an incident on some job I had half a lifetime ago. “It sounds like you’ve had an interesting life,” Muriel said. “How many jobs have you had?”

I told Muriel that instead of a resume I had a scroll.

Dishwasher, taxi driver, movie theater usher, hamburger flipper, golf caddy, paperboy, auto parts runner, truck driver, delivery man, record store salesman, typist — these are just a few of my jobs in my teens and early 20s. The common denominator? They were “day gigs” to supplement my real work: drumming and writing.

But along the way I found lifelong career benefits from day gigs and other jobs.

At first I tried giving day gigs a bit more than minimum effort, so I could do what I was hired to do, while also conserving my energy for playing drums or writing. But I always felt rotten doing so. The only way I could excel drumming or writing was to excel on my day gigs.

My work ethic, I discovered, ran through all my work. Either all my work mattered or none of it did. I decided, from the smallest, most menial work to the greatest, it all matters.

Next, I figured out the type of work I liked best and the work that left me dispirited.

As an example of the latter, I had some warehouse jobs. At the outset, everything about the warehouse jobs was new: the work commute, my surroundings, my bosses and co-workers, the daily work routines, even the punch clock. It wasn’t long before nothing about these warehouse jobs was new. In fact, innovation angered many career warehouse co-workers who needed strict routine.

Their workplace security was my deadening boredom.

People who love sameness, I learned, work everywhere. Even Lynyrd Skynyrd’s drummer, Artimus Pyle, told me his bandmates wanted him, every concert, to play the same drum parts as the Skynyrd records. No improvising.

I learned that I thrive on work with variation, risk; challenging myself, being comfortable with uncomfortable. That applied even to blue-collar jobs like care-taking film and theater director/producer Mike Nichols’s Connecticut home; learning to grow and care for flower and vegetable gardens, a swimming pool, the lawn, indoor house plants, horses, llamas, and other livestock.

Knowledge I acquired on each job — from learning new skills to meeting people from different walks of life — is useful in general, and specifically with my writing and music.

I found the work I like best is writing, marketing, campaigning, music making, communications. Always learning, skills developing skills, working with new people and situations.

My work journey started with washing dishes. So if you’re a teen asking yourself, “Should I take that menial job?” Yes. It’s the first step on a lifelong journey.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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