I once read that the average number of jobs a person holds in their lifetime is seven. I had seven by the time I was 22. I’m up to 14 now, though I’m not sure how you count freelance gigs. It might be a lot more. Of these, my favorite – counting both my most recent job working in communications for an immigration non-profit, which was the most meaningful job I’ve had, and my current one as a freelance writer which is genuinely what I want to do with my life – was working in a grocery store.
It’s called Pipkin’s Fruit and Vegetable Market, and it’s in a suburb of Cincinnati. I wasn’t paid much money, but I got to spend all day hanging out with friends and I could eat all the free fruits and veggies I wanted. At the end of the day, if the dumpster was full, I got to get inside it and jump up and down on the garbage to jam it down. We called it the “Dumpster Dance.” And then, because I was 23 at the time, I could grab a drink with my coworkers after work and we’d play trivia at the bar.
It was pretty awesome.
Now, I’m happy I don’t work there anymore. I’m happy I left Cincinnati and get to be writing all the time. But while I find this work more fulfilling, I don’t necessarily find it as fun.
While I was at Pipkin’s, everyone kept talking about getting a “real” job. A real job was presumably in an office where I’d be in front of a computer all day. Manual labor was frowned upon. Daily physical motion that involved anything more than the pounding of fingertips on a keyboard was not a proper career. The world of manual labor was not the “real world.” The real world exists only in cubicles.
Since then, I’ve worked in cubicles, and I’ve decided that I felt a little more in touch with the “real world” when I was stacking grapefruit or chopping pineapple than I did when I was staring at a screen all day.
But we pitied those who had to stay back and stack fruit or work as bartenders. They hadn’t “made it out.” Whenever a sentiment like this was expressed, we’d say, “The world needs trash collectors, I guess.” The idea was that those who didn’t manage to get a “real job” in the “real world,” simply couldn’t make the cut, and were fated to stacking fruit or tossing garbage into the back of trucks for their whole lives.
This is bullshit. Because those should be totally valid professions that aren’t deserving of our pity. I’m not going to pretend that some of the older people working at Pipkin’s were possibly less than satisfied with their profession: but some of them were fine with it. Some of them were totally happy with where they were. And after working there, I could conceive of a happy life where I worked in a grocery store. It would be zen as fuck. I’d get up early, open the store up, bring out all the produce, and then spend the day organizing things, helping customers find their fruit, and maybe spend a bit of time ringing them up. If I did it long enough, maybe I could become a buyer. Maybe I could work on the finances a bit. But after my shift was over, I’d go home, not think about it, and read whatever I wantedwhile sitting on my porch with a scotch in hand. Maybe I’d listen to some music with my girlfriend and play cards with her.
That would be just fine.
It’s a sad situation if someone is in a career that they don’t like. And that includes office drones as much as it includes manual laborers. But working manual labor isn’t a punishment for those who couldn’t make the cut into the “real world.” It’s only a punishment if the manual laborers feel unfulfilled. Believe it or not, there are probably some people out there who enjoy waste management. And they don’t need our condescending pity.