Skull Crackers and Stoic Philosophers.

I once saw the perfect job advertised. It called for a Brand Manager for Tim Tams. I shouted ‘that’s mine’ in spite of the fact that I had not worked my way up through marketing in the fast moving consumer goods sector. But here’s the thing, I felt that I had been doing that role on a voluntary basis for many years. It was only fair that I should be paid for it. And for anyone reading this outside Australia, a TIm Tam is a delicious chocolate biscuit, capable of transporting you to paradise after one bite.  You see! I’m still selling them.

What exactly would constitute a difficult day in this role? Imagine going home and sighing, “Work was a nightmare today. No-one wants to know about Tim Tams and we just can’t sell them for love nor money. And then to top it off, I had to attend yet another taste testing!”

I have assumed that this is a wonderful job and that the incumbent must be deliriously happy, but are they? I should know better. Why is it, I have often wondered, that the happiest people in a workplace, are often among the lowest paid? The converse is true in my experience. Among the highest paid, are often the most time consuming and aggressive whingers. 

Walking through an abattoir (don’t ask) I met a fellow who had the task of cracking the separated skulls of sheep and flattening them. He saw me observing him and winked flirtatiously as he pressed another skull down on a squeaky contraption. I might have found that wink quite flattering had I not been on the verge of throwing up. The Skull Cracker was at the top of my list of ‘shit jobs’ for some time, but I was told that he’d been there for a long time. He was well known as a happy, low maintenance employee.

I worked with a wonderful manager of well paid professionals who would answer their gripes with a stock phrase, ‘Well, at least you’re not digging ditches!”  He clearly thought that ditch digging was the among the worst jobs in the world. These days I am not so sure. We need people who can dig ditches and at least they can explain exactly what they do.

I was once threatened with a future of scrubbing public toilets if I did not work harder at school, but I have met people who have taken on this work during their lives, and they are doing just fine. I have always felt grateful to those strangers who keep public toilets in pristine condition. This was even more heartfelt when I had small children with me and I would silently pray that the public loo was clean and safe. 

I feel grateful when I hear the garbage trucks roaring down the street. Imagine a few weeks of non-collection.

Charles Dickens said, “No-one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”  My list of ‘shit jobs’ is changing as I get older and some roles are switching sides. 

I recall thinking that beauticians and air hostesses had glamorous jobs. Today, when I walk past a Nail Bar, I wonder how the women working there can breathe.  I know I could not inhale those 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 offer specials in ‘back, sack and crack?’ 

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 in today’s economy class. The inhuman confinement of adults at a 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?

And who would be in politics today? As a teenager I thought that politics would be an exciting career, but how many of us are thick skinned enough to endure the trolls and the blatant cruelty that they justify under the banner of free speech. In fact, I would just hate to be famous at all these days. No thanks.  

A Skull Cracker may genuinely love what they do. A ditch digger or cleaner may come home tired, but with a sense of having fixed a real problem.  And who am I to say that painting toes all day is not satisfying. Maybe it is.

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.’  Epictetus was born into slavery. Perhaps he knew a thing or two about getting through the working day in a shit job. 


7 thoughts on “Skull Crackers and Stoic Philosophers.”

  1. Colleen Bettridge

    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.

  2. Beverley Murphy

    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.

  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.

  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.

  5. I’ve said for a long time that I’d notice the absence of the janitor before careing about the absence of the CEO…

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