I had a meeting last week with a woman who works in an area called Distributor Finance at Ecolab. From my understanding, the majority of her job deals with getting distributors for Ecolab's products placed on the right pricing contract and reconciling discrepancies when distributors think they're on a contract different from the one to which Ecolab has them assigned. As she explained this to me, I was surprised to note that my primary reaction was not, "Wow; that sounds boring," but instead, "Hmm. Who knew that was a job?"
I'm used to people looking confused or apologetic when I tell them what I do for a living. I can only imagine the looks this woman gets when asked about her job in pleasant small talk with new acquaintances at parties. Then again, maybe she doesn't get the same glazed eyeballs reaction when she explains her job as I've seen when I explain mine, because maybe she just says, "I work at Ecolab," and people respond, "Oh, I see," and conversation moves on to the weather or traffic or some other fairly universal time-filler topic. Most people are not that genuinely curious about or interested in other people. If you don't believe me, start thinking about how often you've seen someone truly wait for an actual response after extending the thoroughly lame and yet socially acceptable and all-pervasive greeting of "How are you?"
I've been thinking a lot about jobs lately, though, which is likely why I gave more than the usual amount of thought to the Distributor Finance expert's position. I've stayed at my current job probably longer than I should, mostly because whenever I work up the energy to consider looking for a new one, my laziness reminds me that I have something better to do... like watch four hours of Sex & the City on DVD or catch up on my idle Web surfing. So I settle into my comfortable little rut for another several months, plugging along doing the same thing I've done for months and years past. I realize I'm lazy and averse to change; I'm just not exactly sure how to remedy that.
What's strange is I never had any intention of being a technical writer in the first place. Yes, I was an English major in college, and I took some classes from the tech writing and editing tract, but it was mostly just to gain some "more immediately relevant to the business world" coursework to accompany all those literature and humanities classes on my transcript. I do enjoy knowing I'm part of a rare group of liberal arts grads who are actually doing something directly related to their degree, but technical writing is not what I thought that thing would be. That doesn't mean I dislike it in particular; on the contrary, I think the fact that I don't hate it actually supersedes laziness on the list of reasons I've stuck with it for so long.
All of this leads me to wonder... How many of us are actually doing what we thought we'd be doing in our lives? How many of us really even know what it is we thought we'd be doing? (I know I don't.) And how many of us are doing something our friends think we're completely well suited for, while inside we're fantasizing about some totally different career?
Lately I've seen evidence in particular of that last one. Not to say that the career we choose once has to completely characterize and limit us forever, but I couldn't help but be surprised to learn that my reference librarian friend thinks it would be fun to be an accountant (because she likes to "play with [her] calculator"). Likewise, I never expected my friend who's working towards a certification in human resource management to say she thinks she'd enjoy grading papers. I find it less of a stretch to imagine my Web programmer friend running her own "sustainable home" products business (as she's said is her dream), but that's just because I know it's a cause she feels passionately about, and she could very likely become one of those lucky and ambitious people who takes something that's meaningful and important to them and manages to turn it into a career. (Clearly she's far less lazy than I.)
With these examples in mind, I've tried to consider what I might like to do if I were to switch careers entirely. The fact that I can't help but notice (and point out to my friends) the prevalence of misused apostrophes and quotation marks on menus and commercial signage seems to indicate that I am, in fact, in the right field for me. And yet, every day when I see our postal worker (a woman about my age with a red ponytail and very toned legs) bring the mail to our office, I can't help but think, "What a cool job. She gets to walk around in a great neighborhood with beautiful old houses, get some fresh air and exercise, be alone with her thoughts, and drive a neat little truck with the steering wheel on the wrong side." I have no idea how much letter carriers make, but government jobs have great benefits, right? Then again, there is the weather to consider... Lately I have no desire to be outside any more often than necessary, since this unending rain has doused both my spirits and my shoes repeatedly the past two weeks.
Sometimes I think I'd like to be a travel agent, but I'm pretty sure that it's only the perks of that job I want. Organizing other people's vacations, constantly calling airlines and hotels to iron out issues and lobby for deals--these are things I really have no interest in, I suppose. I like libraries, so I've considered whether I could be a librarian, but my librarian friend wants to be an accountant, so I'm not sure what that tells me...
Lately I've been thinking that maybe I don't know what my dream job is because perhaps it's something I don't even know exists. Aside from the Distributor Finance lady, I've met other people who make a living doing something I never knew was a job. In my knitting group is a young woman who was recently hired as an archivist for my favorite Twin Cities based retailer. Archivist? Has that ever had a table at Career Day? Even though I understand the basic goal of her job (organizing and somehow filing corporate documents and records and what-not), I still have no idea what it really involves--what specifically she does when she goes to work every day. The details of her job are just as foreign and intangible to me as those of my electrical engineer friend's, and she gave me the same suspicious "Are you patronizing me?" look as he did when pressed for an explanation.
A friend of a friend is a food scientist, and I had a similar reaction when I met him a few years ago. I know that unusual new food products are introduced all the time; I just never stopped to think about how someone has to come up with all those products, and that person's job has a title, and that title is Food Scientist. This friend of a friend worked for Dairy Queen, which means he was partially responsible for the Scooby Doo Mystery Crunch Blizzard Flavor Treat® that had my dad pooping blue for two days back in 2002. (I realize you didn't need to know that, but neither did I and I still had to hear about it; life's a bit unpleasant sometimes.) I've certainly seen worse ideas than the Scooby Doo Blizzard, however (Ore-Ida's very frightening Funky Fries and Heinz's equally scary purple ketchup quickly come to mind), and I'm also aware that I have food scientists to thank for Freschetta pizzas and the surprisingly tasty new Take 5 candy bar (for which a food scientist at Hershey's deserves some type of Excellence in Snack Food Innovation award).
Hmm. Now I'm hungry. How I went from Distributor Finance and career crises to purple ketchup and Take 5, I have no idea, but now I need to go rifle through my cupboards for something clearly bad for me to eat when it's clearly past the time of night when I should be eating. So it goes, and who am I to fight it?