The History of Work Series Concludes

So there it is. This concludes The History of Work Series on the Daily Gumboot. Godfrey and I have researched, analyzed, evaluated, and delivered results on, first, the nature of work as it relates to community and, second, the best and worst jobs of all time. Here is a re-cap:

The Five Best and Worst Jobs Ever!

And you undoubtedly had a great time reading the series – or selections from it – and learning all about the different careers and job opportunities that have impacted humanity over the past, well, forever. If you didn’t have a great time reading it, please contact Godfrey and ask for a refund.

Moving on…

One – or two – cannot engage in a project like this without asking some key questions about what it all means. Without further ado, here are three of those questions:

What was your creative process like?

JOHN: Well, it involved a lot of yelling. Swearing in German (mostly Godfrey). Swearing at Germans (mostly me). And also lots of love. We also surveyed over 15,000 people to find out what you - the readers – thought were the best and worst jobs of all time. As Historians – engagers of the most noble academic discipline – Godfrey and I were well positioned to use Google to find the top seven websites dedicated to “the history of work”. I believe that we even used some stuff from the Discovery Channel’s “History of Work” series, which was cool, but, as with so much media, only focused on the negative parts of work. Here at the G’boot, we like to keep things positive. Collaborating with Godfrey is a pleasure, mostly because his brain works in a completely different way than mine does. For example, Godfrey thinks about things before he says them, whereas I just write stuff down, man.

GODFREY: It’s true, while the inter-web was a great resource, a  lot of pensive thinking and dreaming and informal focus grouping when into our selection process. It’s amazing how readily people come up with an answer to, “What’s your favourite job?” whether in a coffee shop or while riding the bus. If people’s eyes lit up when they responded with “Explorer” or laughed uneasily when I pitched “plague collector” to them in a coffee shop line up, then these jobs made my final cut.

How does work inform community?

JOHN: In my humble opinion, work – paid, unpaid, volunteer, involuntary – is central to every community. To paraphrase Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest, I think a global emphasis on meaningful work that focuses on human beings, rather than technology or the goods it creates, will “return [sic] people to the heart of the world and of life.” Because sometime we lose site of the people that are wrapped up in our global economy. Hey, we’re the only species on the planet that suffers from unemployment! When it comes to work informing community, I think it’s telling that the typically first question someone asks a new acquaintance is “what to you do for a living?” Perhaps a better question would be “why do you do what you do for a living?” and, follow-up question, “how does this work feed your soul?” In fact, perhaps reflect on those questions yourself and think about what your work means to your community.

GODFREY: Engaging in fulfilling work is what lends so much meaning to our lives. So much of that fulfillment depends on touching the lives of others, working in a team, learning from your co-workers. In short, work means engaging with our world its people and building our connection to it. Even though it’s one of the worst jobs you can imagine, did  the plague collector touch her communities and make them better? Arguably, yes. The same goes for the community transforming power of a King (see tomorrow’s Get to Know Your Community for details) or the enlightenment provided to the world community by the academic. In short a job doesn’t have to be “good” or “enjoyable” to positively affect community change.

How do your respective jobs measure up?

JOHN: Well, I have at least two jobs. Both feed my soul in different ways. As Herder of Cats Editor-in-Chief for this online magazine, I get to write, read and work with brilliant people and Kurt to create an interesting, entertaining and collaborative narrative about community. Writing, more than anything else except for cheese and, I guess, my lovely wife Michelle, feeds my soul. Perhaps my favourite part of the Daily Gumboot is the instructive/prescriptive part of it, where Correspondents like Katie Burns teach people how to grow, harvest and can tomatoes. One of my favourite things in life is what the kids call “clashing of worlds” and I love how lucky I am to bring strangers together as they interpret the idea of “community” from myriad perspectives. As a Career Manager at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, I love the professional diversity of my work. The students are awesome. The work is as diverse as it is interesting as it is challenging and, to quote S||A (aka Stewart Burgess) I love the audiences for which I am lucky enough to teach as well as present edutaining material. Hardship only comes up when co-workers make fun of my clothing and don’t invite me to meetings. So, it’s pretty tough sometimes…

GODFREY: Having recently moved into a communications job which puts me into constant contact with the world around me  means I am growing to steadily enjoy my work after several years of boredom where I worked mostly in isolation . A great team of co-workers helps. In the end, people make my days great. Writing for the web and developing communication strategies is a bonus. I have a new job on the horizon as a father – an opportunity I am excited to get started on as well.

Final Words

And that, as they say, is that. Everyone, on behalf of Godfrey and myself I’d just like to say you’re welcome! As you find something to feed your soul in 2011 be sure to think about the positive way in which it will build community, too. And have fun with it!

- Godfrey and John

The Fifth Best and Worst Jobs Ever!

As outlined by the Introduction to the History of Work Series, this is Part 1 of 5 of the Best and Worst Jobs in History. Godfrey and I don’t stand on ceremony or words. We get right down to business. Without further ado, here are the selections:

Best. Job. Ever. Number 5!

Being a Pirate has simultaneously transformed and stayed the same since there was water and people had boats. The mediums have changed (ie. the Internet or a Hedge Fund instead of a ship), but the methods (ie. lying, cheating, killing, hacking, stealing) have stayed the same. Historians and popular culture will tell you the a career as a pirate means freedom, adventure and rum, which is true. It also meant democracy, health insurance and possibly getting hanged, drowned or put in jail for the ridiculously greedy ponzi scheme that you pulled on the financial world. This career is a celebration of independence, entrepreneurship and risk taking.

Summary of Academically Sound Findings and Analysis:

PIRATE

LOW

MEDIUM

HIGH

TOTAL:

Level of Hardship

Lots of risk-reward here. For example, Bernie Madoff, one of the twenty-first century’s more notorious pirates, is facing a lot of hardship now. This being said, many Somali pirates (flush with cash and power after several years of mostly successful hijackings and coastal defending) are living much richer lives than their parents and grandparents ever did. Pirate ships were, as we all know, the first places where democratic principles were written down (100 years before the French Revolution), they saw health-insurance established, and tolerance of ethnicity and gender were also realized here before anywhere else on Earth…or at sea.

All this being said, having your face exploded by a cannon or your arm semi-hacked-off with a rusty cutlass isn’t really “medium” hardship…

3/5
Opportunity for Advancement Why do you think so many merchant sailors and Royal Navy seamen deserted their serf-like existence to become pirates? Because every pirate is only a few votes away from becoming a First Mate or Captain!!!

Women were also able to advance in this profession. In fact, the greatest pirate in history was a woman named Madame Cheng.

3/5

Meaningful Nature of Work For someone who has an entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, loves a tropical climate, and is known to sip some rum every now and then, this job is for you.Whether today or 400 years ago, pirates have always found meaning by thumbing their noses at the status quo and finding different ways to make the world work. Meaning is what you make it when you’re a pirate!

4/5

Worst. Job. Ever. Number 5!

The First World War Message Runner was responsible for maintaining a battle’s lines of communication before radio existed – in fact, it would not be uncommon to see a message runner carrying a cage of pigeons through the exploding muck of the Western Front because, well, pigeons were more reliable than transmission cables. Not only was the job horribly dangerous, if you think about the daily nine-to-fives (we’ve all had them) where nothing gets accomplished and you feel like crap walking home in the rain, wondering what it’s all for, the life of the Message Runner was just like that…except, instead of data-entry, powerpoint presentations, or hammering nails, you faced imminent death every single day.

No water breaks or smoke breaks, as the glow of a cigarette would be spotted by a sniper a mile away. Oh, and the mud on your boots would invariably cause your feet to rot (it was called “Trench Foot”). And, remember, if you quit, your friends will probably die.

Summary of Academically Sound Findings and Analysis:

FIRST WORLD WAR MESSAGE RUNNER

LOW

MEDIUM

HIGH

TOTAL:

Level of Hardship

It’s not just the getting shot or shrapneled or bayonetted that makes this job one wracked with hardship. It’s the overwhelming knowledge that, if you fail, the lines of communication break down and there is a really, really good chance that your comrades – and your friends – will die in a hail of gunfire and explosions.

It’s also incredibly hard to run through mud that is waist-deep when you’re tangled in barbed-wire and you can’t see anything through the haze of mustard gas.

0/5
Opportunity for Advancement Hey, if you don’t get horribly wounded by shrapnel or captured by the enemy you could get promoted to, like, Corporal! …awesome…

Fun historical fact: Adolph Hitler actually started his “career” as a message runner in the First World War. Clearly, this is a traumatizing job (see above).

1/5

Meaningful Nature of Work Your work is incredibly meaningful – life-saving, even. But this only makes things worse.

5/5

Reflections on these Jobs

GODFREY: The jobs in this series are not always bound by place and time….Take piracy,  well, it’s alive and well, on the financial trading floors of the world. Sure, they’ve swapped their peg legs for Prada, their hook hands for Blackberries and soiled sea clothes for Armani and white collars, but they’re still pirates. I won’t beat this analogy to death, but if you think of the rolling graphs of the Dow Jones index as the high seas, and derivatives as highly risky booty, well there you have it. The risk that everything could sink – you along with it – just makes it better.

First World War Message Runners is probably the most sadly futile and comically absurd occupation that ever was.

JOHN: Amazing! Our matrix totally works! Hopefully we sucked some of the romanticism out of piracy (ie. Bernie Madoff is a pirate and Johnny Depp will never play him in a movie). Every kind of pirate is all about teamwork, adaptability, innovation, and they’re typically great communicators.

As for Message Runners, well, nothing screams futility like a guy running through mud to deliver a message that might possibly affect minor changes along an immovable stalemate in a totally useless war. Sigh. As it turns out, creativity can’t outmatch exploding shells.

PIRATE

LOW

MEDIUM

HIGH

TOTAL:

Level of Hardship

/5

Opportunity for Advancement

/5

Meaningful Nature of Work

/5