Sunday 2 November 2014

What the hell is a 'proper' job anyway?

I've picked up another job recently, sweeping the outdoor areas of a hotel just up the beach front from my place near the centre of town.
I quite enjoy it, it's very meditative to be out and about when all the partying world is still asleep.
Indeed the only people I see as I cycle the one k up the hill is a load of other people in active wear, out for their early morning exercise, jogging, power walking, cycling, and setting up for a surf.
However, as I swept the other morning I was once again thinking that this is hardly what my oh-so-image-conscious parents would have wanted for me, however, as I say I enjoy it.
While my job category at Centrelink lists me as a gardener, that overlaps in my holiday town with property maitenance, and then inevitably, cleaning.
So I'm a cleaner.
I have no problem with that, though if my parents were alive, they would no doubt tell everyone that I am the maintenance/cleaning supervisor for a five-star holiday accommodation enterprise in exclusive Byron Bay.
Whatever, that then led to thoughts that have beset me throughout my life, of what is a 'proper' job.
I can't really count how many times this has come up, but I have no doubt that many of you reading this have contemplated the same thought, 'what is a proper job?' Mostly of course it is tied up with money and status, but whether a job with money or status is the proper job for you, well that's always debatable.
Anyway, I'm a cleaner/gardener/handyman and journalist, and I'm quite happy doing all that. Of course if I meet someone new I usually say 'journalist' first, as that seems to be a higher status job, which just shows that I'm still affected by the trappings of image laid down upon me by my parents.
So how did this happen? How did a guy with a degree in Science end up sweeping paths for a living? Well let's go back in time a bit to the HSC at Kelso High in 1982. When I began to think about this it occurred to me that in some ways I was the success story of the day.
Why do I say that?
Well, as far as I recall, I was the only one who went to Sydney Uni. Now I'm certainly not out to make out that I'm am better than anyone else I was at high school with, or a higher achiever, simply that on the scale of things at the time, Sydney Uni was the pinnacle of success.
And, as I say, I was the first graduate of Kelso High to go there (I think), I'm not sure about the year before me, but of my year, I'm sure that's true.
Anyway, what's the big deal? (If any).
So let's start overseas.
In Britain the pinnacle of university success is Oxford and Cambridge, Oxbridge is the short hand.
Oxford is the oldest uni in the world, its foundation date is uncertain, but there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096.
Cambridge is the second oldest, founded in 1209. These venerable institutions led the way for education for nearly a thousand years. Oxbridge was seen as the home of elitism, the upper class went there or nowhere.
In the States it is the Ivy League that is the New World home of elitism. The Ivy League is comprised of: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania.
For the record, Oxbridge/the Ivy League in Australia is represented by the "Group of Eight", comprising, ANU, UNSW, Sydney, Monash, Melbourne, Queensland, Adelaide and Western Australia.
So I went to Oxbridge/the Ivy League in Australia.
(PS: I've just recalled a classmate, Gavin, went to ANU, so I wasn't the only Kelso person who went into the Go8 university system.)
I know this made my father very proud, he was a graduate of Sydney Uni himself, but if he could have seen the way I carried on once I got there, he would have been less happy I'll tell you that for nothing.
For, let off the leash of my parents control, I began to party 'like 'twas 1799', as they said on The Simpsons on one episode about the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Drinking, smoking pot, playing soccer, trying to have sex with any female that passed before me, I was the definition of a man born to fail his exams.
However, I obviously did some work, as I did pass, though barely. (My average mark for the three years of my undergraduate degree was 57%). Looking back on it, if I'd gone to counselling then, I could be the head of CSIRO by now, just a little less drinking could have seen me achieve so much more.
However that was then, and as I've often written we'd all do things differently if time machines existed. I would go back in time and just punch myself in the head and say 'wake up to yourself'.
Actually, I've just remembered that Joe Hockey was the president of the Student Union when I was at Uni, and if I did have a time machine, I would first go back in time and punch that fat fuck in the head first, before I dealt with myself. Smacking Joe Hockey into unconsciousness would do more for current day Australia, than anything I could do other than that.
One thing not having a proper job allows
is plenty of time to check the surf and ride my bike.

So did I learn anything?
Well yes, but again looking back on it, the real benefits of my elite education were the old students net.
Previously referred to as the old boys net, but not by me anymore.
The real benefits turned out to be the friends I made while I was there.
Most notably my long suffering friend Antony, who has loaned/given me, money in four figures to keep the wolf from my coastal door.
Evo, who has/is giving me invaluable financial advice that is seeing me through my short, but heroically, unsuccessful business career.
There are others, whom I'll name if relevant.
However, I seem to saying that I agree with 'it's not what you know, but who you know.'
On this topic, and reinforcing it, is this piece of advice handed out by an older student who had just graduated from Sydney Uni law.
Another player on the soccer team was just on his way down to Phillip Street, where the Law School was housed, to complete his law degree.
When the younger student asked of the older, 'how should I play it down at Phillip Street?'
The older student replied, 'get down there and root anything that moves'. [For my North American readers, 'root' was the slang at the time for having sex, you would say 'screw']
Clearly this indicated that the older student thought that contacts were far more important than an in-depth knowledge of company or real estate law.
So returning to the theme of what is a proper job? There is no real answer to that.
One thing I do remember is that quite a number of the scientists and engineers that I graduated with, didn't go into those fields, but instead were sucked up by the burgeoning IT industry, indeed as I would be a few short years later.
In those faculties, we spent more time on the computer than most, and thus spent more time fixing them than anything else, and so many began lucrative careers working on computers.
My first job out of Uni though was with Greenpeace, I don't know now what my father thought of this, but I think he thought I would be immmediately employed in a lab somewhere, and spend my career in a lab coat poking the buttons on complex lab equipment.
But that was never for me, even as a boy I knew that the world's environment was in trouble, and so began work with Greenpeace to do something about it.
After that I did my teaching diploma, and took some part time work with a soccer newspaper, so began, simultaneously, my teaching and journalism careers.
Couple of things to note there.
I think my father was happy that I was going to be a science teacher, as he saw that as a proper job. But within minutes of starting in the classroom of a NSW high school, I can confirm that teaching is an improper job of the first water.
I know what this looks like, but I
am in fact running to get into position,
while the timer on my phone camera ticked
away, not to molest this woman.
Man, I hated that.
The other thing to note, and particularly if you are going into teacher training is that the first day in the classroom is the first day you will start planning how to never enter another classroom.
So hectic is it that you quickly realize that you will never sustain the energy levels needed to do this for a whole career, and so will do anything else. Get promoted, quit, drink heavily, anything to keep you away from the classroom.
So after some five years teaching, I finally realized that teaching wasn't for me, I'd been sacked by three schools, and had left twenty odd of my own accord.
So I went into journalism full time.
I began working for the Sun-Herald (now defunct) in Sydney.
However this was yet another badly timed decision on my part, like all the rest, for you see, just as I joined the world of newspapers, the price of paper began to skyrocket due to our appalling desecration of the environment.
We were running out of trees, to put it mildly.
It takes 75,000 tress for instance to produce one New York Times Sunday edition.
The ultimate effect of this was that the long ever-quickening spiral of sacking journalists began.
I was one of the first to go, as I was only recently joined, and I might add, I got sacked from the Sun-Herald, not for incompetence, but because I wasn't walking quick enough.
How's that?
Well what happened was that I was on the racing desk of the sports section of the S-H. The editor of the same was an incredibly dysfunctional stress head, and he wanted everything done yesterday.
That day I was responsible for the early editions of the paper, so I was sitting at my desk when a shadow loomed over me, I looked up and saw it was the editor, he said: "Where we at with the early edition?", I replied, "I've got it underway, I'm just going to see about the photos from Tony, in graphics."
He nodded, but stood there.
So I thought I better show willing, and got up and went to see the picture guys.
Sauntering in a casual manner as I went.
About an hour later I got an inmail from the editor, 'could you come and see me please?', it said. I went over to his desk, and presented myself, "Oh, er, yeair," he said, "I've got to retrench three staff, so your one of the ones I'm letting go."
Simple but effective, I walked out of the John Fairfax building that arvo, and never returned.
And I'm certain that if I'd walked a bit faster earlier that afternoon, I may have survived.
However, if the price of paper was becoming the rate determiner of newspapers, I did get a good look at where news was going: the internet.
Already the Herald was cannibalizing it's own readership with its website, and so I went round to the bookshop at Crow's Nest where I lived at the time and got a book on HTML, the coding language of the internet.
Then I began making webpages on my computer, and then I began applying for jobs as an internet sub-editor.
I duly got one, and then spent the next ten years hunched over a computer screen looking for misplaced tags giving odd layouts and spelling errors on websites.
I guess that was a proper job, but what I got from that time in IT was a serious alcohol dependency.
Nothing about working with computers is healthy. It's bad for your back, your posture, your digestion, your eyes, your wrists, and of course your mental state.
I include this simply to show where public transport is these days.
Will country Australia ever have public transport again?
There is also a 'it never ends component about it'. I can't count how many nights I struggled for sleep as I went over in my mind all the code I had seen that day, wondering if I'd left a bug in it that the bad guys, could use as a nice security hole to penetrate the system.
This lack of sleep led me to increase my pot use, and then my alcohol use, just to get to sleep.
Anyway, after the millennium turned I was too burnt out to continue, so I left the IT world, and Sydney, and began drifting around the north coast of NSW, and the south of Queensland, surfing, mostly, but also wondering how it had got this way, how had I gone from Southern Hemisphere Oxbridge to being homeless?
Well, while I would never care to repeat being homeless again, it did give me time to think, and I happened across the old decision to live in Byron Bay, surf and be a gardener.
And so I did it.
In all that time from my first employment aged 15 for a cauliflower farmer, outside of Bathurst, to today, I have had almost three hundred jobs.
When I look at them, I see that the ones that would have been considered, by my parents at least, as 'proper jobs' were the ones that made me the most unhappy, and thus led me to drink heavily.
The ones that would be seen as the lowest status, weeding garden beds, sweeping paths and/or cleaning toilets, have brought me a measure of peace.
Weird how things work, but there you go.
So if you are ever worried about the status of your job, stop now, the only one it matters to is you.

Sweeping at dusk brings the ultimate peace of views like this.

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