I love to complain about my job. By every measure being a supermarket meat cutter, I have a lot of justification. I’m over-educated, under-employed and underpaid. My job is cold, wet, messy, gross, physically exhausting, mentally frustrating and, throw in customer service on a busy day, you even have quite a bit of stress for very little money.
The truth, however, is little more complicated.
I am my job.
Though I didn’t intend it when I walked into the Sedona, Arizona grocery back in 1984 looking for a little gas money, I am now a professional meat-cutter with 27 years experience. I am one of the old dogs I looked at with wonder (and pity) back in my youth. Now I am fifty years old and I have reached a level of expertise and easy competency at my job that I will never gain anywhere else. It is a good feeling. I think about where I would be if I followed many of my generation’s soft-skilled, job-hopping, paper-pushing, marginally-employed tendencies and I am happy to be a underachiever.
The pay is pretty low. Compared with my more successful fellow college classmates, I am living on the margin. I own a vey modest ranch house in a rundown neighborhood. Both our vehicles have over 150,000 miles on them. I do not have such modern necessities as cable TV, garbage service, or a cell phone. And still I struggle to make the mortgage every month. I always seem one large bill away from ruin.
We’ve taken pay cuts. We’ve lost benefits. Every year we’re asked to kick in more towards healthcare. I don’t want to get political. I don’t know the reason why we are eliminating our craftsmen. But it makes me sad and sometimes a little angry to see a job that was once solidly middleclass slide into being just another service sector McJob.
But it’s okay. I’ve made peace with it. Being middle-class is probably over-rated. Someone once said that comfort and luxury is over-rated. All you really need is something to be excited about. I have situated myself in a beautiful part of the country and everything I really love to do is cheap—hiking, biking, backpacking, camping or just staring at the skyline.
While my job has not made me financially successful, it has given me other things. I am strong, tough, patient, disciplined and can think on my feet. I know how to work hard. And like it. I take pride is a good day’s work and the meaningless craftsmanship of everyday things. Sometimes I look at a fresh cut display of steaks that I just created and my heart swells.
Yes I complain a lot about my job. I think we need a raise. We need more benefits. We need competent upper management. We need a couple freaking days off in a row once in while. Once, just once I'd like to have a long holiday weekend just to see what it feels like. And sometimes, I am utterly exhausted when I get home. Truth is, though, my job is so ingrained now in the very fiber of my being that I cannot imagine doing anything else.
Sometimes I think I have become the anti-Hunter S. Thompson. I hate to advocate backbreaking, mind-numbing, gut-wrenching, hard labor for everyone, but it’s worked for me.