Martin Robinson: Living to work, or working to live

Picking apples was the hardest work the writer ever did. He lasted only a few days before requesting reassignment indoors. Picture / Getty Images
Picking apples was the hardest work the writer ever did. He lasted only a few days before requesting reassignment indoors. Picture / Getty Images

Some cannot wait to get back to their job after the holiday break but for others it will be a case of the back-to-work blues, writes Martin Robinson

The luckiest people in the world are people who love their job. I've had 30 jobs in six countries but I've never loved any of them.

Some were interesting and enjoyable, but I always preferred not working to working. What I've always loved is having free time and travelling.

My father did not love his job, but he stuck at it to provide for himself and his family, commuting to work every day for 30 years, except for weekends, public holidays and three weeks' holiday a year. He left home at 7am and came back at 7pm like clockwork. I knew I didn't want that, but what did I want in its place? My plan was not to have a career, but to take any job and change it every year. My working life would be less well paid but more interesting than normal.

Since I've never loved my job I've always been free to leave without huge regrets. If an interesting opportunity came up I left whatever job I had and grabbed it. I was always looking at the Situations Vacant. I wasn't fussy - every job was only temporary so I could just suck it and see, and then move on.

Some jobs were incredibly boring and almost drove me nuts. Working in a pharmaceutical factory was repetitive, mostly watching machines mix the ingredients for pills. I couldn't stop myself continually looking at the clock and the hours dragged by.

Working in a bank was no better, especially as the supervisors insisted I looked busy even if I had nothing to do. I hated it and never worked in an office again.

I preferred jobs that kept me busy such as working as a waiter or barman because the time passed quicker. I have always worked hard but only because it's less boring.

My worst job was working in a psychiatric hospital in England. Conditions were shocking and patients were bullied and mistreated by male nurses who were more like Nazi prison guards than Florence Nightingale. Even more shocking were the callous doctors who did nothing about it.

I quickly left but suffered nightmares for months afterwards.

The toughest and most exhausting job I ever had was apple picking in Hastings. I lasted only a few days before requesting reassignment indoors to the packing shed where the work was much easier. Every time I eat fruit I give thanks to the hardworking and underpaid person who picked it.

Teaching was varied and interesting work, but tiring and emotionally draining. I was too conscientious when marking students' work and sometimes I'd be correcting all evening. Still, the long holidays were great.

I've always been lucky with finding jobs and have been on the dole only once. When I first came to New Zealand I sent my details to 29 potential employers. Only three replied, but one of them offered me a job. One is all you need.

So much in life is chance, especially with job applications and interviews. My life would have been quite different if someone had offered me a job I didn't get, or if someone had not offered me a job I did get.

Whether to work or not, which job to apply for, where to work and which career to follow is often decided by chance, whim or someone else. A teacher at school says you are good at science, so you study engineering at college and land up as a building contractor in Toronto, but if she says you are good at arts subjects you become someone quite different, such as a social worker in Alice Springs or an English teacher in Tokyo.

Renovating houses was a wonderful challenge every time I did it and the work was very satisfying, because you can compare the end result with what you began with. It was profitable, too, but very long hours. Like every job, after a few years it became repetitious. The fun went out of it, so it was time to do something else.

Writing guide books for Lonely Planet was the nearest I came to my dream job. Paid for travelling around the world - what's not to love about that? Well, for a start it's not a holiday, and researching on the road is a 12-hour day, often in difficult conditions, with no days off.

Climbing the stairs of the 14th hotel you have checked that day with the temperature in the 40s, you wonder why people say you have a perfect job. It's rush, rush, rush and then hours bent over a laptop knocking masses of information into shape before typing it up with the right fonts, headings and icons. Then you have to wait patiently for the next gig.

People can love just about any job. Watch Undercover Boss on TV to see workers who love their jobs more than their families. Some laundry workers and shelf-stackers as well as teachers and Herald journalists love their jobs. They never take a day off, look forward to going to work, and are always smiling, cheerful and positive. Their life is their work in some cases, while for me life is everything you do outside work.

* Martin Robinson is a freelance writer living in West Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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