How often do we look, really look at our jobs? When do we find the time to look beyond the surface of what we do and seek the core, the primary function of our employment?
And I do not mean our contribution to the corporate bottom line!
Take my job.
I fell into it after decades of doing too many other things to mention, none of which have any similarity to what I do now. But each job I took added to the list of qualifications I needed to do my current job. We used to call such qualifications "experience", and you could only get them by doing. Every labouring job, every mundane hour on a production line, every sale of a useful or useless product, every carpet cleaned, every litre of petrol pumped, every form filled in, every yard of concrete poured, every piece of data processed, every day spent doing something for someone, added to a rich compost of life experiences and an ability to connect, somehow, with some people. Who knew it would come in handy one day? At the time, I was just doing something interesting, or not, to allow me to pay the rent or the mortgage and put a few items in the pantry. Along the way I learned skills, forgot a few, made friends, lost a few, and enjoyed the scrumptious fruits of constant curiosity.
I have worked in Whanganui, Palmerston North, Wellington, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and London, in jobs as diverse as their geographical locations.
All of which have led me to my job at Whanganui Midweek. Of all the dozens of jobs I have had before, this is by far the most interesting.
So let's look at my occupation – a writer of stories for a community newspaper.
There's more to it than that, but let's look at the day-to-day "routine". The speech marks imply that there really is no routine, as every day before deadline is different.
What do I do? I look for stories to write, and to do that I seek out people. Not necessarily special people with standing, status or societal stature, but anyone willing to give me the time of day and let me place my digital voice recorder near enough to pick up every word.
Everyone has a story to tell, at least one, so there will never be a shortage of subjects to write about and people to photograph, because their picture, too, is part of the story. Everyone has an opinion, knowledge about something, or a desire to be heard, and especially to be listened to.
Whanganui is fortunate: we have painters, writers, poets, sculptors, photographers, entrepreneurs; business people; builders; creative people; musicians; people who have made themselves famous locally - and internationally, even - for something they've done – but behind the obvious stories you find layers of places they've been and all the other things they've achieved.
We've also got factory workers, labourers, farmworkers, retail assistants, office drones, street sweepers, tradespeople, teachers, rubbish collectors, cooks, bakers, bar workers, baristas, waiting staff, meat workers, makers and processors of food and drink of all kinds … and more.
Whanganui also has its share of job seekers, permanently unemployed, sickness beneficiaries, as well as those too proud to take that money and willing to face the consequences.
Then there are the retired folk, who've traded in their old life for a new one with new interests and different goals.
Everyone, no matter what they do, how old or young they are, where they've been or what their destination might be, is interesting in some way. Some will never want their story told: some are awfully eager to talk.
Interviewing people is like archaeology; dig below the surface and you find the people they've been. And there are still the people they've yet to be, and somewhere in there is the person they want to be. Whoever does my job will never, ever run out of work, and the work is enjoyable because everyone, truly – everyone – is interesting. I have never interviewed a boring person, because I don't believe anyone is boring. I know that all of you have stories to tell, and until you start to tell them, you probably won't even realise how interesting those stories are.
But to write about those who really suffer, that's when my job becomes less enjoyable, but more real and with more purpose.
I don't have to walk a mile in their shoes, as the saying goes. But I do get to meet them and hear their stories, and it's hard to remain impartial, unaffected by who and what they are. That's not to say I understand them, because in spite of all my years of accumulated life experience, there are some people I can only be inspired by.
To be fair, almost anyone I interview is an inspiration, a metaphorical kick up the backside to those of us who really could do something special … if we had the time, or the money, or a decent camera, or fibre-optic internet, or better health … you name the excuse. But it's when you meet the people you would not want to be, when you hear the stories you wish you hadn't, that's when the job takes on real meaning and the point becomes clear.
That's when you realise that a community newspaper is not just about advertising, it's about being a community conscience, a voice, a window, a place to get to know your neighbour.