Thursday, December 11, 2008

From crap jobs to world changers

Are you working one of those low life, entry level, no respect jobs that pays just enough to keep you off food stamps? Or maybe not even pays that much.

Do you schlep books at the library with the cute title of 'page' or check out groceries, clean bathrooms, work in a fast food restaurant where you never get the smell of grease out of your clothes or hair? Clean up hospital rooms? Maybe you assist nurses? If so, you have the perfect fodder for a best seller.

Just ask Anne Sams, the long suffering checkout girl at a grocery in France. Her book became a summertime sensation in that country and now is being made into a play, a graphic novel, and has been translated into several other languages. Check out managers are handing out copies of the book to their new hires. And yes, Ms. Sams quit her job after her advance, the equivalent to her annual salary of approx. $26,400. I didn't realize that checkout clerks were paid that well....

She has even been hired as a consultant for a manufacturer of checkout equipment and the government has asked her opinion on groceries being allowed to stay open on Sundays. Read more about her rise to stardom in the Washington Post article.

Sams, unlike Barbara Echrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, did not go undercover 'as a low paid worker.' Sams lived the life. She worked her way through college as a check out clerk, but when no jobs materialized after graduation, she stayed on. A student of modern literature, and obviously of life, she wrote a semi-humorous book, Tribulations of a Cashier. She catalogued the boors and mean-spirited abuses, the managers and their part-time schedules that took a chunk out of every day, as well as the ironies of her day to day encounters for eight years from behind her beeping counter.

It takes a certain amount of courage to write about the horrors and abuses of such a job when it is what you depend on for survival, yet if no one uncovers the dirty little secrets, how will things ever change? Sams began her journey to authorship with a blog that attracted quite a readership including journalists and evidently a publisher. The phenomena of blog to published book is still rare enough that the Washington Post saw it as news, but still, for those struggling to write their first book -- a blog may be the first step.

Recently my husband and I watched a television program devoted to a man who went around with his video recorder documenting his local police officers breaking laws. Parking in no parking zones, running stop lights, parking in bus stops and declaring a trip to the deli for coffee as an emergency.... Another man follows prostitutes in his neighborhood, trying vainly to clean up the area where he is raising his children, stopping johns and hookers from performing 'business' on children's playgrounds or in public places.

We can all make a difference. Sometimes it begins with simply saying, "I don't understand." Or the act of admitting to not agreeing with the person in charge. Or just asking, "Why?"

A favorite story that I heard when I was a newlywed told of a young wife fixing a ham by first cutting off one third of it and discarding it. When her husband asked why, she shrugged and said, "That's what Mom does." When she asked her mother why she cut off part of the ham before baking it, her mother said, "Because my mother always did." When grandma was finally asked her ham baking method. She said. "I had to make it fit in the only baking pan I had...."

I wonder how many times we do things 'traditionally' without knowing the tradition. I wonder how many ways there are to more efficiently or better do a job but no one dare speak up for fear of dragging down wrath upon their heads? Do you see problems? Find a solution. Then tell someone who can cause change.

"Today's world needs change, alteration, renewal, and corrections of errors. It needs new ideas, new approaches, methods, plans, procedures, and new ways of doing things." --Wilferd A. Peterson

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