Ever wonder what the perfect job is? The one most important to the human race, most admired, most courageous, most fulfilling? For some time I believed that the pediatric oncologist who saved our son’s life had that job. 

But it didn’t take long to remember the farmer who grew his food, the truck driver who transported it to the grocer, and the staff who stocked the shelves and checked him out at the register. And there were the people who made the tractor for the farmer, and the people who put food into cans and bottles or worked in the factories to make those cans and bottles; the mechanics who kept the trucks running, the gas station attendants who fueled those trucks, and the construction workers who built the grocery stores. And let’s not forget the instructors who taught these people the skills they needed for their jobs and the HR people who hired them all. And these are only a small number of the many jobs and people critical just to putting food on the oncologist’s table. So he can eat. So he can save lives.

So what’s the most important job? It’s the one you really need when you need it. In a chain of 79 links, is the 27th any less important than the 79th? We live in an exquisitely integrated web of jobs where everyone is essential and the “perfect” job is the one that best fits our talents, interests, personalities, and personal needs. But these are all things we bring to a job. We seldom look at what we learn from those jobs. I’m not talking about all the little things we master as we put in our 10,000 hours on the way to proficiency. No, sometimes there are indelible life lessons that go beyond skills.

While in high school I took a job in a piston factory just to see how factory work differed from a skilled trade or a white-collar profession. My job was to gather together all the parts needed to assemble a particular piston and take them to an assembler’s bench. Then do it all over again. And again. And again. To dull the pain, I tried to imagine how a particular piston might be used to make the world better. That palliative lasted a day. But I did learn how to play paycheck poker. Everyone puts in a dollar and the serial numbers on your paycheck are your “cards”: 3 of a kind, full house, straight, etc. Best hand gets the pot. And I learned what a “rate buster” was — and warned not to be one (Slow down, don’t let management know how much faster this job can actually be done).

For several summers I worked as a union electrician. Much better fit both mentally and financially. Life lesson? There’s always at least one way to get from here to there. Find it. Then see if you can find a better way. An enduring lesson that applies to far more than panel-to-plug, switch-to-light. Job experiences perfect us.

One day I made a list of all the different kinds of jobs I have had that people have paid me for. Twenty-three. Indoors-outdoors, difficult-easy, mind-numbing-challenging, poorly paid or well compensated, ones at which I excelled and those at which I was a miserable failure. 

As I write this, there are currently 153 million people employed in the United States. And while I have found the job “perfect for me,” I still fantasize about some mythical “perfect job.” Surely there must be one out there. Somewhere.

Then came that “Eureka” moment. I actually do know a guy. Really. Now tell me if this isn’t the absolutely perfect job:

He sits at a desk and takes product orders for maybe five or six weeks. That’s it. He gives them to his staff who manufacture, box, wrap, and label each and every item at his “fulfillment center.” By all reports, they work for free. Go figure. When delivery day — singular — arrives, he loads all these packages into his vehicle and takes off with planet-loving biofuel. Twenty-four hours later, he’s finished. For the year. Looking forward to 46 weeks’ vacation. And his paycheck? Countless smiles, cookies, and glasses of milk. 

If you’re waiting to apply when he retires, you better have some long-term security in your present job. He took the position in 1823 and has been the sole occupant of that job for nearly 200 years. Obviously all the cookies and milk have not adversely affected his health. Good genes, I guess. And did I say his vehicle is a red convertible? 

But wait, there’s more. His jacket, pants, and work boots (work boots!) are lined with white fur! Sheeesh! My Carhartt work jacket and Red Wing work boots are not, not, fur trimmed.

Alas, we grow up and we process those product orders ourselves, filled by people thousands of miles away, paid for with our credit card, and shipped by fossil-fuel-burning ships and trucks. But those smiles are real and ours to enjoy. As well as the cookies and milk. In moderation. Gotta love it.

The “perfect” job is the one that not only fits you perfectly, but in the process, perfects you. So tomorrow I will go to work producing smiles in the best way I know how. (Got it right on the 23rd try!) I hope you are able to do the same. Cookies optional.

Postscript: The modern depiction of Santa in his red suit, with a sleigh and reindeer originated in the poem titled, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement Moore, first published on Dec. 23, 1823, is known today as “The Night Before Christmas.”

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