Some jobs add value to the world. Others? Don’t.

The 2UE

The 2UE "comedy" sketch which left me cold.

Enjoying your job?

A while ago I met a lovely fireman by the name of Russell. While I must confess to thinking all firemen are lovely, (they are at the very least given the benefit of loveliness until asshole behaviour proves otherwise) he was – noble profession aside – a very decent sort of bloke who proved to be a very interesting conversation companion. Since sitting at a desk all day long pondering the conundrums of life is just about as antithetical to the job of a fireman as one can get, I found myself asking him a lot of questions about his work. I have a fascination with occupations that – let’s just be frank here – actually make a difference in the world.

Russell the Fireman was kind and generous enough to propose that ‘all jobs add value’ to the world. I appreciated his open-hearted assertion, aimed at making those of us writers of the world feel something other than intellectual wankers.  But I had to disagree: what about real estate agents? He conceded. Lawyers? He shrugged. Parking rangers? Tobacco manufacturers? By now I had him on my side.

‘You actually get to stop fires and save peoples’ lives,’ I asserted, as if he didn’t already know that. ‘Sometimes,’ he said, ‘but a lot of the time we sit around waiting and watching tv.’ I imagine being a fireman could get boring at times, where one might be forced for days on end when arsonists are having a quiet week, to watch endless daytime tv and listen to to Dr Phil. But even if Russell and all his other firemen friends watched Jerry Springer and ate donuts all day every day, and only ONCE, actually saved someone’s earthly possessions or their lives – I reckon that would be enough to disqualify them in perpetuity from being inscribed in the Book of Oxygen Thieves. Firemen are not oxygen thieves. Neither are nurses, teachers (especially those who work in public schools), electricians, medical researchers, plumbers, garbos and all those people who work in non-profit organizations, trying to get food and clean water to the third world.

Albert Einstein is reputed to have said that if he had his life over, he would choose to be a plumber. Einstein obviously understood that the mysteries of the universe are insignificant when you have a blocked toilet.

Today, top of my list of worthy professions is: people who can fix dishwashers. I would give my kingdom for a person who could work out why the water won’t drain, why the lights keep flashing and beeping, and why I-20 keeps flashing at me. With all my degrees in jurisprudence and bloody narrative structure, I can’t get my dishwasher to do what it’s meant to.

While I figure a university education was a wonderful experience, and I got to do things I would probably never otherwise have done like read James Joyce and Nietzsche, I am not the first person you want to pitch up in a crisis, when the artery has ruptured or the tire has burst. It’s a little humbling to realize that all the things I’m good at, have absolutely zero effect in making the world a better and safer place. And while I do believe doctors on the whole are necessary and save lives, they also suffer from massive egos and tend to keep people waiting because they feel so much more important than everyone else.

So here are my ten tips on how to work out whether your job adds (real) value in the world or is, sorry to say, just a bit of a wank. Your job adds value in the world if:

  • When you arrive people say, “Thank God you’re here”
  • No-one walks away from you feeling ripped off
  • At the end of the day you can see the results of your labour
  • Nobody ever tells you to ‘go away’ or swears at you
  • You count lives, not money
  • People don’t avoid your calls
  • Nobody ever threatens to sue you
  • Nobody ever tells you they want a ‘second opinion’
  • You make broken things work
  • People send you thank you cards

Because I truly believe writing is one of the greatest joys in life, I’m facilitating a two day writing retreat in Bowral in September, where I’m hoping to up my worthiness in the ‘adding value’ stakes by sharing the benefits of creative expression with others.

Does your job add value in the world ? Do you get a sense of satisfaction from what you do?

And if you’re currently looking for a job, don’t hesitate to check out the Mamamia job board here.


Joanne Fedler is author of the bestselling Secret Mothers’ Business, Things Without A Name and When Hungry, Eat. She is facilitating a two day writing retreat in Bowral from 2-4 September 2011 for all aspiring, struggling or veteran writers who need a creative boost – you can check out the details here or click here to learn more about Joanne.

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