January 22, 2009

Happy janitors

Yesterday, I went with some friends to get some Chinese food. There’s a little restaurant at Monroe and Leonard with an unremarkable name, “China City” written in typically unremarkable Chinese-restaurant-block-lettering signage. But the food is hot and the price is right - $5.25. All you can eat buffet. Count me in. Though, as I tried to remind one of them later, “all you can eat” and “all you should eat,” are two very different things. Not that I always take that to heart. Any other day and I, too, would have gone for thirds, fourths, sevenths, whatever. But I’m trying to keep my girlish figure. New Year’s resolution or something.

Who cares about Chinese food, anyway. If you’ve been to China City, you might as well say you’ve been to First Wok and Golden Buffet and China Palace and Kowloon Abacus and everywhere else. They all make the same stuff, an Americanized version of what Americans think Chinese people eat. And, as a friend who used to fix kitchen appliances once told me, they’ve all got cockroaches. Without exception. But I don’t want to ruin your future Moo-shu pork experiences, so I’ll move on.

We talked about career things. Friend A is still in college, seven years in with another to go, and Friend B is learning that what he is doing isn’t what he wants to be doing. He’s looking for something else, with a little more purpose.

My generation is finishing college just in time to see ourselves get laid off. Lots of us are either looking for jobs or sitting in the last-in first-out position. This puts in me in pretty optimistic standing trying to start a career outside of pizza-delivery.

I’m quick to say I haven’t really felt the effects of the recession. But then I realize, oh yeah, I got laid off a year ago. I had just started my career as an associate editor, a step above coffee-getting guy. (Though, had the staff been any bigger, I probably would have started as coffee-getting guy.) And a few days before the Christmas party, the axe fell squarely on me. The pizza gig softened the blow. Living with my parents helped, too. Life said to me, go start over, this is not for you right now anyway. So I delivered pizzas and went to Africa and came home and delivered more pizzas.

As much as I write about the pizza-gig, you would probably think this is somehow central to my identity. But I don’t think it is. If your identity is based around how you spend your time, then I am first and foremost, a Guy Who Sleeps. Second, a Guy Who Delivers Pizza. And Third, a Guy Who Thinks About Sleeping. But if this job somehow goes away soon and I have to earn my money some other way, my “identity” wouldn't fundamentally change. So, I don’t think that’s who I am. I’m more than my job today. I will be more than my job tomorrow. The pizza gig is blog-fodder that happens to pay the bills.

We all live for something. We need significance, to justify our existence, to convince ourselves that we’re not bums. I guess the go-to identity thing for college kids is their career. Most people I know spent/are spending/will spend their college years trying to figure out the whole career thing. I sought my identity in my career for a long time, groaned over my major, dreaded the day I’d finish college without a clue. And here I am, holding my college degree, delivering pizzas. Sometimes it seems humiliating, and I like to be self-deprecating about it. But then I realize it’s not the most important thing about me.

What you do for a career - not terribly important. Sorry. That’s something I never learned in college. I’m inclined to make the most of my college education and its oppressive price tag, that’s why I seek a “real job” somewhere. But when I think about it, I’d be just as useful doing something else that doesn’t seem so glorious. The career is just a detail. That’s why there are happy janitors and sad lawyers. And lots of unhappy, “successful” famous people.

When you center yourself on anything other than what you were made for – careers, relationships, yourself - you’re probably not going to be happy. I ought to draw the theological parallel here that if God made us, and we don’t feel fulfilled, we probably ought to take a good look at Him to find out what we need to fulfill ourselves.


(Some of my inspiration: Reading "The Reason for God" by Tim Keller)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

brilliant. true. we ordered pizza last night and i thought of you. (how's 7 bucks on 27?)