The problem with trying to sort out best jobs and worst jobs goes all the way back to the Declaration of Independence. Yes, those guys with the wooden teeth, aka. the Founding Fathers, are at the root of all that is bad, and good, about work today.
Don't believe me? Then please repeat after me a few of the words of that famous Declaration from July 4, 1776: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. …"
Life? That works for me. Ditto for liberty. But the whole pursuit of happiness thing is a bit troubling when it comes to our livelihoods.
I'm not adopting a position of anti-happiness. I'm not nearly that much of a Scrooge. But I do think it's a really tough standard to achieve in today's challenging workplace.
So we shouldn't be happy? Or we shouldn't expect to be happy? How can I say this? It's simple. Think about anything that you like to do. Fly fishing, sex, working in your yard, photography, cooking … [fill in the blank with one of your favorite ways to pass the time].
Now I'd like you to take that favorite activity and do it for eight hours starting on Monday. Then do it for another eight hours on Tuesday. And for good measure, do it 40 hours a week, 50 or so weeks a year. And do it from now until you're somewhere in your 60s.
Talk about draining the happiness right out of you. … And these, of course, are things that you enjoy doing. Now, imagine that you've got to pass all this time with things that aren't exactly lovable -- things like meetings, jousting with co-workers and writing memos and reports that no one will ever read. Is it any wonder that they call it a job?
That's why I point my fingers at the founding fathers. They might have set our expectations a bit too high. Happiness is great. I'm just not sure that it's an unalienable right. I like to think of it as more of a perk.
To me, a much better way to approach your job is to think of it as a search for meaning -- a chance to connect the dots, make a contribution or to gain some new insight.
Take, for example, a Bay Area supermarket cashier who was written up in the newspaper because of the way she engages each person who comes through her aisle. She has treats for dogs and kids (although, I hope, not the same ones). She offers recipes to people for the things they've just purchased. She's also full of kind words for everyone she meets.
A friend of mine who lives in the neighborhood tells me it's common for there to be two or three checkers with absolutely no one in line, while a long line of people wait in this checker's line.
I'm not trying to justify psychotic co-workers, crummy working conditions or creepy bosses. But I do believe that the goal of finding meaning in what we do each day can go a long way to making our job seem less like a root canal and more like a fulfilling experience.
The big ah-ha here is that having a best job is probably within the reach of most of us. It just may be that finding out what makes it the best is up to you, the worker, rather than expecting some absolute right to happiness.
But don't even get me started on the idea of forming a more perfect union. More perfect?
"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." -- Gen. George S. Patton
From "What Should I Do With My Life" by Po Bronson (Random House, 2002):
"I used to think certain jobs were 'cool,' and more likely to inspire passion. Now I know passion is rooted in deeply felt experiences, which can happen anywhere. I used to think life presented a five-page menu of choices. Now I think the choice is in whether to be honest, to ourselves and others, and the rest is more of an uncovering, a peeling away of layers, discovering talents we assumed we didn't have. I used to treasure the innocence of first love. Now I treasure the hard fought. I used to want to change the world. Now I'm open to letting it change me."
Here are the results from a recent Working Wounded Blog/ABCNews.com online ballot:
I think personality tests like Meyers Briggs are …
A great insight on who you are, 13.8 percent
An interesting source of information, 65.5 percent
A total waste of time, 20.7 percent
Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker, and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.