Work – a critical piece to your story. But why? We spend a good chunk of our lives actively pursuing and doing work. I have to think that is partly why Labor Day, an American holiday was created in 1882 by members of the Central Labor Union in New York City. I’ve been thinking a lot about work, specifically hard manual labor as of late. For the past year and a half I have been working on a project directly relating to work, interviewing people who worked at Swift Meats and the local stockyard of my hometown in Ogden,Utah.
There is something special about hard work
I interviewed dozens of people who spent many years raising, butchering or cleaning up from cattle. The stories were fascinating and represent a group of people not afraid to work hard to put food on the table, money in the bank and fulfill their dreams. Some got rich from their time at Swift, saving and investing the money they made from higher salaries because the work was so difficult. Others weren’t as wise, and feel bitter at how their time ended when the meat-packing business closed up shop rather abruptly.
The stories of the cattlemen also captured my attention. Men and women who worked from dusk till dawn caring for animals and seeing something in them that not all see – a deep love and passion for what they can produce – food on the table, easier farm work or entertainment. I also watched the faces of these older folks as they talked about their time in the Stockyards or Swift – they became very animated and full of passion talking about their days of work there and what it all entailed. It was a part of their life that was important, where they learned the things that were of value to them.
But that’s not the only reason the value of work has been playing on my mind. I spend many days listening to and writing people’s stories. I ask questions about relationships, childhood, food, hometowns and everything in between, but some of the biggest chapters come from the subject of career, work and labor. I love to hear these stories. Our jobs shape our character, mostly because we spend so darn much time at them.
I love the Labor Day holiday because I like the idea of celebrating something that is sometimes hard. I like that we as Americans see the value in rewarding ourselves for accomplishing goals but knowing we have to go back and pick up where we left off after our day of celebration.
Your work story is an example to younger generations
Have younger generations lost their touch when it comes to hard labor? Perhaps. I am a firm believer that all young kids need to work a hard, labor-intensive job so they can determine if the love to wipe sweat from their brow or if a college education is the path for them.
One of my current clients is 95 years old and I am recording and writing his life story. He told me we would need at least one full session to talk about his career. I was thrilled and excited to hear what he had to say. As he talked and read from the pages of his recorded journal he lavished as he talked about his career as an aviator – both in the air and as an air traffic controller. He talked about being a business owner for a brief time and the triumphs and struggles that accompanied that. But for him, he felt he learned the most life lessons when he worked as a farmer. He described his work days and the hard work of each member of his family. He gained a stronger love for his wife during that time because she didn’t hesitate to work side by side with him. In fact, she would often get her daytime jobs done before him and beat him to milk the cows for their evening milking. For him, it was a valuable time in his life, but not something he wanted to do forever.
Finding your career passion is a cherished memory
I still remember the day when I discovered my passion for writing could turn into a career. I had written an in-depth article for my university newspaper and a professor sat me down and told me I “needed” to be a writer. It seemed like a strange idea at first, but I loved it. My career has been mixed with my mom career (which I love) and professional career which I love as well. Both difficult on some days, but rewarding in so many ways. But, even though I have a career I cherish, I have no regrets of my days at Sizzler as a “salad bar girl” and waitress. The valuable life lessons I learned while passing out steaks and occasionally spilling drinks on people taught me to love and accept all kinds of people and how to work for someone else. It also taught me to be kind, regardless of how stressed or irritated I could become. In fact, I still have dreams (or maybe nightmares) of my waitressing days. And I still enjoy a good Sizzler steak every now and again.
Over the years of storytelling I have found that work shapes everything from relationships to finances. I really like the way the U.S. Department of Labor defines Labor Day:
“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
It’s vitally important to share our work story for future generations. We now live in a society where everything seems to come easily. We can only hope that if we share our story of our careers and the work it took to obtain them, it will spurn on the rising generation to do the same. Teaching our children and grandchildren about the hard stuff helps them to know they can conquer it too.
This Labor Day while you’re taking a break from hard labor, take a moment to record a bit of your work history. Here are a few questions to get the ball rolling:
- What was your first job?
- What is your profession or job?
- What do/did you like about your job?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- How did you get into this line of work?
- What are you proudest of in your career?
- Who was your greatest mentor in your career?
For some ideas on how to record your story, click here. Enjoy your walk down your job memory lane. Your family will love you for it!
Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer/editor at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on LDSLiving.com and Mormon.org. She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.