What you do matters


For about 40 years, I have been fascinated by what people do for a living. It all started when I asked a man at the church I then served, “What do you do?”

Rather than answer me, he invited me to visit his business of which he was the CEO. He said, “You probably touch our product up to a hundred times a day.”

Curious, I made an appointment and, when I walked into the lobby of the business, there was a pyramid that reached to the high ceiling and looked like it contained every product in a supermarket and then some.

He came out, smiled, and said, “See anything you recognize?’ I said, “You make all this stuff?”

He said, “No, we make the glue that holds the labels on the cans and jars and that holds all the boxes together.”

Such a thing had never occurred to me. And he was right. I don’t know about touching his product a hundred times a day, but I certainly touched dozens day after day.

Most people think they have an idea of what other people do and I have come to believe that those people have not, but the foggiest idea, of what people do.

My dad was an electrician from the time I was in the third grade. More specifically, he was an industrial electrician in the Tennessee Eastman Company, a chemical plant that employed 15,000 people. When I thought of what he did, if I ever actually thought about it, I thought maybe he had something to do with keeping the lights burning.

It wasn’t until my high school graduation, and I was 18, that I went to work for King Electric Company as an electrician’s helper. King Electric was a sub-contractor that worked inside Eastman.

It didn’t take long for me to learn that I was terribly uneducated about my father’s job. By the time the summer was over, I had a new and profound appreciation for my dad and what he did for a living. A “light bulb changer” he was not.

I have learned that when someone tells someone else what they do, the person being told the job title has in their mind either a wrong or incomplete idea of what that job entails. And that is understandable.

Unless we have personal knowledge and firsthand experiences ourselves, how could we possibly know what all is involved? People who do their job well make that job look easy. But they likely have some amount, perhaps a great deal, of training and years of experience.

I remember back several years ago when a man came into my office at the church I served, looked at my library, my desk, the comfortable surroundings, and said, “I wish I had your job.”

I said, “God, I wish you did too.”

After all, it looks easy, if done well. But there are reasons why 80% or more of pastors never make it to retirement as a pastor. The majority never make it to five years on the job.

And no one knows the stresses that come with some professions. Did you know that the top ten jobs that have the highest suicide rates are, in order: medical doctors, dentists, police officers, veterinarians, financial services, real estate agents, electricians, lawyers, farmers, and pharmacists? (Source: choicespsychotherapy.net.)

All I am saying is that we often think we know about people and what they do but we likely do not. Neither do we know what they are dealing with because of what they do for a living.

Still, I find it all remarkably interesting. In my first church, way back in 1974, I asked a couple of brothers what they did for a living. “We move houses,” they said. I didn’t know what that really meant so, with their permission, I showed up one day and spent the better part of that day watching what it was they did. It really was amazing.

I think most people are amazing at what they do. After all, it takes a great many people doing something productive to make society work. So, if I ever meet you and ask what you do, yes, I’m being nosy. Although, I prefer to be thought of as being curious.

Because the chances are that I will be fascinated at what you think is normal and even routine. What you do matters.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]