Idea/Concept: "The stories of our jobs become the stories of our lives," writes Suzanne Skees in her introduction to this second volume in her "My Job" series. Skees's project surveys the on-the-ground truth of what work is like right now, around the world, as the dynamics of labor are upended by automation and contract work. Skees demonstrates her acumen as a curator and editor -- gathering a diverse roster of workers to tell their stories -- and as a listener. She invites her subjects to discuss their careers, their hopes, their disappointments, and the changes they've seen at length, all with disarming frankness. Her subjects include a nursing student in Honduras; an environmental activist in American coal country; a banana farmer in Uganda; a college admissions counselor in Rwanda; and a "fringe diplomat" in Tel Aviv. Few books dig so deeply into life as it's actually lived, with such unsparing intimacy.
Prose: Skees's own prose is sharp, clear, and purposeful, but outside of introductions and some notes, most of the book come straight from the mouths of her subjects through first person monologue. Skees breaks the chapters up into short labeled sections. This is helpful for skimmers, but the shortness of the individual sections gives the chapters a stop-and-start feeling, impeding narrative momentum.
Originality: This isn't the first book to survey workers in their own words about work, nor even the first one by Skees to do so, but the author has selected a fresh, fascinating cross section of people to reveal truths about the world and this current moment.
Execution: The book offers insights, wisdom, challenges to orthodox thinking, and some arresting first-person storytelling. It's both eye-opening and a pleasure to learn about the day-to-day work of a Zambian "mobile-money agent" and to discover how that work is vital to a population outside of the banking system. That said, the narrators' individual voices sound somewhat similar to each other, and the speakers too rarely offer up surprising or engaging anecdotes. The emphasis here is strongly on the work itself, and the sociopolitical context that created the opportunity for such work. There's great value in capturing that, but the book might prove more enticing for general audiences with a greater emphasis on voice and storytelling.
Date Submitted: January 04, 2020
“At a time of deep economic transition, MY JOB offers a tapestry of rich storytelling, inspiring you to discover your own authentic hustle. MY JOB is a brilliant peephole into the makeshift destiny that so often accompanies every day work and employment.
From a Maasai warrior in the grasslands to a Kentucky horse coach to a lingerie entrepreneur in Palestine, Skees takes us on a fascinating journey into the heartland of work.
Lifting the veil on the ‘workforce,’ MY JOB explores themes of meaning, craft, grit, hustle, and exposes the often invisible humanity at the core of our economy.”
“This is not as much of a book about jobs as it is a book about lives, of which the interview subjects’ past and present jobs are a part. Editor Suzanne Skees has interviewed individuals and pairs around the globe to share their lifetime challenges and successes, as they view them from their unique perspectives.
Each individual’s distinct voice comes through as we learn details about others’ lives that we would rarely otherwise be privileged to know.
We follow along as each interview subject takes us through the path their life has traced, as it is shaped by circumstance, interests, culture, politics, choices, relationships, and, yes, jobs.
The individual stories profiled here can help call attention to cultural differences around what is perceived as a good or a worthy job, and highlight the diversity of ways in which lives and careers are (and have been in the past) conducted around the world. The stories illustrate that there is not just one way to have a ‘good’ job or a ‘good’ life, but also that poverty, hunger, traumatic experiences and loss of freedom (as it comes up in varied ways through the interviews) can make any life a daily struggle.
The interviews also address the question of women’s changing place in the work world, in families, and in communities, among other major topics. Perhaps through reading this book in groups, and initiating discussions about reader perceptions of the individual lives highlighted, readers can buildgreater understanding of how they want to create their own work in the world, gain appreciation for the power of their complete life story and how it has affected their career, and develop increased awareness of the interconnected and yet individually unique world population.”
“Sometimes you wonder about the work lives of people in your country, or work lives across the planet. As someone who’s committed to finding ways for people doing good work to connect, MY JOB is a must-read. It brings to life actual work experiences across the world, showing that we have a lot in common. MY JOB illustrates that we’re not alone.”
“Across vast differences in experience, environment, and circumstances of birth, what remains most distinctly and abidingly human is the questing spirit. The stories in MY JOB reveal this spirit through the common, quotidian aspirations to create, thrive and leave something better behind — and the myriad hardships and joys that are inherent in this struggle.”
My Job: More People at Work Around the World is the second book in a series by Suzanne Skees that explores the human aspect of what we do. In this book, the author asks a very important question and allows workers from all walks of life and around the globe to share their experiences, underlining how what we do affects us and how our job can become an extension of our personality or how it allows us to redefine who we are. The book also shows how work can become an expression of our humanity, allowing us to connect deeply with others and with ourselves.
As you read this book, you begin to see clearly the relationship between “doing” and “being” and how work shapes us and instills in us a sense of meaning and purpose, a direction in life. Suzanne Skees remarks: “Even if your work is grossly underpaid or underappreciated, cobbled together with a combination of gigs, or completely overlooked by society (e.g. caring for family members), your job may be what compels you to get out of bed every morning. For better and for worse, your job may provide you with purpose and connection.”
While the book features stories from different workers and professionals, from tourism to health workers to diplomats, it also explores the fact that our deepest satisfaction in what we do might not result from the financial benefits we get but rather from the perspective it brings to our life. My Job: More People at Work Around the World is filled with interesting stories that are eye-opening: it is well researched, gripping, and entertaining.
A collection of intimate interviews with people regarding the personal, familial, cultural, and geographic factors in their working lives.
Inspired by Studs Terkel’s Working (1974), which profiled ordinary American workers, editor Skees (God Among the Shakers, 1998) takes the concept global. Six of her 16 subjects live in the United States, including a slack-key guitarist in Honolulu, an architect in Cincinnati, and a recruiter/headhunter in Tampa, Florida. The rest are on other continents, including a coffee farmer in Nicaragua, a Masai warrior in Tanzania, a married couple running an eco-friendly factory in India, a rickshaw puller in Bangladesh, and a private equity manager in Hong Kong. Skees organizes the material into five sections (“Entrepreneurship,” “Industry and Transportation,” “Farming, Food, and Animals,” “Finance and Technology,” and “Music & Arts”), but each first-person account stands on its own, and they can be read in any order. A map, photograph, and editor’s note introduce each, and footnotes supplement the text. Skees nimbly maintains a consistent narrative flow, with none of the readability problems that are common in transcriptions. Whereas Terkel packed a great many workers into his book, Skees gives her subjects more space to muse, digress, and occasionally contradict themselves. The results are highly personal, often poignant, sometimes gritty, and routinely granular—perhaps more than some readers may expect, or even desire. The editor sets out to demonstrate that “our job = our self.” But such detailed portraits also reveal that formula’s commutative property—how personal preferences, chance, circumstances, and location shape each person’s job choice and performance. Skees is a nonprofit international development specialist, and doing work that contributes to the greater good emerges as a strong theme. As a result, this is a small, and perhaps skewed, sample of the world’s workforce (although a second volume is forthcoming), but it will inspire readers by showcasing workers across diverse industries, income levels, countries, and cultures expressing how they find meaning in their work beyond earning money.
A vocational and sociological travelogue that readers will find to be time well spent.