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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Wonders of work

 (The Spokesman-Review)

Complaining about work is a national pastime.

Even for those fortunate enough to have good jobs, grumbling about the boss or whining about difficult customers can be second nature.

But with Labor Day approaching, perhaps it’s appropriate to consider an often overlooked reality.

Some of us like our jobs. Well, certain parts anyway.

The main ingredients of job satisfaction are no secret. Pay, recognition, acceptable stress levels, collegial relationships and opportunities for growth all play a role.

But sometimes little things make the difference between simply getting through another day and taking pleasure in being where you are, doing what you’re doing.

Nancy Avery has been teaching school for 20 years. She understands the big picture.

Still, she’s come to treasure certain fleeting moments in her interaction with second-graders. “Watching the kids’ faces when they open up that brand new box of crayons,” she said.

For some of us, taking pride in doing something well is the kick. Even when those efforts involved countless subtle decisions no one else might notice.

Don Strate is a funeral director in Davenport. For him, the great thing about his job is the sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing he has done right by families he has known all his life.

Spokane medical technologist Dawn Goertz works on research and development projects. She likes thinking that an improvement she makes in a blood test might give doctors better information about patients’ conditions.

Larry Schoonover, director of exhibits and programs at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, savors being in a setting where “learning never ends.”

OK, these people aren’t blissed-out Martians. Everyone in the work force experiences ups and downs.

For some of us, career disappointments and day-to-day frustrations seemingly outweigh the rewards. In such cases, an occasional cheery moment or pat on the back might not turn things around.

But for those who essentially enjoy their jobs, an upbeat attitude can open the door to a steady stream of uplifting moments.

Bus driver Guy Perham is no Pollyanna about serving the public. He knows a certain amount of insanity comes with the territory.

But he clings to a philosophy. He believes that something as small as a smile or a gentle greeting can help someone have a better day. So he tries to project positive vibes, in the hope that they’ll spread. “Each person can make a difference,” he said.

Perham’s wife, Diane, shares that outlook. A post office counter clerk, she has a loose-knit fan club among her regular customers.

She likes helping people figure out how to mail things such as car tires or birthday cakes. And she enjoys assisting customers in finding the perfect stamp for special occasions.

Many “favorite things” about people’s jobs don’t require explanation. A Spokane cab driver said she liked not being cooped up in an office full of crabby co-workers.

It doesn’t take much imagination to grasp the appeal of that.

But some of the things people relish about their work experience aren’t immediately understandable to those not toiling in their fields.

Take Jan Weskamp, for example.

She’s an Avista technician focusing on protecting gas lines from corrosion. Much of what she deals with involves assessing underground installations. And a lot of that can’t actually be seen.

“So it really challenges you to figure out the solution,” she said.

Jay Allen tackles puzzles of a different sort.

A parts specialist at a Spokane car dealership, Allen encounters customers who tell him what they want to do. Then it’s his job to figure out exactly what they’ll need to get the job done.

If that sounds simple to you, it’s a good bet you don’t fathom the complexity of modern automobiles.

“You’ve got to fit those pieces together and finish the puzzle for them,” said Allen. “It’s satisfying.”

Vic Wills runs a North Side restaurant. And, well, one thing he enjoys is being the boss.

“I like that, as general manager, I’ve got the freedom to make decisions,” he said.

Fair enough. Others value their contribution to society or delight in their mastery of high-end tools.

Pamela Mull likes winning people over.

A corporate attorney, she regularly encounters managers in her own company who are suspicious of her.

“A lot of people don’t like lawyers,” she said. “They think lawyers are obstacles to getting deals done.”

But after she has had a chance to work with an individual, something magical has been known to happen. That person starts to see that Mull is on his or her side. And the proverbial light bulb switches on.

“People can actually enjoy working with me,” said Mull, laughing.

Librarian Gail Tanner loves fielding reference questions and helping people pinpoint exactly what they need and where they’ll find it.

Because not all of us understand how information is organized, some people ask for A when they really need B. So Tanner gets a kick out of guiding someone to what she calls her “A-HA moment.”

“I really like having that connection with the person,” she said.

Rabbi Jacob Izakson at Spokane’s Temple Beth Shalom experiences many rewards and joys. But when asked to pick a favorite aspect of his work, one came immediately to mind.

“Watching the kids develop into young adults,” he said.

Nurse Georgia Olson feels good about knowing her efforts matter. “I love to make a difference in people’s lives and I get the chance to do that every day,” she said.

Bank teller Tito Gonzalez said the best things about his job are his regular customers and his co-workers.

That must be what’s known as a good attitude.

But no one should have any illusions that complaining about work is apt to be supplanted by rosy assessments. Chances are, that’s not going to happen.

Complaining is part of human nature.

That said, some of us have jobs that at least sound pretty darned happy.

Kari Conner operates an ice cream island at River Park Square. She and her employees scoop up cones and pour milkshakes from a blender.

She didn’t have to struggle to name the thing she likes best about her job.

“I see smiles all day long.”