On September 4th we celebrated Labor Day in the US.
Greg Mankiw links to the discussion in the NYT by Tom Lutz on the academic life and work environments. It got me thinking about my own job history and which environments I liked the best. Here is a break down of jobs I've held --- I didn't work until after HS because my Dad made a deal with me that as long as I was playing sports and working on improving in them I didn't have to work in the summer.
Summer 1978 -- pipefitters apprentice --- mainly a running down and delivering supplies to job sites, but also helping out on job sites. Learned how to cut pipe and also hold a ladder, but mainly learned how to fetch things and how much beer guys can drink on a Friday afternoon between work and going home.
Summer 1978 -- counselor at Lehigh Valley Basketball Camp --- this was only for two weeks out of the summer, but I loved coaching basketball and playing in the counselor games at night. The highlight was playing against Mark Slonaker who was then playing at U of Georgia and is now a coach at Mercer University. But there were other very good college players among the counselors so the game were competitive and fun.
Academic Year 1978-1979 -- went to Thiel College to play basketball, broke my ankle twice (once in October and then again in December trying to come back too soon). Part of my deal to play basketball was a job through the college --- started out as an easy job (changing the milk in the cafeteria), then as it was clear I wasn't going to play due to injury it became a hard job (dish washer in the cafeteria) then as I seemed to get better in the spring it became easier again (taking potential athletes on campus tours). I hated my time at Thiel and decided to transfer to Grove City College in the spring of 1979.
Summer 1979 -- since I wanted to make money I didn't take a job that would enable me to work at basketball camps, so instead I took a job digging pools --- lasted one month, worst job I ever had. When I picked up my last pay check the boss paid me in cash, then grabbed the cash out of my hand and said he had to take taxes out. Taught me an important lesson.
Summer 1979 -- line worker in an electorical factory -- my girlfriend's (now wife) neighbor saw how beat up I was digging pools and came to the rescue by getting me a job at the local electorial factory. The factory made small electric transitors that actually were used by NASA. I started on the line, but eventually got moved to the mail room and then personal assistant to the plant manager who liked to talk baseball with me. However, the floor manager Marvin hated me and repeatedly called me "college boy" and gave me ridiculous assignments until the plant manager befriended me.
Fall of Academic Year 1979 -- worked in the cafeteria washing dishes for extra cash.
Summer 1980 -- house painting. I worked with two twins who were heading off to medical school that September (one to Yale and the other to Emory). We had a great summer at the NJ Shore and I started my sports transition from basketball to tennis, as I would play before work and then befriended some local tennis pros who would hit with me after work in the evenings after their lessons were over. This was the first summer that I didn't play pick up basketball most nights for 5 to 6 hours and thus marked the end of the pursuit of a dream to play college basketball and beoynd that started in middle school.
Summer 1981 -- tennis counselor at Harold Mullin's tennis center. Learned how to teach tennis, string racquets and take care of clay tennis courts. Great times, worked with a group of great college tennis players, enjoyed the long hours and the fun after work. Seriously contemplated a career in this line of work for the first time, but also realized the limits to this sort of career.
Summer 1982 -- tennis coach for talented juniors and tennis counselor at summer camp at Allaire Racquet Club. Traveled with and trained two outstanding junior tennis players --- one 12 and one 17. The 17 year old lost in the finals of the NJ State HS championships and then played throughout the East Coast playing in tournaments before heading off to Princeton to play. I also played in 10 tournaments that summer, severl of them professional tournaments in which I played as a amatuer. Biggest win was a 3 set upset over a player from U of Miami that ended past 1:00am only to have to play the number 1 seed the next morning at 8:30am. I lost 0-6, 0-6, though I did have ad points in my first service game and 1 break point against Bob Tanis. The only thing that ease my conscience about the loss was that Tanis lost a week later to McEnroe in a tournament out in the Hamptons by a score of 0 and 0, so I am pretty sure that I would have lost 0 and 0 to John as well!!! My hopes of continuing my tennis career after college as a player were dashed that summer. Those who cannot do, well we go and teach.
Summer 1983-Winter 1984 -- tennis teaching professional at Allaire Racquet Club in NJ. Rosemary and I graduated from GCC in May of 1983, got married the first week of June went on a honeymoon to Disney World, then starting working at the club. Taught close to 70 hours a week between private lessons and youth clinics. Also strung tennis racquets on the side for a pro shot. Rosemary worked at the club as well as the receptionists. We lived less than .5 from the beach in Pt. Pleasant, bought our first car, and had a great time. But as I would take breaks at lunch I read economics books and general libertarian literature and found it difficult to imagine a meaningful life teaching tennis. Applied to law schools and graduate schools and wondered about which path I would take. Spent a lot of time checking my mailbox to see if I heard from schools --- first time in my life I actually paid attention to mail.
1984-1987 -- graduate research assistant at the Center for the Study of Market Processes. Absolutely fantastic time --- beyond my expectations in terms of intellectual excitement.
1988-today -- college professor. Couldn't imagine a better job then and still cannot imagine one now. I love reading, writing and teaching. Don't like committee work nor administration unless I believe it will increase the opportunities in the long run for reading and writing. To my surprise I have found working with graduate students to actually be my greatest joy on the job -- even more so than my own isolated work.
The article in the NYT discusses how academics gives you the freedom to choose your own work hours and pace of work. If you want to succeed in this line of work you cannot blow off work, but it is definitely true that you are in control of your work time and also what you do with that work more than any job I could imagine.
So in my 20+ years of working, still the worst jobs were digging pools, line work, and pipefitting. Though those jobs made it clear to me that I had to do better in school than I was doing at the time if I wanted a career path that avoided those types of jobs. The best jobs teaching economics, teaching tennis and coaching basketball. Though my economics students don't appreciate my stylish warm-up suits and pep talks.
What are your worst and best jobs?