What do you DO, anyhow?


Today I was walking through Central after, let’s see… an 8:30 yoga class, a 10:30 facial, a failed appointment with Island Revenue, a mildly less dissatisfying visit to pick up some artwork, and then an attempt to get some lunch before heading to the office. Before you judge, bear in mind that this is my morning off, and as a result I had the luxury of meandering.

You see things really differently when you meander.

There were so many people out – it being lunchtime and all – and while I was looking at them all pass by in their various stages of abstract busy-ness, I wondered what the hell they all do anyhow. I don’t mean “what do they do” in the Odd Todd way, like:

“You know I used to wonder about these poeple, who’d be, like, hanging out, like on a Tuesday afternoon, lookin’ like they got nothin’ to do and nowhere to go and being, like, what’s the deal?”

Because, they clearly have somewhere to go, or at least they have mastered the appearance of having somewhere to go… but I mean what do they DO?

I watched a bunch of suit-and-tie guys head into the Cheung Kong  Center – home of Goldman Sachs – and wondered what they would be doing once they got where they were going after their business lunch at some nearby eatery. It made me think of that part in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts is asking Richard Gere what he does. Like, does he build anything? Does he make anything? Yeah. No.

I am certainly not suggesting that these people do not do anything. I just cannot work out what it is.

And it is a more and more relevant question these days. I spend a good amount of time in Human Geography courses talking about the global (re)distribution of industry and how there are primary, secondary, tertiary, quarternary, and now in the minds of many, quinary, industries. And how the actual work and actual salary are indirectly proportional. The more education training you have, the less work you do and the more money you make. [Unless you teach, and then that is another story all together.] In some ways I understand that relationship. I mean after all, I teach, so really, it is not like I am producing or making anything in the vein of the secondary economic sector. And as has been duly noted, I am an advocate for education and its acknowledgment. But… I am not sure I am satisfied by that as a conclusive sentiment.

Okay, so the primary sector includes all those fabulous extraction industries and agriculture and basically hard labor for shitty wages. I do not want to work in that sector (nor do any of the people in the other sectors who keep saying that people [immigrants] who work in primary industries are taking all”the jobs” – but that is sort of a different issue.)

The secondary sector creates a finished product. Damn. Now that sounds satisfying. You make stuff – manufacturing, construction, textiles, food… Hmm.. it sounded better a minute ago. And it is still for pretty menial pay relative to the workload, but you probably get some benefits… if your job is still located in the country where you live.

Then there is the ubiquitous tertiary sector. Lots of people say teachers go here… The “service” sector. Hm. Well, fair enough, I guess. Basically, this sector used to include anything that was not in the first two. You were providing what the first two sectors made to other people. But then people got uppity.

So, the quarternary sector, which,  according to Wiki: “principally concerns the intellectual services: information generation, information sharing, consultation, education and research and development. It is sometimes incorporated into the tertiary sector but some argue that intellectual services are distinct enough to warrant a separate sector.” Alright, so I admit it, I feel more suited to this sector. If for no other reason than it says “intellectual services.” Now that is something I think I could ruminate over for quite some time.

And then, because you can always do yourself one better Horatio Alger, there is the quinary sector. Roughly (and arguably) defined to include the highest levels of decision making in an economy. The top executives and the officials of the fields like government, universities, companies, firms, organizations, health care, media, nonprofit and the culture form this sector.

Alright, fine. So, WTF is that really saying?

I was explaining to my yoga teacher today that I could not attend an event we had been discussing because I had to work. He had a puzzled look and I reminded him that I work until 9 p.m. every night. He knows I teach, so he was still puzzled. I explained that I work in the private sector of a traditionally public sector industry and that I have been teaching about 45 hours a week for the past month. He said, “You mean like how I teach a class and then another class?” And I said, “Yeah, only with less stretching and no time between lessons.”

And then he said, “Why?”

I said I didn’t really know why, I guessed it was just what I did. And he suggested that I should probably think about why I do it.

So I did.

I teach because I like to teach – truly. And the reason I work so much here? Well, I suppose it just sort of happened, and probably for a while I was doing it to see if I could actually manage it, and then I think I was probably doing it because it made me feel important or needed or something. I actually do derive quite a bit of satisfaction from my work. And I have always liked to work hard (provided there was a light at the end of the tunnel  – read: VACATION.) But I wonder if maybe I work so hard to compensate for the fact that I don’t actually “make” anything. I mean, everyone has heard the old adage: “Those who can’t do, teach.” I prefer this twist (he is on about scientists and pseudoscientists and it is a good read, though a little off my subject in its entirety):

Popular wisdom has it that “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach,” implying that people with real practical skills are out doing constructive things, while those who can’t cut it in the “real world” find a less demanding refuge in teaching… the truth is more nearly the exact opposite: Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, do.

Neither one of the platitudes are really accurate or helpful. Would I feel better if I was “making” something? Or am I making something? Is it strange to work so hard at something that is so intangible? Is it as worthy? Am I like those CEOs we keep reading about, just somehow less successful?

Everybody’s got a little of that Horatio Alger thing going on in them [please note I did not say ‘everyone has a little of the Ragged Dick in them’… or at least I didn’t initially, heheh.] I know everybody wants to get as much as they can while expending as little as they must, be it in sport, life, school, work, economics… whatever. I am only saying that the assumption that this is a good thing might want to be more closely examined. Especially in light of these trying financial times, and when you see economic imbalance like this:


And I guess in some ways I am like those suit-and-tie guys slogging into the Cheung Kong Center; taking ourselves oh so seriously and avoiding the primary and secondary sectors like the plague. There is no definitive way to know if we would all be inherently more satisfied and balanced and happy if we were actually producing something – making something besides money. Lots of philosophers have thought so. For now, I am just going to keep trying to arrive at wholly satisfying answers to these two questions:

What do I actually do?

Why really do I do it?

It seems like if I could answer those questions with clarity of concept and conscience I’d be in pretty good shape.


About Amanda

I am repatriating expatriate trying to work it all out. Well, to work some of it out anyhow. I am writing here for sanity, focus and general over-sharing.
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