I’m not paid to think. I’m paid to work. It’s always been like this. Aside from a stint of strength and conditioning coaching—where it was my job to assess a person’s needs and wants, evaluate their current status and then co-ordinate a bridge between the two—and my current editorial work, I’ve never been compensated for my ability to have ideas and make decisions.
My first job, working on a Saturday morning market stall as a fifteen year old, was about work. Setting up the stand, selling wares, replenishing stock, closing down. My summer job on an orchard was about work. Digging, planting, chopping, hauling dirt. My waiting jobs in college were about work—preparing the restaurant, welcoming guests, getting them the drinks they wanted, ordering and delivering the food they chose, cleaning up after them. The summers I spent working on response teams at festivals permitted more room for thought—how are we going to deal with this drunk and abusive group of six young males?—but it was still about work. There were specific and non-negotiable codes of conduct that covered the most common scenarios we were likely to encounter—welfare cases, distressed individuals or groups, minor and major criminal activity, crowd control, safety precautions.
Now, I work in a factory where I am most definitely not paid to think. There are standard operating procedures for the most minute of operations. Deviations from these SOPs are prohibited, let alone encouraged. Improvements to processes must be suggested to, evaluated by and implemented according to the higher ups.
Previously, I had thought of this as a negative. I want to be paid to think, to imagine, to choose, to speculate, to do the verbs associated with abstract thought. I still do, but now I see being paid to work as an opportunity to think. If I’m paid to work, then the employer is doing their utmost to remove thinking from the employee’s responsibility. This presents the employee with unallocated bandwidth. If I don’t really have to think about the task I’m performing I can think about other things. I can turn over character, world or story development issues for a novel. I can consider bottlenecks in my editorial work or consider possibilities for editorial clients. I can formulate answers to provocative questions. practice mindfulness or think about my relationships.
Not being paid to think isn’t ideal, but it does have its advantages.