The land of technology and artificial intelligence still uses a high quantity of manual labor. As I was travelling though Japan this summer with a minivan, my family and I were frequently guided to the selected lane by a man (sometimes a woman) because of road construction. Not an automated sign. In the burning sun this person in full uniform was waving a flag to indicate whether we had to stop or continue. During the holiday season Japan also has a lot of road maintenance, so many people were employed to steer us in the right direction.

We had to laugh every time we saw this, pitied the person in the sweaty uniform and I asked my husband why there are so many useless jobs in Japan.

But who am I to pity them? The feature of this month’s Harvard Business Review titled “Happiness Traps: How We Sabotage Ourselves at Work,” states that everyone wants to find meaning and purpose in the job, whether it is the janitor, middle manager or CEO. The higher the job does not necessarily mean the more meaning and purpose. Looking back at the wavers, they all had their own particular pattern of waving the flag, and seemed to have a 100% success rate in guiding the drivers well.

In one of my favorite books, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, the main character Tomas changed his job from a successful surgeon to a window cleaner. And he liked it:

“Here he was, doing things he didn’t care a damn about, and enjoying it. Now he understood what made people (people he always pitied) happy when they took a job without the compulsion of an internal ‘Es muss sein!’ and forgot it the moment they left for home every evening. This was the first time he felt that blissful indifference.”

Tomas did not lose sleep over his work anymore.

As one of the flag waver peers through the front window and sees a western woman in the passenger seat (s)he might think: ‘Poor lady, running from class to class, trying to steer her students in the right direction but already noticing collision, spilling coffee over her favorite dress and then going to class smelling like a coffee machine. Cramming in research on Thursdays and losing sleep to finish her first HHS blog on time.’

Researcher for Change Management, investigating film, education & critical thinking. Implementing it as lecturer for International Business, all at THUAS.

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