The 2019 Assembly Line & Finding Purpose in a World that Does Not Want You To
When I was in eighth grade, my history teacher explained to the class how revolutionary Henry Ford’s assembly line was to the car industry, To demonstrate, she set a timer for 10 minutes and instructed us to “build” (draw) as many cars as we could in the allotted time. We each were instructed to draw a car completed with wheels, steering, windows, the whole nine yards.
The average amount of cars built individually was about 7.
She then assigned us into groups and provided each student with only one car part to “build.” Sharon got wheels, I got windows, Shane got the car body, and Amelia was given steering wheel. (Yes, I made up these names because I did not remember the names of kids in my eighth grade class).
The average after the makeshift assembly line was 15 cars.
“So you see class, the assembly line is the most efficient way to work. In the same amount of time, you all were able to build over double the amount of cars with the assembly line then without it.”
But here’s what we didn’t discuss.
Less satisfaction in a job means doing it less well.
When you are instructed to do one job strictly by the book, it may be done more “efficiently” but does that mean it will always be done better?
We are in the year 2019, and this may the first time you heard the word “assembly line” in a long time.
Scrolling through Twitter, we’ll see all types of relatable tweets, one of them being how we study for an exam and when we get the grade back, we forget everything we learned. Yes it’s funny when we throw in a meme of a guy with a confused faced when he gets back his A+.
But we laugh when we should worry.
The fact most all of us can relate to these posts proves we are not only not learning but we are STUCK in a an education system that is wrongfully outcome based, an education system that is more focused on achieving one specific result than enriching the lives of the students.
And we realize it yes. Many of us can agree standardized tests such as the ACT or SAT only test how well you can master an exam and not your overall intelligence. But even though we realize it, we enable it. We enable it when we take online classes because we know we can get use “Ctrl+F” to find all the answers. We enable it when we increase our productivity by the bare minimum to get the raise we want or when we aim for the lowest grade we need on the final to get that 4.0. It’s all calculated; we work the system in a similar way to achieve the results we all desire.
Assembly line: a series of workers and machines in a factory by which a succession of identical items is progressively assembled.
I don’t think we are far from assembly line mentality, everyone.
But we’ve become the identical product.
Take Youtube for example. Initially the social media platform was used by people as a creative outlet for makeup tutorials, lifestyle posts, comedy skits etc. However, Youtube is not immune to greed and when they began tinkering with algorithms, content creators were forced to follow suit to continue to make money on their platforms. After all, this is their job.
Youtube told them to make longer videos; they did.
Youtube told them to limit their use of profanity; they did.
But Youtube, behind the scenes, demonetized videos “less polished.” Lower “quality” (based on aesthetics) videos became quickly demonetized which ultimately resulted in people who started out on Youtube having to leave the platform because not only was their content underappreciated but they were losing their salary in the making.
It became a risk to be authentic.
And so, people are curating content now not on what they want to make but based on what will keep their salary up.
And it’s all the same material.
I mean how many times do lifestyle vloggers have to have their boyfriends rate their outfits or let the person infront of them order their food?
What was once a creative outlet filled with powerful voices, genuine talent, and informative topics has now become another word for TV.
And too many of the channels are the same.
We live in an age where we constantly see people doing the bare minimum to fit certain criteria and making millions from it distorting our perception of what work is supposed to provide us with. And when we see some 19 year old living in a mansion thanks to hitting all the check marks to make a viral video, it becomes difficult to continue the grind.
When your reason for work is only money, it is near impossible to enjoy your job.
And, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be in love with your career to find meaning and happiness.
In Barry Schwartz book, “Why We Work,” he provides an example of a janitor working at a hospital to make his case that deep down we all work for something much more meaningful than dollar bills.
And in times where girls and guys are selling their souls, creative minds, and talent to make a buck, I think this story is pertinent.
Luke was a janitor at a teaching hospital when he heard the complaint of a patient from across the hall.
“My son’s room still hasn’t been cleaned!”
Luke remembered finishing cleaning the sick kid’s room but rather than confront the father or mention this issue to management, he simply cleaned the room again.
Why? Why did Luke purposefully make his job more difficult than needed by cleaning the room for a second time? He wouldn’t receive more pay, more praise, or more authority in his work. So what could be the reason for him working harder for no gain?
Luke was finding purpose in custodial work, taking advantage of the important setting, a hospital, and utilizing his skills to make patients feel more at ease during tough times.
Everyone, in every occupation, has something to offer that is above their task at hand. And that is when you find purpose, the ultimate satisfaction in work.
When you WANT to do more to enrich the experience of someone else or yourself, you made it.
And it’s not easy to find this purpose because it is easier to get that A taking online classes or do the bare minimum at work because your pay is the same no matter what.
It does seem logical to do the least.
But we find purpose in doing the most.
I work in a company where there is a security guard at the front. Before I got my official badge, I had to wait for the guard to print a daily badge for me to enter the building and someone from inside had to escort me to my office. Most times people would sit and ignore him and tried to make small talk with the project managers or the contractors. Well, I was new and I didn’t really know the social norms. And I was a bit annoyed that ignoring the security guard was the status quo. I constantly made small talk to keep him engaged as he had to repeat the mundane task of printing me a daily badge.
One morning, I decided to tell him the painful story of how I broke my wireless headphones by slamming them shut on the car door, breaking off the earpiece. This resulted in him sharing where he bought the best 10 dollar wireless headphone (in a gas station across the road, who would have thought). After printing my daily badge, he offered to escort me into the building so I didn’t have to wait for my boss.
This was unheard of. My coworkers were puzzled as I entered the building without having to wait the usual 10-15 minutes.
It’s a small gesture but it spoke volumes to me. The security guard did not have to do this for me. it didn’t affect his pay or his job title. In fact, he went against his job duties which required him to stay at the desk in order to do something outside of his daily tasks. Why?
As seemingly simple as talking to the security guard seemed, it created an environment where he felt comfortable doing more and he decided in that moment escorting an employee to their office would be a better use of his time in SPITE of his tasks, in SPITE of his position.
We are working in a world that is doing everything in its power to keep us the same. Teachers know you want that A. Managers know you are out for that promotion. Youtube knows you want a large following.
Ironically, the one thing we all have that keeps us unique is a desire to BE more.
We are fighting against a mentality that has lived on for generations, a society that thinks the best way to flourish is to make tasks easy and standardized, keeping us disengaged but satisfied with salary.
Let’s prove it wrong.