Given the extremely cold days that Chicago and Chicagoans have had to endure this winter, I have reluctantly given in to the luxury of taking a cab home after teaching my graduate seminar this quarter. Yesterday, my cab driver was Janice, an older African-American woman. I was pleased to be in my very first car ride with a woman driver. After exchanging pleasantries and admitting to her that this was my first time being driven by a woman, I started asking her about her work.
Because I love what I study and research – careers and meanings of work – every encounter with a “working” individual is a chance to learn more about their constructions of meaningful work and Janice was an engaged interviewee. I asked her why she rode a cab. (I did confess that I am a professor and that I study and teach about work and it’s meanings) She said it was like a business to her because she leases the cab for 24 hours and gets to set her schedule. As we continued to chat, I learned that she had been driving a cab for 9 years and really enjoyed it. Why does she enjoy it? She answered jovially by saying that “people are always coming and going” in her cab and she enjoys meeting so many new people all the time. I also learned that Janice is voluntary cook at a shelter. When I asked her what the meaning of this work was for her, she repeated her ability to have a flexible schedule. Then, she said that she liked that she helped people in her job. “How so?” She believes she helps people because she takes people to their destinations. She said she wasn’t very religious but still felt there was a hand of God in what she did and “it is also very good money!”, she said smilingly.
Before we could chat more, I had arrived home and Janice had indeed helped me get to my destination thereby fulfilling the meaning she saw in her work everyday. She is an amazing conversationalist and throughout our 5-6 minute cab ride, her smile never once left her face. She was very pleasant to chat to and I really wished I had had more time to engage with her.
With regard to meanings of work, Janice appeared to have both, intrinsic as well as extrinsic reasons to find meaningfulness in her work. Her subjective interpretation of meaningful work as helping someone was unexpected for me just because I never saw the role of a cab driver from a purely functional angle. Of course it absolutely makes sense now but to see it internalized and expressed clearly from a cab driver’s perspective was new for me.
I hope to continue interviewing more people “at work” and will update this blog accordingly. To see some of the amazing interviews my students have conducted in the past, go to https://themeaningofworkproject.wordpress.com