Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Think twice about a thankless job

By · Friday, April 28th, 2017

Thankless jobs. Have one?

This question came to me today as I was leaving what I’ll generically describe as a lawn mower retail and service store. I was there on a mission to pick up newly sharpened lawn mower blades. They were not ready, so I chose to wait while they were sharpened — about 20 minutes.

During that time, I watched in a bit of fear as what looked to be a hornet — a huge one — flew around the small store, mostly from ceiling light to ceiling light. When I had arrived, the man behind the counter had asked, ducking, “Is that a bee?” after the hornet had buzzed past him.

So while the man was in the back sharpening, I walked to the front door and opened it. The fresh air drew the hornet my way. But it hopelessly kept bumping itself against the adjacent window instead. I closed the door and waited. In time, the hornet dove to the floor by the door. I opened the door, cautiously, and the hornet finally found its freedom.

A short while later, the man emerged with the blades. As he packaged them up, I told him that while I was waiting, I let the hornet out the front door. A couple of customers near the counter chuckled. And then the man said, “A lot of good it will do me. I’m allergic. I would have killed it.” Hmmm, I thought: It’s not good enough that the hornet is NO LONGER IN YOUR STORE TO STING YOU!

But that thought stayed in my head — right there with the long-held notion that a lot of jobs are thankless, especially the role of an editor.

Editors, though, have a built-in tolerance. We don’t expect praise for catches and fixes (that’s our job). We expect to make improvements without inserting errors (that’s our intention). We brace ourselves when we fail. We keep moving when we succeed.

That’s why it was easy to walk out the door of that store with a smile and a thank you for the blades. Our jobs are thankless only when we perceive them that way.

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