The Best Job in the World

“What the worst job you’ve had” sings Stevie Jackson on Belle and Sebastian’s Chickfactor. Now I appreciate that in this world many people find themselves with no choice but to accept work in awful conditions, but in the rosy context of a teenager growing up in the suburbs of London I’ve had some questionable jobs. I was happy to have them but if you ever wondered how shops that sell ice cubes in bags get those cubes into the bags, well it’s not as automated as you might think.

However the job that I really loved during that period was at large super market. My job was to make sure that all the shopping trolleys moved from the trolley drop offs dotted around the car park, back to the front of the shop, so that new customers had a trolley to hand.

On the face of it, this job was just like any other that I had had, it had little variety, was physically tiring and was hardly something I could use to  impress girls, and remember these were girls who were impressed by people who tore tickets at the cinema.

So why did I like it so much?

I think the best way to answer that is to draw upon Daniel Pink’s book Drive. He proposes that the three tenants of intrinsic motivation are:-

  • Autonomy
  • Purpose
  • Mastery
Let’s examine each in turn


No one cares about the trolley guy, unless there is a lack of trolleys, so you can pretty much do what you want. Iterating over a strategy as you please. It was sunny, I had my walkman on and had no one to answer to for the entire shift.


Pushing 10-15 trollies in a chain is rarely a good idea, especially in with so many cars close by. But if that’s all you do, you get pretty good at it. You learn to control the leading trolley by gently arcing the chain and you learn how to judge the delay from starting a turn to the leading trolley responding.
At a more strategic level, you can greatly reduce you workload once you understand that some parts of the car park will be busier at certain times. In the mornings every one scrambles for the spaces closest to the entrance, in the afternoons people have areas that they always return to.


It’s hardly saving the world, but it’s a job that had a clear benefit to shoppers. If you made sure people had trolleys, they had something to put their food in. Shopping for food in such a place is pretty hellish, it would be even worse without a basic necessity like a trolley.

So the question is, if it’s such a great job, why don’t I do now? Why isn’t this just a sentimental piece about a job that was actually pretty rubbish when it rained?

Well the thing is, as a sixteen year old, it satisfied my expectations. I could have earned more elsewhere but I felt reasonably well paid (for my age), and in terms of professional development, I really didn’t care, it wasn’t a long term career choice.

If I took the job now both of those points would cause problems, I have a mortgage to pay, and I expect my job to stretch and teach me things.

So the perfect job matches, at the very least, general expectations but also satisfies the individual’s need for autonomy, mastery and purpose.

2 thoughts on “The Best Job in the World

  1. neilj, very enjoyable post! Weaving the large super market job experience into the three tenants of Autonomy,Purpose and Mastery really brought out your points. I find myself starting a new job in a new company managing a new team in a different industry and I have had my levels of autonomy and mastery bumped down a few notches. I’m working on getting more familiar with the industry and learning the decision latitude I can have which should boost my overall job satisfaction.


  2. @jfbauer
    It’s strange how, even in an existing job, small changes to any of those three make a huge difference. Your situation is different in that practically everything has changed. I hope you have a chance to blog about it once you get a bit more settled.


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