Heath and Alyssa Padgett are my new heroes. They worked 50 jobs in 50 different states in America, travelling the country for a year while they filmed a documentary called Hourly America about how ordinary Americans find meaning in their work. The documentary is scheduled for release in 2016, but you don’t have to wait until then to find out some of the life lessons the Padgetts learned on their adventure.
The Padgetts were sponsored by Snagajob, a company that finds casual work for people who need it, known as “hourly” work because it is paid by the hour. So Snagajob provided the video recording equipment and found 25 of the jobs, and the Padgetts found the other 25.
The Padgetts transformed their 1994 Coachman RV, got married, and embarked on a 50-state, 50-job honeymoon. Instead of wedding gifts, they asked their family and friends to donate to their GoFundMe crowd-funding site to be able to afford the old RV. The old RV then ate all of the donated money within the first month on the road.
You can check out some of the videos from the trip on Heath’s YouTube channel. You can also read about their trip on Heath’s blog or Alyssa’s blog. (Alyssa’s eBooks include The Ultimate Adventure, and her posts such as ‘What fighting in marriage actually looks like’ are seriously fascinating and helpful.)
But back to the lessons learned…
Lessons learned along the way: Life, work, and meaning
Life: You can never be 100% prepared
Heath concluded that the biggest lesson he learned from the trip was that you will never be fully prepared for anything in life. You can prepare financially, physically, and mentally to an extent, but you never know what a new job, or a new place, will be like until you get there.
The night after their wedding, Heath wrote in his journal, “I mean we did pre-marital counseling, we read books, studied the Bible, prayed for each other, but at the end of the day there’s no place you can be mentally that says– I’m ready. It’s always going to be a huge leap of faith.”
Work: Persevere through every hardship
Heath says he dreamed up the project as a way to raise awareness about the hourly or casual jobs that keep ordinary people working, but he had a more important motivation to keep going when things started to get tough living on the road. All his life he had been an “ideas man”, but never finished a single one of the great projects he envisioned and talked about.
Today he can say he is more than an ideas man, because they persevered and succeeded.
“I remembered my reason why [we were doing it] when, three hours into our trip, our Honda CR-V was falling off our tow dolly and we had to leave our car in west Texas.
And ten days in when our RV completely broke down in Williams, AZ and we had to replace an expensive piece.
Or a month in along the Pacific Coast Highway when our engine started overheating.
And in South Dakota when our RV was struck by lighting and fried our house battery.
And while parking at a friend’s house in St. Louis, when our refrigerator coils blew up and we went for a month without a working fridge.” (Heath Padgett)
Meaning: Any job can be meaningful
As PayScale salary checker database pointed out, studies show that younger generations look for “the dream job”, a job that is meaningful to them, and exciting for them, and gives them a bit of flexibility in schedule. But the Padgetts found that any job can be meaningful if you come at it with a “people-first” mentality.
Many employees enjoy working at fast food chains like McDonald’s, or Arby’s if you’re in Atlanta. And it’s not always the case that they’re working on minimum wage, thankfully.
After finishing the 50th job, Heath said he would have been happy doing any of them, even though he never would have put any of these jobs in his shortlist of jobs when he graduated from college.
One of the best parts of the project is reading or hearing Heath talk about the many jobs where the boss started a business with a mission. They wanted to make the world better for a small group of people or a single community, and their employees took that mission and continue to run with it today. At Project Dojo, Heath learned how encouraging a child while supervising as they practise their kicks can literally change the course of their life, from a gang member to a high school graduate.
Life: Fake it till you make it
Heath found that if you “fake it” for a while – like he did when it came to heaps of the 50 jobs, and filming the documentary itself – you eventually come to a point where you are actually competent!
Working in Florence for a day as a cameraman, he realised, “I realized just how much I’d learned in the past six months about film and I suddenly saw my dream of filming a documentary coming to fruition. I wasn’t pretending anymore. Somewhere along the way, I became a documentary filmmaker.”
It’s probably important to note that this did not work when working at Project Dojo, as Heath prepared to get beat up by an 8-year-old girl.
Work: Speed date a career before you commit to it
Heath said that trying out different careers – through things like work experience and even apprenticeships – can save you a lot of time and money. This way, you don’t commit until you know you might like it. You save the years and thousands of dollars in student loans (HELP or HECS debts in Australia) on studying an expensive degree for a job you actually wouldn’t enjoy.
Meaning: Find happiness in the midst of chaos
Heath wrote that they found happiness in the midst of the constant chaos of moving from state to state and job to job. They allowed themselves to enjoy occasional travel adventures instead of just working every day. They also maintained a form of daily routine even when every day was different, by eating breakfast together and going to bed together at the same time each day.
What you can do
No matter what you choose to do, whether it’s an hourly job in hospitality or manual labour, or an office cubicle job, or something else entirely, you can find meaning in your job.
But for those of us who aren’t being sponsored to make a documentary while travelling the country, let me make just one small reality check. What if you got sick, and you had already used all your sick leave?
This is where income protection insurance comes in handy. It allows you to pay a small amount every month as a guarantee that if something goes wrong with your health, the insurance provider will pay you a large percentage of your regular wage until you are back on your feet (as always, conditions apply).
Use our Income Protection Insurance Calculator to estimate how much an insurer might cover you for per month if you had to make a claim.