How do people that work in really boring and stable industries stay motivated?

I work in IT so it is fairly easy to change industries because much of the core technology was the same. I have never worked at some place really cool like Google or NASA but I have worked in the supermarket industry, sound technology (Bose), fashion (clothing retailing and shoe design), outsourced benefits administration and now medical device manufacturing. Out of all of those the only one that I would call mostly boring was the benefits administration but there was still a ton to know and it changed completely every year with a new set of plans for lots of mega-corps. Some of the others may sound boring but mostly weren’t. The supermarket headquarters I worked for at the time doubled in size in the three years I was there and was always introducing the current mega-store concepts that started in the late 90’s. Bose was always on the cutting edge of sound research and clothing changes regularly by design. Medical device manufacturing is really high tech and my favorite of them of all.

However, there has to be a ton of people out there that work on things that hardly ever change in significant ways. Everyone needs cardboard boxes for example. There has to be a number of wholesale box salespeople out there as well as people that work mainly with toilet seats and every other mundane product that keeps the modern world turning. I am sure some of them make good money doing it but I wonder how you motivate yourself to sell or make yet another huge load of boxes or toilet lids. Does anyone know someone that works in an industry like that as a long-term profession? What are they like and why do they do it?

I suppose the reason people work at those jobs is because they lend themselves to not being particularly motivated.

Don’t underestimate the draw of “boring and stable”. I remember working with you at the retail shoe company. Compared to the places I worked before (a rapidly growing tech consultancy in Cambridge) and after (two Big-4 management consulting/accounting firms, a Silicon Valley startup and a couple of boutique consultancies) that was relatively boring and stable. It was also a perfect job for going to business school at night and actually having a life. While those other jobs were fast-paced and challenging, they were also very demanding, required extensive travel and long nights at the office. There is also a lot more politics and drama when every single one of your colleagues is just as smart, educated and ambitious as you.

Back in the days when the U.S. led the world in manufacturing, I knew a lot of assembly line workers. The motivation was a steady job with a decent paycheck and enough time off that they could take vacation/indulge their hobby.

A lot of these people didn’t have a college education (a good number of them hadn’t even finished high school) and even those who did didn’t want the higher pressure and risk that came with less “boring” jobs.

Same thing with sales. If you’re a salespeople in a boring, stable industry, you’ll have a stable list of clients providing a stable (and pretty good) income. You might have to go out of town every once in awhile, but the rest of the time you can get out of the office by 5:00 and relax on weekends.

I recently had a routine mammogram. In an effort to make small talk, I asked the technician a couple of questions about her job. She told me that she does mammograms almost exclusively and has been doing so for 41 years. I can’t wrap my mind around that. I work in research largely because I like to learn new things.

In my youth, I could not understand why some of the older workers had photos of spouse and/or children on their desks (and facing themselves, not a visitor).

I finally concluded that it was a way of getting through the bullshit - just a quick glance at “why I put up with this job” - it serves as motive.

Repeating some points a bit, but…

  • Some people have high internal motivation and don’t need additional job excitement to do a good job at work.

  • Some have very low internal motivation, and a high-excitement job provides no benefit over low-excitement jobs, but possibly lots of downsides (long hours, etc.)

  • Some value stability over other factors. This tends to be correlated with low-excitement jobs.

  • Some like to become very good at a particular thing. They would rather be the best box designer in America than to jump between other jobs every few years.

  • Some might actually find things exciting that you find boring. The accountants I’ve met seem to really like their job. I’d find poring over numbers interminably dull, but on the other hand I generally enjoy debugging programs, which isn’t so far removed from finding discrepancies in a list of numbers. To each their own.

  • Some find that the dullness makes it easier to get through a day. If all you care about is putting in your 8 hours before coming home to your family, dull may make it easier.

All in all, lots of people just don’t identify with their jobs in any significant way. I personally want my job to be interesting enough that I feel somewhat devoted to it, and to some extent personally identify with it… but not everyone feels the same way. To them, it’s just a job.

In her case, I could see it would interesting to see the improvements made in the technology over the years.

I work at a relatively stable low-key job because I am risk-averse and hate to leave because I have a great boss and I like my co-workers. From the outside it seems boring but there are always projects and changes going on that make it interesting.