“Highly personal, gritty, often poignant portraits from the world’s workforce across diverse industries, income levels, countries, and cultures . . . explore how we find meaning in work beyond earning money.”
“A useful tool for helping college students think about vocation and how to approach work with a sense of meaning and purpose.”
— Mark Elsdon, U. of Wisconsin-Madison
“This wonderful book tells a story of how the human family finds agency and purpose through work. What’s most remarkable, given how different the stories are, is the human theme of the human spirit expressing itself through work.”
— Ben Powell, Agora Partnerships
“A must-read. Brings to life actual work experiences across the world, showing that we have a lot in common; illustrates that we’re not alone.”
— Craig Newmark, Craig’s List
“The distinct voice of each narrator held me spellbound. Pain and trauma mark a good many of the stories, but resilience predominates.”
— Peg Conway, Embodying the Sacred
“These stories reveal the human spirit through our common aspirations to create, thrive and leave something better behind.”
—David Bornstein, New York Times
“Skees has done a great job unearthing touching personal stories, meaningful insights and inspirations, and diverse perspectives on the world we all share.”
— Darian Rodriguez Heyman, Nonprofit Management 101
“Very well researched. In what seems to be an increasingly ‘us and them’ world, MY JOB helped me feel a connection with each of the diverse set of interviewees.”
— Vivek Ullal Nayak, TerraClear Inc.
“There’s a mythic quality in these stories; they cross national borders and income brackets to explore how people make a living and make a life through their work.”
— Paul VanDeCarr, Working Narratives
“No matter your station in life, you’ll find a piece of yourself in these stories. MY JOB bridges the divide of geo-political barriers and reveals the universal human desire to make the world better.”
— Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy
“A true gift to people everywhere who work hard to make our world a better place.”
— Cristi Hegranes, Global Press Journal
“Satisfies the voyeur in me, who is always wondering what it would be like to live in someone else’s shoes. Perfect for book clubs and people trying to figure out their careers.”
— Eden Rock, Placer Land Trust
“Despite our diverse cultures and life experiences, we meet on common ground in the pages of this book, as human beings striving daily to make the world a little better place.”
— Sheri Sobrato Brisson, Philanthropist/Author
“A tapestry of rich storytelling, providing a brilliant peephole into the makeshift destiny of everyday work. Explores themes of meaning, craft, grit, hustle, and exposes the often invisible humanity at the core of our economy.”
— Alexa Clay, The Misfit Economy
“This is not as much of a book about jobs as it is a book about lives, and women’s changing place in the work-world. Readers can build greater understanding of how they want to create their own work in the world.”
—Amanda C. Peters, Harvard University, MIT
“Wide-ranging collection of first-person narratives provides a wonderful look into myriad jobs around the world. Readers will see vividly how work, culture, and personal circumstances intertwine in these true stories. Truly a great project.”
— Peter Alter, Chicago History Museum
“A vocational and sociological travelogue that readers will find to be time well spent.”
“These stories show the amazing diversity of ways people show up to get work done in the world–the basic dignity of putting in time and effort to achieve something you care about, and how there is little correlation between income and contribution to improving society.”
— Ben Powell, Agora Partnerships
“The books made me look at jobs—including my own job—not in the traditional sense as work but rather as a tool for social change. MY JOB reveals the inner philanthropists we all embody, through stories of individuals giving so much more than money and making tangible impact in their communities.”
— Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy
“From the coffee farmer in Nicaragua who turned her heartbreak into empowerment of herself and other women, to the hip-hop artist in Chicago, who transcended gang and gun violence to mentor other young men in music . . . With what brief time we have on this planet, that’s the best we can do, and it is a lot.”
— Sheri Sobrato Brisson, Philanthropist/Author
“MY JOB is a book series about dignity. Whether a rickshaw driver or a technology entrepreneur, Suzanne draws out their intimate stories of success and survival to highlight the humanity we all find in work, especially work that we love.”
— Cristi Hegranes, Global Press Institute
“Each individual’s distinct voice comes through as we learn details about others’ lives that we would rarely otherwise be privileged to know. We follow along through the path their life has traced, as it is shaped by circumstance, interests, culture, politics, choices, relationships, and, yes, jobs.”
— Amanda C. Peters, Harvard University, MIT
“What comes through so beautifully in MY JOB is the link between the worldly and the spiritual, between the daily goings-on of work and the larger purpose of the worker. Each of the storytellers has got some things figured out, or at least they think they do; but each is also searching for their mission. It’s fun to follow their various explorations, from the Maasai warrior who goes on a lion hunt, to the Nicaraguan coffee farmer who finds strength after her divorce. Through their narratives I connected with their search for purpose, and with my own.”
—Paul VanDeCarr, Working Narratives
Meet the Author
Ever since I could read, I’ve been a bookworm. There’s nothing like the feeling of being completely transported to another world without leaving your chair. When I first took a pen to notebook around age ten, I wrote fairy tales about brave princesses, noble princes, and magical animals . . . Now my “writing” reflects the true stories, in their voices, of MY JOB narrators who’ve lived through experiences beyond my imagination. (Nonfiction exceeds make-believe, in this case.) I’m lucky to call every narrator in this book series a friend; I believe they’ll become yours, too.
Connect with Me:
- Post a Review: Share your thoughts about the books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, NetGalley, or wherever you buy and review books.
- Talk to Me: Join our online community on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, to talk with me and other readers about your own experience of work.
- Get the Story: Never miss an upcoming event, book news, or even your contest-winning story posted on our blog. Sign up for updates here.
- Book Club or Classroom: Invite me to join virtually or in-person to discuss stories, jobs, and the meaning of work.
- “Job Story” Slam: Share stories of work at your next special event, emceed by our team.
- Storytelling Workshop: Your group gets hands-on training from me on interviewing, listening, and storytelling skills.
- Special Event/ Fundraiser: Donate books to inspire donations for your choice of a job-related nonprofit or a partner of Skees Family Foundation.
Meet the Narrators
Interior Designer, Kandy, Sri Lanka
“In Sri Lankan culture, it’s hard for a woman to do things alone. There are so many restrictions imposed by society. I did a design for an upscale auto-service station and people said, ‘It’s about cars, what do you know about cars?’ I wanted to bring out the womanness in a car and bring that out into the lobby . . . Based on my internship, they actually changed their perception of what women could do in this field.”
Rickshaw Puller, Dhaka, Bangladesh
“The whole day I spend pulling the rickshaw. I start from 7a.m. Often I ride until 10p.m. If I miss one day, we don’t eat that day . . . I want my children not to be like me—not to have to do the same work every day. Everything is aching. Everything in me hurts.”
Misozi (3rd from L)
Mobile-Money Agent, Lusaka, Zambia
“My name means ‘tears.’ At the time I was born, it wasn’t a happy time. Through hard work and determination I have been able to build up my business. Now I have nineteen employees and have empowered five to operate their own shops independently. I love the fact that I get to be my own boss.”
Stay-at-Home Dad and Art Teacher, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
“The year before I was incarcerated, I moved to Guanajuato, near Mexico City. That’s where my folks are from. I was living with my grandparents at the time. My brothers lived there. I was fifteen. I just loved the open space and the freedom. I consider myself 100 percent Mexican and 100 percent American. It was amazing to live in a place where I could be myself and nobody’s judging me.”
Gambling Recovery Counselor, London, England
“In the U.K., 75% of people gamble (although fewer than 1% have an addiction problem). It’s a big part of the culture. Bizarrely, our helpline number is on the back of every single national lottery ticket in the country and scratch cards as well. Gambling sells the illusion that, ‘I’m going to win big and then I’m going to suddenly have wealth, and I’ll have the life of ease and the life that I want.'”
Banana Farmer, Mbale, Uganda
“We have to fetch water by five or six in the morning. Then we’ve got to dig, do planting, then weeding. The whole day we are busy. When I have free time, I am on my phone, studying agriculture. The phone advised me . . . So, I am now doing crop rotation. I love my banana trees! I love them like my children. They’re a source of food and income, like the friend who’s always there, whether I’m tired or not.”
Nursing Student, Santa Lucia, Honduras
“When I was five years old, my father came in and showed us this knife. Then, later that night, he killed my mom. I ran to my mother. She had a knife wound in her throat and another one close to her heart. She put her hand in my hand, and she fell and died . . . I chose nursing because it’s a way to help others. I remember when I was a kid, I hated people so much, and now I love them.”
Midwife Clinic Director, Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala
“He started to hit me. He beat me several times. I had visible wounds on my face, and I was really ashamed when I went to work like that. I said, ‘I can’t continue like this because I’m going out to speak to women about their rights, and here I am, obviously hurt.’ So I decided to leave him. I feel blessed to have a son with Asperger’s because he’s helped me to cultivate my patience and the more humane side of me. He’s changed my life.”
College Admissions Counselor, Kigali, Rwanda
“The worst part of my job is seeing these girls looking in my eyes and asking me to help them. We can’t accept all of them at Akilah because we’re not so financially sustainable . . . I learned a lot growing up in the genocide and later, always hungry, in a very small rented house made of mud, no running water and no electricity. Now, I want to advocate for other African girls so they can able to be educated and have the opportunities that I’ve had.”
English Teacher, Daegu, South Korea
“I really love my students. They work much harder than I did at that age. When they finally finish their academics and leave to go home, they are very tired. They don’t have any more power [energy] left. They move very slowly, lugging their big bags. They go, ‘Bye bye, Teacher.’ When I look at them, I feel like their life is very sad. My heart is sore for them.”
Rice Microfinancier, Siem Reap, Cambodia
“Our family didn’t have enough food to eat. I started my business with just twelve dollars. What’s important for me first is my business; I want my loan business to be able to help as many people as I can. It’s very difficult to get someone to really take the initiative and start up a business, even when you hand it over to them. I want to help my family stand up like me.”
Tomato Canner, Anloga, Ghana
“Every year, my people grow tomatoes and they go rotting in the field. I see that waste, and I feel the pinch of it. I went to Switzerland to see their farming methods. When I got back to Ghana, I bought a crate of tomatoes, and pureed them as my mentor had taught me. We did a sample with the hand crank. I said, ‘Let’s make it five-star.’ So, I coupled an electric drill onto it. This is how Tip Top began.”
Dancer, Toronto, Canada
“For me, the biggest achievement is if someone can watch your show, and then they’re crying. It means that something that you did, something in the music, something in your movement . . . touches their heart, and makes them feel. A lot of people come to dance because they have issues. I’ve seen students overcome anxiety, grief, and depression. It’s almost like getting a new life.”
Arts Cultural-Exchange Officer, State Department, Washington, D.C., U.S.
“At one point, I thought I wanted to be a bartender [laughs] . . . Now, I manage cross-cultural exchange programs for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. We send American artists abroad–whether they be dancers, musicians, or visual artists–and bring international artists to the U.S. It’s grassroots-level diplomacy. We can reach non-elites, those that are disenfranchised, marginalized in their communities, don’t have access to high standards of education. The arts help cross a lot of boundaries and barriers.”
Environmental Activist, Naoma, West Virginia, U.S.
“I just don’t agree with the fact that you send men into an underground coal mine to break their backs and kill themselves, either outright in a mine explosion, or a rock fall, or later on by black lung and other coal-related illnesses. And there’s somebody sitting up on Wall Street who’s never had a callous on their hands, ain’t never worked a day in their life, never seen West Virginia, and they’re making millions upon millions of dollars off of the sweat and blood and labor of those people working in that mine.”
Mideast Peace Diplomat, New York, New York, U.S.
“Israel-Palestine feels half a world away; it’s not. We lead trips to the Mideast to build a movement of pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American peace activists. What they experience completely rocks their world and tests and pushes their assumptions. It transcends political beliefs. Connecting people is at once the simplest thing that you can do, and it’s the most radical, if you want to change the world.”
Fringe Diplomat, Tel Aviv, Israel
“Fringe diplomacy goes beyond what governments are able to do in international relations. It’s not the photo ops. There’s no game or dance to be played. It’s just real people . . . I resist the claim that everybody that we don’t agree with is irrational: the Iranians, the North Koreans—I’ll take it to the extreme: Suicide bombers are rational people. They just have a very different way of calculating and looking at the world, and unless you try to get into their shoes and understand what it is, it will be really hard to get anything positive from that engagement.”
Slack-Key Guitar Musician, Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
“Art is totally unstable. It doesn’t just validate; it elicits a sense of intimacy and aversion, like at the same time. Art should at once grab you and draw you in . . . but also repel you. It’s dangerous.”
Arindam & Debaleena
Eco-Manufacturers, Assam, India
“Our focus is to create jobs in rural northeast India, making an ecofriendly product, which also reduces pollution because we are replacing Styrofoam and plastics. We’ve had to work through things like complete scarcity of electricity in this region . . . We just designed a dryer, which is non-electrified, fueled by biomass.”
Online Lingerie Entrepreneur, Ramallah, Palestine
“Lingerie matters because it’s the first thing you put on in your day. And that’s our goal: to save the world, one bra at a time. Starting a business can have a larger effect than being directly involved with politics.”
Life-Vest School-Backpack Manufacturer, Hanoi, Vietnam
“I grew up in a very poor family. I was a teacher for 22 years, then trained as a traditional doctor, and then I built this factory. My son created the idea of the life-vest backpack. So there are about 200,000 children in Vietnam who go to school every day by ferries or boats, who are at risk of the floods. Now, we don’t see any news or any stories about children die of flood anymore.”
Recruiter/Headhunter, Tampa, Florida, U.S.
“Recruiting is a rollercoaster: I can sit down at 7:30 in the morning and have a hard time taking a pee break [laughs] . . . I rarely take lunch. The American dream? I don’t know. I mean, the American dream of escalating your career and having a house and a stable family? It hasn’t exactly come true for me.”
Maasai Warrior, Ngorongoro, Tanzania
“When I was growing up, my childhood dream was that I would be a good warrior, that I would be able to kill lions and be able to protect my community. They do three things that are like a test of bravery. You don’t make the noise; you don’t cry. It hurts a very lot. When you kill a lion, it’s like ‘wow.’ Everyone talks about you for the rest of your life.”
Coffee Co-op Farmer, Managua, Nicaragua
“The men never listened to us. So I said to the women, ‘Let’s find a piece of land and make our own building for our meetings. We’ll each kick in a certain contribution to save and buy it.’ We started selling our coffee beans. Then we bought a mill and a grinder to grind corn for the community. This dream has become a reality. We think that we’ll be able to make good income from that.”
Horse Coach, Jeffersonville, Kentucky, U.S.
“A lot of kids bond with horses, especially girls . . . I’ve seen it happen time and time again, kids just completely and utterly changed because of these animals. We’ve had some pretty rough kids. They have a tendency to bond with horses very well. They usually end up staying on the team. They usually end up healing.”
Google Technologist, Mountain View, California, U.S.
“It was tough growing up bicultural. I My friends were like, ‘What the hell are you doing? You have piano and violin and basketball and soccer and saxophone and swimming and tennis.’ It was like fifty million things. My mom grew up very, very poor. She wanted a better life for us. Now, I love the fact that I also have this other culture that is a part of me, and I think being Chinese is pretty cool.”
Xerox LatAm Finance Manager, Cordoba, Argentina
“My dream was to work in finance for a multinational company. My father is an accountant as well, and I received a lot of influence from him. He had his office at home. I could see him working every day with all the papers, all the calculators, and the typing machines. A kid like me wants to be like his father . . . I think that, like it or not, money moves the world.”
Equity Investment Manager, Hong Kong, China
“Hong Kong is defined by excess in every way—big cars, expensive jewelry and bags. It’s about having wealth and showing it, even if you don’t have it. But the metric that nobody talks about, is actually happiness. You have like overachievers like me, who do well in school and in their career. They put their head down and rush, and succeed. And then at some point, they look around, and there’s a void.”
Architect, Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
“There’s a difference between collaboration and sort of being told what to draw, especially when you’re told what to draw, and it’s absolutely horrid. One client wanted to take out all of this beautiful wood and iron storefront, really ornate, nice stuff, and wanted to put it back with basically hideous, modern sort of stuff. And it broke my heart. I still have to drive by that building every day.”
Hip-Hop Artist, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
“Some of our families are in the opposite gangs and are fighting the other gangs. It’s crazy, like this is real. But me, I’m married to my music. I’d be up at like three, four in the morning, writing songs. Music is like my wife, and my songs are our babies. No matter how I’m feeling, if I’m crying or sad, she’s always going to be there. She’s going to listen to me . . . and we make a lot of babies.
Pediatric Cancer Care, Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
“I went home, and I couldn’t get past the kitchen floor. It’s hard to go back and relive all this. I was making deals with God, because I had lived my life. I was a grown woman, I was married, I had kids. I was like, ‘Take me, let him live.’ I just sat there bargaining, promising, ‘I’ll go to church forever. Take me. Don’t let him go through any pain.’ I just lost it.”
The last in our video series from Harvard explores: The connective power of sharing our stories of work; How I began writing about people working their way out of poverty--who asked not for charity but for a chance at WORKING their own way out of poverty; and...
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Thanks for joining me in Cambridge, Massachusetts for Part 2 of our video series on jobs. Here, I reflect on my experience as a student of religions around the world, and how the seeds of inspiration planted while in school later grew into a nonprofit organization...
Join me in Cambridge, Massachusetts for Part 1 of our three-part video series from Harvard. This one covers how to: Discern what's your unique professional gift Land the job that fulfills you while also giving to the world through your work Find your power when...
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Meet our narrators and follow Suzanne as she captures the voices of workers throughout the U.S. and around the world. See what it’s like to produce a social-mission book in today’s complex world of publishing. You’ll get access to new stories: far more than could fit inside the pages of the My Job books.
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A Message From the Editor, Suzanne Skees
Disrupting the Way We View Work
In the MY JOB book series, I contrast work lives from around the world to provide a lens through which we can recognize our similarities and diversity. The purpose of each chapter is to challenge conventional thinking about how a job is valued and undertaken from the viewpoint of distinct cultures. At its essence, these books are about the human condition and how very similar we all are at our core. I believe their first-person, true stories will surprise, enlighten, and definitely move you. Learn more about Suzanne here.