Students, please find below the text of an illustrative definition, as discussed here. Please note that, when properly formatted for submission as a paper, it is of average length.
With the exception of one semester during my undergraduate study, I have been in the workforce continuously since I was sixteen years of age. During that time, I have held a number of jobs, including working as a grocery store cashier and cash-office clerk, a line cook and delivery driver for a fast-food pizza franchise, a full-time college student, and a collegiate researcher and teacher. My years in the workforce have taught me that work is a means to define myself, both in terms of finding out what I want to be and in supplying what is needed for me to become that thing.
One means by which a thing is defined is through negation; a given item is recognized as itself in part because of what it is not. Hence, finding out what I do not want to be is key in finding out what I do want to be; it helps narrow my focus. My earlier jobs did much to teach me what I do not want to do with my life, helping me to find what I actually do want to do with my time and efforts. My work in grocery stores in the Texas Hill Country offer an example of how it could happen. As a cashier and cash-office clerk, I was involved primarily in customer service and cash-handling for some twenty to thirty hours each week. I was supposed to keep customers happy, whether they came into the store happy or not, whether they were willing to be happy--or even reasonable--or not. It mattered little that they would walk in stinking of sweat and smoke and swill, or that they demanded to be given things for free; I was supposed to smile and nod and try to meet their impatient, often intoxicated demands. At the same time, I was supposed to ensure that money kept coming into the store's possession (despite the reluctance of customers to part with it) and to be sure that the money I reported bringing in was actually present. And I was to do so for the amazing hourly wage of six whole dollars. Even in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was not a substantial income. It was not enough, truly, to justify the time away from my studies that I spent in earning it; although it offered me some small amount of spending money, so that I could buy another book or two for my own reading pleasure, I was not able to save up so much as I should have liked. Working at the grocery store was a poorly compensated job that annoyed me greatly, forcing me to be subservient to people who took no thought for others or who took delight in abusing those obliged to be deferential. I learned from it that customer service jobs--typically work-intensive and underpaid--are not the kinds of things I want to have. I learned that I needed to look elsewhere so that I did not end up, as did many of my co-workers, staying in such a job for decades at close to minimum wage, with customers complaining day after day after day, until I died.
I was still in the Texas Hill Country when I took up work making pizzas and delivering them for a fast-food pizza franchise--a job that did far more to help me find what I want to be and supply me with what I needed to become that than did work in the grocery store. In that job, I would come in early on Saturdays and Sundays, usually arriving before the manager. In short order, as the manager counted money and ran to the bank to make a deposit, the first batches of pizza dough would be laid out and their tempering--the process that set them up to be topped and baked--begun. Several tubs of pizza sauce would get made next, the concentrate mixed with water and stirred vigorously until the five-gallon buckets were ready to be deployed throughout the day. Green bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions red and white would get chopped and portioned out, put into the table where the pizzas were made and into the cooler for later use. Then the orders would begin to come in, and the manager and I would grab dough, stretch it as was needed, top it as was required, bake the resulting pizza, cut it, and box it. Some of the pizzas would go across the counter to where a customer was waiting. Others would go into insulated bags and from there to my car, in which I would race back and forth across town, trying to beat my delivery estimates and earn money for my own pocket as much as the restaurant's. I dealt with customers only in fits and starts, and always with time between, since each order went to a different place and I had to tend to making pizza before I could hand it over. I therefore had much time to myself--and all of it paid; I learned that I like to work away from supervision, doing what I know I need to do and doing it well not for fear of a boss griping at me, but because the reward for my doing so was increased the more diligently I worked. Further, I was amply rewarded; my hourly wage was $7.70 per hour, and I earned a dollar from the restaurant for every delivery I made (usually three or four each hour, bringing what the store paid me above $10 hourly). Then there were the tips, which ranged from none or very little to twenty--or, once, fifty--dollars at a time. I was able to build up a solid bank account even with being able to buy the things I needed for my studies and the games I played for fun. Working in pizza-making and pizza-delivery was therefore helpful in showing me what I want to be--a self-directed individual worker--and in supplying me with what it took to help me be one.
What it ended up taking was long-term collegiate study, and that study cemented the concept of what I want to be. For some twelve years, I was enrolled in college classes, although only nine of those years had me in the classroom as a student regularly. During that near-decade, I would go to classes soon after waking, attending lectures and immersing myself in the life of the mind afterwards by reading deeply and extensively. Too, I availed myself of the cultural offerings of the departments in which I took classes, sometimes for credit (as in the case of attending concerts while I was a music major), and sometimes not (as was true with performances by actors from London and weekly poetry readings while I was in English departments). As I did, I began to realize that a full engagement with the life of the mind, an immersion of myself in study, was eminently attractive. I thus began to devote myself to the idea; being in the college classroom as much as I was helped me to realize it is where I want to be. In addition, I was in the enviable position of being paid for my undergraduate and graduate studies; as an undergraduate, I was awarded a number of grants and scholarships that did much to support my studies, and as a graduate student, I enjoyed an assistantship that paid for my tuition and offered me a stipend. They collectively helped me to build up a cushion of resources, both financial and material, that I have since used to pursue my desire to remain in the collegiate classroom. I have been able to purchase materials that I yet have, and while the money has come and gone, when it has gone, it has gone to good use in keeping me as I wish to be: a participant in the college classroom.
My formal studies have ended, but I remain in the college classroom as my vocation, working as a researching teacher. At present, I have six sections to teach, each of which began with approximately thirty students but is now much reduced. For each, I do a substantial amount of reading, keeping abreast of current research in rhetoric and composition studies as well as poring over the documents my students turn in to me. Too, I comment about what I read, making notes in the margins and drafting more extended commentaries at the ends of essays and articles. I also work to draft examples of the kinds of writing I want my students to produce, as well as occasionally explaining in writing the rationale behind the assignments I offer. In addition, my reading and research extend beyond my classroom activities, so that I independently model the behavior I wish to see form my students as I read through and seek to produce essays, articles, and books in medieval studies and literary criticism. I tease meaning from the pages of literary works and refine that meaning through successive filters of critical discourse published by others, putting what insights I have into what I hope are well crafted words on pages that I then submit for others to review. The work within and without the classroom sustains me. Although I do at times suffer from the amount of grading I do, the rewards of teaching are many, not least in seeing others come to have better understandings of the world in which they live and ways in which they can think and write about it. Further, I am immensely enriched through the research I do to model what I want to teach; because of my research, I know more about the products of the human mind and spirit than I would have ever been able to do through the classroom alone. Too, the fact that I am paid a salary--and a fairly generous one--is of help, for I could not do as I do without food to eat and a place to sleep, and the paycheck accounts for both.
In my work as a researching teacher, I am confirmed in the self-definition that my earlier jobs have let me develop. Each has led me to find what I want to be and to enact that being. Each has shown me that such things can be done--and each has led me to hope that others may find for themselves the kinds of things that work has shown me.