What’s your real job?

Bus painting, Wellington, New Zealand, 21 Feb....Yesterday I had a very unsatisfying experience riding the bus home after work. Already on the bus, I was on the phone with my wife and decided to exit somewhere else than I had originally planned. Even though I was aware that I was on an ‘Express’-Bus, which doesn’t stop at every bus stop, I was pretty sure that it stopped at the big bus stop in the city center. With the stop coming up, I pressed the Stop-button, indicating that I wanted to exit. The bus stopped and the bus driver opened the front door to let people enter the bus. I was standing at the back door ready to exit, but instead of opening the door the bus driver kept staring at me through the mirror. I stared back, wondering why he wouldn’t open the back door. After a while he said in a rather harsh tone: “Can you come to the front door, sir?” Slightly irritated I replied with “Sure” while walking to the front of the bus. When I got there, he seemed pretty angry and snapped, “This is an Express, you know.” I just responded with a quick “Oh, all right. Sorry.” while I jumped out the front door before he could lock me back in.

Reflection and Analysis

I wasn’t sorry though. In fact, I was pretty pissed off. He just ruined my day. The reasons are beyond me, but there are apparently bus stops where you can get on but not off an ‘Express’-bus and vice versa. Go figure. Back on the bus this morning I recalled the experience from the day before and I wondered why it had happened. Obviously, it had left behind two angry men and there had to be a better explanation than ‘This bus driver is a jerk.’

Why was I angry? I wanted to exit the bus. The bus stopped anyway to let people getting on, so I didn’t see the point in the bus driver not letting me get off. Also, like most people, I don’t like to be barked at.

Why was he angry? I can only assume, but he is apparently very tired of people trying to get on and off ‘Express’-buses at stops where they shouldn’t, not being aware of the rules on these buses. He is getting paid to drive the bus from A to be B on a tight schedule. There is no time to make extra stops.

The problem

I think, this is where the problem is. You just read over it. Is his job really to drive the bus from A to B? Or, is it to transport passengers from A to B? He is providing a service to his customers. This understanding is essential. Had this bus driver had the later comprehension of his job, he would have happily let me off the bus to provide me with better service. Having the first understanding, on the other hand, meant that I was disturbing him while carrying out his duty.

So, in case your job also includes providing a service to your costumers, ask yourself what the real purpose of your work is. Sometimes, you have to bend the rules a bit to provide better service. You are expected to use sound reasoning, to decide which rules to bend and when. This makes you a professional at your job. Blindly following rules is for novices. Being proficient means to know when you don’t have to.  If you have to stop the bus anyway, let people get off, would you?

Photo by PhillipC via Flickr


  1. Well you could flip this around a little. If you are working for a client who claims to be agile but in reality they run a ad-hoc methodology don’t you find it difficult and annoying when they change things every five minutes?

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