Is Your Job Killing You? (Feb, 1949)

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Is Your Job Killing You?

A desk can be deadlier than the daring life on a flying trapeze— if a secret urge is making you literally work yourself to death.

By Donald G. Cooley

ALFRED Rhodes, professional stunt man, contemplated the fact that nobody had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived. So he decided it was up to him to be the first to leap and live. All in the day’s work, he figured.

He planned the job with meticulous care. Main problem, he reasoned, was to hit feet first and knife cleanly into the water. He rigged up a baby parachute to keep himself from flopping over during the fall and protected his body with a special padded rubber suit.

He waved to the crowd on the bridge, then calmly stepped over the side. The little white ‘chute opened neatly. From the height of the bridge nothing looked more dangerous than that 200-foot drop. And nothing was.

His body turned despite the ‘chute and he hit the water flat on his face.

Rhodes’ job did kill him. But most dangerous jobs actually are a lot safer than they look.

Ask Cannon-Ball Baker, the veteran racer who has been burning cars back and forth across the country for decades and has had thousands of chances to kill himself with a split second of carelessness.

“It’s all in your head,” Cannon-Bali says. “If you think you’re gonna get killed in a crash, you’ll get it that way. Me, I think I’m gonna die in bed—peaceful.”

Nearly all of those daring young men who shiver your spine when they fly through the air at the circus get their training from Arthur Vascon-=cello in a gym at Bloomington, Ind. Art and his wife, known professionally as “The Flying Concellos,” declare that none of these high-flying lads and lasses is troubled by visions of a broken neck. Trapeze artists do take a net-fall now and then, Art admits, but their job is really much less hazardous than boxing.

How would you like to make a living by dangling from a window 80 or 90 stories above the street? Make your flesh creep even to think about such a giddy business? Well, you may know of a million jobs you’d like better but few of them will be any easier on your health than window washing. Window washers of the Empire State Building, highest structure in the world, have a safety record as clean as their window panes.

Dr. Raymond Ditmars, famed reptile authority spent a lifetime collecting, cajoling and milking deadly snakes of their venom. He never suffered even a fang scratch.

On the other hand, the “safest” work in the world can be murder if your personality can’t take it.

Dr. Murray C. McNab, 38, of Cranford, N. J., brooded about his routine work as a research chemist. He sprawled out on a table in his experimental lab. Before he turned on the gas, he penciled a note that said in part:

“This is my last experiment and it is self-destruction.”

For seven years Ross Lockridge, Jr., went through a daily grind at his desk writing a novel. Shortly after his book Raintree County made him nationally famous, he took his life. Joshua Loth Liebman died in his forties, apparently broken by the strictly nondangerous job of lecturing, counseling, writing and church work that fell his way after the astounding success of another current best-seller—ironically titled Peace of Mind.

A Brooklyn storekeeper, Alfred Mercuri, let the dull but frustrating work in his food shop get him down. Last summer, damp clogged his sugar dispenser.

When a customer demanded sugar, all Mercuri’s pentup frustration with his job exploded. According to police, he tossed the annoying sugar shaker through the plate-glass window, pitched out the coffee urn, dumped dishes, chairs and pastry into the street and made a shambles of his shop.

William Cimillo got fed up with the monotony of driving a bus in the Bronx. One morning he drove his bus out of the garage as usual, rolled past a regular bus stop—and kept right on rolling—all the way to Florida. Because thousands of other Americans were bored with their work and longed to get away from it all, too, he became a hero and got his old job back again—with prestige he never knew before.

Workers seldom are as lucky as Cimillo when they blow their tops. Last year some 17,000 workers dropped dead on their jobs— and thousands more literally worked themselves to a slow death through tension and anxiety. Heart disease—top killer in the nation—high-blood-pressure, ulcers, diabetes and arthritis are some of the troubles that may be traced wholly or partly to emotional conflicts and worry, such as daily beset the man who is unhappy or bored with his job.

Psychiatrists find that there is a subconscious urge to kill yourself on the job if you’re dissatisfied with what you’re doing. That suicidal drive may disguise itself as a heart attack, a “sick headache,” a pain in the back or some other apparently physical ailment that will attract sympathetic attention to yourself and break the boredom or let you escape the tensions of your job. The sinister urge may reveal itself, too, to overexert yourself and worry your life away to master a job you secretly hate.

Or the desire to do away with yourself may show up in a marked tendency to accidents. Recent industrial studies disclosed the strange fact that practically all the accidents kept happening to the same 20 per cent of the total workers. Case histories indicated that these accident-prone people not only were “hard-luck” repeaters but actually went more than half-way to get hurt.

A public utility company had so many accidents among car-driving employes that insurance costs zoomed sky-high. A small percentage of the men were having nearly all the accidents, surveys revealed. When the company weeded out these chronic casualties, the rate dropped from one accident every 12,000 miles to one every 56,000.

There was no difference in the trucks, driving skill or physical condition of these men.

But there was something different in their heads.

While there is no certain way of putting a finger on an accident-prone person before an accident happens, the work of Dr. Flanders Dunbar and other psychosomatic authorities gives a revealing picture of his temperament.

Primarily, he hates to be bossed around. He carries a chip on his shoulder to his superiors, but it’s usually not his boss but an accident that knocks that chip off. For when he swallows his resentment, he becomes reckless and invites an accident. Often his parents, especially his father, were unduly strict and tyrannical. The boss is something of a substitute father who must be shown that he can’t get away with brusque orders.

A high school chemistry student gave a good example of this unconscious attitude. His instructor warned him not to dabble with certain chemicals. The boy ignored the warning. When he picked himself up from the floor with most of his clothes blown off by an explosion, he remarked: “Anyhow, I showed him he couldn’t tell me what to do!”

Not working may kill you, too; many men go to pieces suddenly after retirement. Work, which always represents a fight on something, seems necessary for human well-being— apart from its role in making a living.

And there is always the possibility that while your job may never threaten you physically, it may kill you spiritually by inches if it fails to provide the satisfactions it should. Experts such as Johnston O’Connor of the Human Engineering Laboratories, who measure job aptitudes, say that a strong talent is dangerous when it remains unused. Unexercised aptitudes keep gnawing away inside you and lead to feelings of frustration and failure.

You may then wonder whether you should change jobs to get that dream work.

Job shifting isn’t easy but it’s being done all the time by men who get a clear idea of where they want to go. The work history of many “big wheels” isn’t far different from that of K. T. Keller, who stepped into a $75-a-week job as secretary but quit at 21 to take a 20-cents-an-hour job—in the shops! He loved machinery, and his love paid off—he now heads Chrysler Motors.

So, decide what you actually want to do for a living, then pour all your hidden energies into a healthy drive toward doing the work you like and achieving not only success but— more important—real happiness. Remember there are now more than 60,000,000 jobs in this country of ours. If you happen to have picked the wrong one of those 60,000,000 jobs for your personality, why let it kill you?

  1. […] Most Dangerous Job? “I’d rather be shot at than do the shooting/’ says Leo Krouse. 58-year-old New Yorker, who faces police firing squads to demonstrate a new 14-lb. bulletproof vest for the Spooner Armor Co. “The shooter’s really the one on the spot—not me. He has to make sure he hits the armor.” Slugs spot his vest above, but don’t even flick the ash off his stogie. He’s been stopping bullets for 30 years and never been nicked—yet. For other dangerous jobs, see the article Is Your Job Killing You?—page 68. | Permalink […]

  2. Lance says: February 27, 20086:51 pm

    Frustrating contraption working for me?

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