It’s -30 C (-22 F), A deep snow covers Helsinki on one of the coldest nights of the year. A night like many others as I prepare to spend it outdoors. I fill a thermos full of hot tea, pack a snack, put on my overalls and head out to work. The drop-off point isn’t far, around 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) away. It’s a quiet bike ride through the park and then the suburbs. I’ll cycle as hard and as fast as I can on this heavy 3-speed delivery bike while I pass the radar speed sign up ahead. Let’s see if I can top my top speed. Almost.
The morning paper is waiting to be delivered as I load up several bundles. Stopping at each home one by one, dropping off a paper in each door or mail box. Several hundred homes later and I’m headed home as the city begins to wake up. A large meal, and I’m off again as I still have courses to attend and a second job.
As incredibly busy of a time it was, there was a lot to take back from this experience.
Why all the hard work?
For most of us, juggling two jobs and full-time studies is just not worth the stress it puts on you or your body. I would tend to agree. The only issue was that at that time in Finland I was a non-EU immigrant staying on a temporary permit. To stay in Finland on a temporary residence permit you have to continuously prove to the country you are not a burden to society.
Since I came to complete a Master’s degree not only did I need to show progress in my studies, I also had to show enough funds to sustain myself. Proof usually meant large sums of cash sitting in the bank. For those that don’t happen to have large sums of cash laying around, it’s time to get a job or two.
In general, Finland is a country were qualified work is hard to come by. Some will end up cleaning out cruise ship cabins, others will wait tables. Milking cows on a farm, or delivering the morning paper is not only a means for a living, but what’s necessary to stay. Most of my coworkers had or were pursuing a degree.
While working a pair of jobs and studying is not the ideal, the end goal is motivation to push through.
Work smart, not hard.
With as much work as there was, one might think hard work is all you need. Wrong. As the saying goes, work smart, not hard. Being in the situation I was in put my skills to the test in how efficient I could be.
Given a job, I will do my best to get the work done with the least effort possible. That’s not to say I am lazy, but why do more work than you need to? Postal work would be no different. Being paid by the job, and not the hour, would be motivation to find a way to work faster.
Many of the routes I had been given were pre-processed with the hopes to create as efficient of a delivery route as possible. A week after working a route and familiarizing myself with the neighborhood I would sit down with a pen, paper and map. It would take several hours to redesign a given route, changing paths and picking out shortcuts. The result? At least an hour shaved off every day of work.
What would you do with an extra hour a day? For me it was time for a well-deserved nap. Rather than blindly work your hours away, it’s important to take a step back to think about how to get the job done.
The human mind is terrible at multitasking. We seldom are able to multitask; our minds prefer to focus on a single action at a time. But I found that like many others working their nightly routes, there are gaps that make it possible.
During the commute to work or while you walk over to the next house your mind is free to think. I knew co-workers working on learning a new language, or simply listening to the news. Personally, I would study. Looping lectures over my earphones over the next few hours would keep my studies going during this hectic period.
Getting past the negative
In any job you will encounter difficulties. The question is whether you move forward with it or let it eat away at you. Biking up to 50km a day (30 miles) while working out in the harsh winter at night may not be for everyone, but the roughest part of the job is the rare bit of disapproval you will receive.
For example, you might have the one angry customer approach you for missing a delivery on your first week of a new route.
Worse yet, with the hot topic that immigration is, postal workers are an easy target for harassment. At least on one occasion I’ve received a death threat, while co-workers have been harassed or even physically attacked. These rare incidents of course are taken seriously and handled very well.
However, even one incident is enough to negatively influence a person and the job they do. It’s important to be able to get past negative aspects of your job and find motivation in what you do. This is not to say to ignore problems that exist in the workplace, quite the opposite.
Knowing that your workplace is ready to protect your work environment is a key component in being able to work through any negative aspects that might come your way.
Part of the community
In one way, as a postal worker you are part of the community. Many customers wake up in the earliest hours of the morning to read their paper. Often you’ll see someone run out to grab the paper the moment you drop it off.
Sometimes you’ll have a short conversation, and on other occasions you’ll struggle to piece together what dialogue you can with the little you know of the Finnish language. Friday night party goers will cheer you on, and just about anyone who sees you with your uniform on will wave a hello.
In a way you begin to understand who your customers are and the expectations that might exist. On the night that rainstorm rolls in, your tires are flat, and half your papers have been stolen, knowing that not only are you working for yourself, but for the community, keeps you going. Nearly every line of work has a customer; it is good to try to understand their perspective and needs.
A good experience.
I enjoy the winter. With this job I got to travel every night through the changed landscape the winter brings. Even in the suburbs of Helsinki you see rabbits, hedgehogs, foxes and the occasional deer at night. On the clearest of nights, you see a multitude of stars… and the occasional glimpse of the northern lights.
Keep in mind that Finland isn’t always a cold dark place. In contrast to every dark winter night there was a warm sunny summer night. Overall I really did enjoy the work. It gave me time to think and to wonder.
The experience I gained will continue to carry over in everything I do.