If anyone were to tell me that I would be looking to change careers in my late 40’s, I suppose they’d have been crazy. Then again, if I thought about this for a second; if the old me met the new me, I suppose the old me would say something like, “What the hell is this?”
Somewhere in life is the difference between ideas and reality. And somewhere was the dream and somewhere else was the reality that no one reaches their dreams for free. This takes work. This takes dedication and understanding of how to decipher between beneficial and wasteful lessons we learn along the way.
Much like the rest of us, I was young once. I had a 10-speed bicycle, which is how I got around my town. As a matter of fact, I have a question. Do you remember your first job?
I worked at a small luncheonette that had been there, long before I was born.
The owner had been around for a long time as well. He was older and mostly unfriendly and yet, he was somewhat of a staple in the community. His name was Irving. He was more like a cartoon than a man, cranky as ever and cheap too. He smoked Tiparillo cigars with the little yellow mouthpiece.
My part time job was simple. Each day I would ride my bike to where I was paid $3.00 an hour. I was hired to wash the dishes, scrub the grille, clean up, sweep the floor and then mop before closing. Irving was not a talkative man by any means but towards the end of the night, Irving would sit at the counter. He would read the paper with his little cigar in his mouth. Irving would complain about the news and the people who ran the country. As a matter of fact, Irving would complain about everything. Irving wore the same outfit every day. He was always in a white t-shirt, black pants, black shoes and a white apron while he was cooking. Irving was balding on top with white hair on the sides of his head. Irving wore black-rimmed glasses with somewhat of a bulbous nose. When I say Irving was something out of a comic strip in the funny papers—I literally mean that Irving was something out of a comic strip in the funny papers.
We never said much to each other. Then again, Irving didn’t hire me for conversation. I suppose Irving was kindest to me. His demeanor was unpleasant and the pay wasn’t much but still, I’d show up after school every day. And of course, Friday was payday, which wasn’t much. Then again, I was about 13 years-old at the time. Irving paid me $45 per week but offered me more when he heard that I was asked to work someplace else. Then he asked me if I was interested in working Saturday mornings to put the Sunday morning newspapers together, which I did. This paid a little more and allowed me to earn extra money.
I saw a different side to Irving. He was kind to me and I appreciated this. I was on time and respectful. I was quiet and only spoke when spoken to. However, Saturday mornings were different than the usual weekdays at the luncheonette. I put the papers together and Irving would tend to the customers. The counter was lined with stools, which spun around. Oh, and by the way, if anyone wanted to watch Irving get mad, spin around on the stools for fun. Irving hated that.
I would arrive early on Saturday during the breakfast crowd. Irving’s customers would tell me about jobs elsewhere that would probably pay me more. Irving would yell at them and tell his customers to shut up. He’d tell them, “Would you leave the kid alone and let him do his job? Can’t you see he’s working, for Christ’s sake!”
People would laugh at this and compliment me for being able to put up with Irving. But I didn’t mind him. There was something odd about the old man. There was something lonely too. There was something out of place and uncomfortable about him. And I could relate to this. I didn’t have a large group of friends. I never felt too comfortable around different people. But time is time and eventually, my time at the luncheonette was finished. There was no long goodbye or a simple “It was good to work with you.” Actually, I can’t say I remember Irving saying anything to me at all. He paid me my last pay and that was it. That was my first job.
The luncheonette is long gone now and so is Irving. I have had many jobs since then. I worked at a bagel place. I worked as an apprentice in my Old Man’s shop. I dug ditches. I did some minor plumbing work.
At a young age, I saw how people fed their families. I saw men who came to work with tired eyes and strong hands. They built things. They fixed things. They put heat in people’s homes. Out of all those I have met in the working world, there is no match to some of the people I met while working as a young man.
I remember when I hit the ground and started to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I was unsure what I wanted to do for a living. I knew I wanted to earn money but I was unsure how. I was unsure about my passion. I didn’t know what I wanted to “Be” when I grew up.
Safe to say that I have run the gamut while trying to find the right job. I have done door to door sales. I’ve sold triple-pane vinyl-lined windows. I had a brief stint where I almost followed the trend to become a stock broker. I successfully interviewed to do insurance sales but there was a test attached to this.
I worked in the garment industry. I sold woven labels and identification items to different clothing makers (like the labels on the back of your shirt that itch your neck—yeah, that’s what I sold). I sold buttons and buckles and zipper pulls to garment manufacturers. I sold website construction in the optical field. Then again, this was long before the internet is what it is today. I was always looking for the next dare-to-be-great moment but I wasn’t sure what it would look like.
Somehow, I found myself out of sales. I went out from the white collar and into the blue. I started as a helper in the building trades. I became a card-carrying union member of operating engineers. I learned here. I grew here and yet, I found myself outgrowing my environment. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know when the change came underway. I don’t know if there was a sense of immediate awareness— nor do I understand if this was something that was always within me.
I suppose I never thought much about my future. I figured the future was something that happens to old people. I never thought much about what I wanted to do with myself—and to be clear, when I started in the building trades, I saw this as a great thing to do until I figured out what I wanted to do when I grow up.
Something I see is people live a life they have and yet, most people fail to live the life they want. Most people are stuck in a dead-end job or in a dead-end life and to them, this is life. To them, there is no way of changing things because “It’s too late now.”
I am going to start compiling a new journal about work and the working world. I plan to add my experience with the people I’ve met. I will add the good and the bad and the lessons that I’ve learned along the way.
I suppose as a kid and back when I was stuck in my knucklehead years, I was told that I’d have to tidy myself and get ready for Corporate America. I was told that I had to “Get honest,” and “Get ready,” for the corporate world. And of all things I can say about the working world, I can tell you that Corporate America is a lot of things; but I’m not sure the word honesty tops the list of my first descriptions.
What I do know is this; most of us spend the majority of our life at work. Whether it’s a 40-hour work week. more or less, still, we spend much of our time at work. Last I checked; it is estimated that 85% of people are unhappy with their jobs. And me, I don’t like being unhappy.