"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so." ~ Douglas Adams
Working Class Hero: 40 Jobs in 40 Years
Exclusive to STR
October 18, 2006
"A working class hero is something to be." ~ John Lennon
The other day, while working aboard an Alaska commercial fishing boat, I mentioned to my fellow crewman that I must have had 20 or 30 different jobs in my lifetime. Dan laughed and suggested I write them all down. After an hour or so, I discovered I'd worked about 40 different jobs. Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head. A sober realization suddenly struck me. I was probably the least successful white guy I knew.
And I was task oriented, not goal oriented.
Now that I'm nearly 60 (57--recent photo), I have no other excuses but to take a good, long look at myself. As the philosopher observed: A life unexamined is not worth living. So I stared at my stubbornness and narrow focus. I may have worked hard but I rarely worked smart. Therein lies the crux of the problem, the flip side to the secret of success, at least success as measured from a money standpoint. Because, in an age of wealth manipulation and specialists, one must specialize in order to succeed.
Yet does happiness lie in either wealth or specialization? To become successful, how much of oneself must an individual swallow to achieve the material objects--new car, fine home, nice clothes, spending cash and sizeable nest egg--that most Americans consider the outward signs of success?
Or does success lie in happiness, in satisfaction, in pride of honest workmanship? Each reader must answer that question; I cannot. The only thing I do know for certain is that I've had a helluva lot of different experiences. The sort of experiences that, if a person continues to do them for very long, become jobs if not careers, rather than experiences.
Did some American educator invent that word? Careers, rather than learning for the love of knowledge, are the cornerstone of every school and university in America . A professional career is greatly desired, we are told. Status and respect, not to mention wealth, often follow those who chose a "good career." Years ago I used to browse the personal ads in the newspaper looking for romance. This was years before Internet dating. Lots of women sought a "professional male" with a good career. The phrase, professional male, always made me grin. I was an amateur male, then and now. No amount of faking would hide that distinction.
Thoreau wrote, in Economy: "But men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon plowed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool's life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before."
"One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute value by living," Thoreau continued. "Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith left which belies that experience, and they are only less young than they were. I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it. If I have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure to reflect that this my Mentors said nothing about."
Truly, Walden is filled with world-shattering and work-shattering heresies. Especially here in this career-oriented world. As Thoreau wrote: "Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures." After reading that line, I readily think of US Representative Mark Foley and the greater part of Congress and how that remark rings especially true today. Old molesters and warmongers (Is there a difference?). "Miserable failures . . . no very important advice to give the young," etc., etc.
By contrast, my own wealth of weird experiences--40 jobs in 40 years--seems not so miserable, although far less well paid. I wish that I could have said money motivated me, but rarely was that the case.
The following is an alphabetized list of those jobs. Some I worked weeks and others years. And some I continue to enjoy working today.
1. Alaska salmon fisherman
2. Antique restorer
4. Art director
5. Bookstore clerk
9. Club Med instructor
10. Conspiracy Theorist
12. English professor--tutor
16. Fruit tramp--apple picker
19. Military serviceman
21. Movie extra
25. Political Pundit
26. Porn actor
27. Portrait painter
35. Tender crewman
36. Treasure hunter
37. Tree cutter
38. TV Producer
Footnote: I had read Henry David Thoreau's best known book at the age of 21 (within a month of my honorable discharge from the USAF). I can honestly say, Walden wrecked me for life. That is, what was written in each chapter of Walden wrecked me as an unquestioning American worker bee, wrecked me as a student working many years towards an advanced degree. Probably wrecked me as a "professional male" (LOL). Instead, Walden made me stubbornly examine the idea of a long career in anything. I no longer considered a career as the epitome, the measuring stick, of success in life. Rather, experiences seemed equally valuable, if not more valuable. Life had too many facets to examine to restrict it to one.
Or as Henry proclaimed: "I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."