The Work That Never Worked For Me
Not everything is meant for everybody — but perhaps everyone is meant for something
My first job was washing dishes at a breakfast and lunch joint down the street from me named Moe’s. After six months of spending my days smelling like pickle juice, mildew, and chicken grease for not even seven dollars an hour — the owner finally pushed me to my breaking point one fateful afternoon, I gave him my two minutes notice, walked out the back door and never looked back.
Shortly thereafter, my cousin offered me a job where he worked, a masonry restoration company. I was offered the spot in May, which meant I’d be spending my summer breaking concrete with a jackhammer and mixing buckets of cement in Philly’s grueling heat.
But the pay was a whopping ten dollars an hour, so I happily took the job.
In all seriousness, I was honestly beyond stoked about the pay considering the dishwashing job I had before that paid $6.50 an hour.
However, I shit you not when I say I spent most of the night before my first day, worried I would be terrible at the job or incapable of doing the work.
Today, I’m wise and self-aware enough to know, that was merely anxiety and depression, doing what they do best basically. I hardly slept, tossed and turned all night — not a great entry into the industry.
While I was able to do the job, I wouldn’t say I did it particularly well.
What I did do though, was work my ass off. I was eighteen, not even five and a half feet tall, maybe 120 pounds with my work boots on, and not the handiest or even very coordinated — but nobody can say I didn’t give it everything I had, every day I showed up.
That was enough to gain the respect of my gritty hard-nosed masonry union coworkers, many of whom were grown men with 15 plus years experience. Plus, I just fit in well overall with the group of guys I worked with.
It was my cousin’s best friend’s Grandfather’s company, and a little over five years ago said best friend left the company to start his own general contracting business. My cousin and I were the first two people he hired.
I still to this day work for him sporadically, when he needs an extra guy or I need extra money. My point is, what I was paid at the masonry company paled in comparison to the knowledge, experience, contacts, and connections I acquired while working there — both personal and professional.
There were months where I wouldn’t have made rent had I not worked those extra days for my cousin’s entrepreneur friend, who became a friend of mine as well. I’m forever grateful to him and everyone else in the construction and contracting industry who gave me an opportunity, even when I wasn’t always the most fitting person for the job.
Again, it is all knowledge and experience that will no doubt serve me well throughout life, but some days I wake up feeling fifty years old, despite the fact I’m only 33. There’s no way I have another 30 plus years of hard physical labor in me. And it’s not just that. If it was, and everything else was peachy, I’d suffer through it as I have with so many other things in my life.
But it is so much more than that. Let me explain.
There’s no doubt in my mind I could spend the next thirty years painting, lugging sheets of drywall from the truck to the job, ripping down old walls and ceilings only to clean them up and wrestle eighty-pound demo bags out to the trash. The thing is, no part of me wants to. No matter how much money I was to make doing it, there is a zero percent chance It’d lead to me being happy.
Laboring, in construction, is entry-level work. However, in all my years working construction off and on, I have never proven to be more skilled than that. As I stated earlier, I’m not exactly handy or coordinated. I overthink things rather than just getting to them. I’m too anxious to work fast, too worried I’ll mess something up or make a mistake — despite the fact I know almost any mistake I could make is easily fixable, for the most part.
I have never used my size as an excuse for anything, but my frame is by no means ideal for such a line of work. It comes down to practicality and logic.
Yes, I could spend the better part of my life, struggling to be mediocre at something I hated or strongly disliked — frustrating both myself and those around me with my mediocrity in the process. I could leave work every day, miserable, sweaty, filthy, and exhausted, with no energy to write, play with my kids, or fuck my significant other.
A significant other who would likely end up, almost justifiably, having an affair with my unemployed stoner friend who wasn’t miserable, sweaty, filthy, and too tired to fuck her.
I could take my frustrations out by yelling at all of them about things that don’t matter, all because I blamed and resented each of them individually for forcing such a mediocre life on me — when in reality what led me there was being too chicken shit to strive for better.
Too afraid to step out of my comfort zone, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, take a chance, bet on myself, and do what most people tell you isn’t realistic.
To create my own reality, not based on limitations I or anyone else set for me but instead on the belief — better yet the knowledge — I can live a life beyond my wildest dreams if I’m first willing to sacrifice and work my ass off for it.
My main point is, why should or would I spend the next thirty years working three times as hard as everyone else around me at something, only to be as half as good? Why be just okay or at best average at something I dislike when I can excel at the craft I love and have already found far more success than I or anyone else thought I would?
To spend the rest of my career in construction, rather than pursue writing more seriously and on a full time basis would be like if Michael Jordan had insisted on continuing on as a sub par baseball player, and never returned to basketball, the sport where he is widely considered the best to ever play the game.
Forgive the self-aggrandizing comparison, I am not the Michael Jordan of writing — but I just may be to construction what Michael was to baseball. The effort was appreciated and commendable, but it’s painfully obvious it’s just not my game. It’s time to return to the arena I belong in and win a 6th ring.
My contributions to society and the world as a writer have already far exceeded my work as a contractor in value. My shortest piece of writing will far outlast the thickest coat of paint I’ve ever rolled out. My work as a contractor doesn’t stand out — my work as a writer seems to though.
Both to others and myself, if I’m just being honest and at the risk of sounding conceited. It’s not that, I simply know what I’m good at and what I’m not.
One of my first days at that masonry company, my cousin’s friend’s father asked me my last name, and for some reason, his response has always stuck with me. He said, “Sounds like a smart kid’s last name, like you should be at a college or university somewhere, instead of out here with us idiots”.
He said that to me when I was eighteen. I’m 33 now and finally just went back to school, as I started online classes at Community College of Philadelphia last week. Though ninety percent of people I’ve worked with, there and elsewhere, were far from idiots and all of it is respectable work, he was right — I don’t belong out there with them. It was his polite way of saying as much, while also implying I was probably meant for or at least capable of better.
I’m leaning towards choosing psychology or something in the mental health field as my major. Like writing, it just feels like work I’m better suited for. Call me what you will, but at a minimum, I have to not dislike the work I do for the next thirty years. Whatever I end up doing, has to feel like it matters.
Additionally, I’d like to take some business classes as well. I’m not positive I’ll earn a degree, because I’m not positive what I want to do requires one. A college education and all the experience gained there within will without a doubt help though.
I’m almost positive I’ll never find something I’m as good at or love as much as writing — especially not simultaneously. However, what nobody can ever be positive of, is that they’ll be able to make a living as a writer, financially.
So I guess my thinking is, if I fail miserably as a writer, never sell a copy of any book I publish and my work never ventures too far off of Medium or few and far between features in small publications — at least I’ll have some college courses or a degree under my belt and on my resume’.
I’m willing to fall flat on my face chasing the life I want. I’d prefer that over going through the motions comfortably, in the life I never wanted but settled for.
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