One of my faithful readers/new friends asked me that question recently, and I realized that I’ve touched on the subject in this blog in the past, but never really addressed it in full. So here goes.
I’ve been working and/or studying since I was 10 years old, and I’ve had 23 different jobs. Some of them I’ve liked quite a bit, and others I’ve loathed. But bridgetending is the first job I’ve loved.
Before this job, I worked as an employee of the State of Florida in various positions for 14 years. The last position was Management Systems Engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation. It paid well, and the benefits were great, but the morale in that place was beyond toxic. Frankly, I hated every minute of it, except for the times when I could get out of the office and work in the field either alone or with just one of my staff. I greatly prefer to work independently, and very few jobs give you those kinds of opportunities.
Often during those field days we’d work on or around drawbridges, and I’d always look up and think how cool that must be. No office politics, no dress code, no insane supervisor breathing down your neck all day, no stupidity. That was my definition of heaven.
One day during my commute I thought, “I could be hit by a bus today, and the first thought I will have had that day is, ‘I don’t want to go to work.’” That would be tragic. I mean, seriously, too much time is spent on the job to be miserable there. What a waste of life. So I went in and I quit. Just like that.
In retrospect that was kind of insane and impulsive, because I still had a mortgage, I still had to eat. But the economy was much better back then. And I knew that if I didn’t just do it, I’d be stuck there, unhappy, for the rest of my life.
Next, I found out who did the hiring on the bridges, and I contacted him, but it was three scary months before a bridgetending position opened up. During that time I did a lot of freelance editing work. That kept the wolves from the door, but it wasn’t a viable long-term solution.
In Florida, the bridges are operated by subcontractors, so it’s not a government job. This meant that I took a 1/3 cut in pay and had no benefits to speak of. But you know what? I was happy. And you can’t put a price on happiness.
I truly believe that most people go about determining their career path in exactly the opposite way that they should. Most people think about the pay and the subsequent lifestyle that pay will afford them, then take a job and try to sort of force happiness out of it.
Instead, what you should do is determine what qualities you need for job satisfaction, then choose a career that will provide you with those qualities. If your primary motivator is money, then by all means, become that lawyer. But I suspect that with deeper thought, many people will realize that they need other things even more. For example, some people get their satisfaction from being in a helping profession. Others take pride in producing something with their hands.
What I need in a job, more than anything, is what a friend of mine calls “a whole lot of leave me alone.” That’s why I’m a bridgetender. And after 15 years, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
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