I was remembering a conversation I once had with a coworker when I worked for the Florida Department of Transportation. We were doing highway inspections out in the middle of nowhere. I mean, there was nothing or no one around for miles except fields of potatoes, and for some reason he chose that moment to say something really racist.
I had to call bullsh**, as I am wont to do in these situations. I don’t know why I bother. It never ends well. But I can’t just sit back and let ignorance like that pass.
“Dude, I can’t believe you just said that. I can’t believe you believe it, let alone say it out loud.”
“I can’t help it. It’s how I was raised. I was taught—”
“Excuse me? You’re a freakin’ ADULT!!! You don’t have to march in lock step with your parents. You’re not a potato. You don’t have to stay where you’re planted. You’re not a stupid man. You get to decide what your morals and values are. I’d find it refreshing if you took ownership of your hate, and stopped blaming your parents for it. It would be even more refreshing if you got a clue.”
It was a long, quiet ride back to the office. Did it do any good? Probably not. But some things just have to be said.
I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I seem to have stumbled upon two of the Seattle area’s best kept secrets. The first is the neighborhood where I just bought my house. It’s a hidden little hamlet that most people do not even realize exists. Therein lies its charm. We don’t get a lot of visitors. The hubbub is kept to a bare minimum. It’s the kind of place where everybody knows everybody, and you feel like you can keep your doors unlocked. (But I resist that urge, in case you’re wondering.)
When I get within a quarter mile of home, it’s like I’ve entered an oasis after having spent weeks in a desert, and I’m about to plunge into a crystal blue spring. It feels good to scrub off the dust of the trail, figuratively speaking. Bliss.
The second is a public park within walking distance of my house. I never see many people there, and once you’re about a block off the highway, even though we’re not that far from the bustle of Seattle, it’s as if you’ve plunged into a forest primeval. Nature just runs right up to you and cradles you in its arms.
It is a place where you can soak your feet in a cool mountain stream on a hot summer’s day, or lie in a field, gazing up, up, up at old growth forest. I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am to have a getaway like this, practically in my own back yard. It takes my breath away. I can’t wait to see how it changes with the seasons!
And if you think for one second that I’m going to tell you where these gems are, you are out of your mind. Finding serenity and peace in this area is as rare as hen’s teeth. If you have a place like this, guard it with your life.
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.