Years ago, I sat across the desk from my high school guidance counselor as she reviewed my academic record.
Periodically, she would look up from the pages and sigh.
Finally, she set aside her papers and asked a simple question.
“Have you considered a career in hog herding?”
Mind you; I attended an inner-city, not a rural school.
“Why do you ask?” I responded.
“Oh, just looking at you.”
Perhaps my recollection of the event is not quite accurate. The conversation probably went worse, but if it did go that way, I have come full circle.
I am now herding hogs.
Like many people, I have had a long history of lousy jobs and while loading hogs onto trucks for market might easily be the crappiest, it is not the worst.
Not by a long shot.
Still I rather enjoy it.
I find the hogs quite pleasant to get along with, unlike many of the people I have worked with over the years – and while they tend to be a bit messy and utterly devoid of manners, stacked up against a few of my old workmates, they don’t come off so bad.
But working in a hog house has led me to ponder the arc of my career.
Like most of us, I began my work life doing a low-paid, miserable job. This first step was important because it meant surrendering to the reality of doing things that I swore I would never do.
I remember my parents stopping by the restaurant where I washed dishes and cleaned up. “Would you look at that?” my mom cried, “he’s holding a broom and not arguing about it!”
Well, I was arguing about it, but not out loud.
My next series of stumbles up the career rainbow involved swapping one menial job for another, each in a miserable environment under the thumb of a mean boss, until I finally landed a job in a steel foundry where I was paid well for being where I didn’t want to be and doing what I didn’t want to do.
Despite the hot, dusty and dangerous work, it was a union position and thus came with certain benefits, like when a supervisor told me to sweep up the mess I made, I got to tell him, “Hey, I am a mold-maker, I don’t have to push a broom.”
I had discovered status.
But then I discovered another brutal aspect of status. I had fallen passionately in love with a girl who couldn’t bring herself to feel the same about me.
“Why not,” I asked.
“Because you work in a foundry.”
That’s when I figured I better get me some of that college stuff.
Years later, my wife made the benefits of an education abundantly clear, when I brought home a jug of generic orange juice.
“I went to college,” she told me, “so I don’t do generic.”
I still enjoy plucking groceries from the bottom shelf, but going to school resulted in a meaningful job that paid oodles of money and finally allowed me to be where I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do.
But that money and status thing always bothered me.
Poets do not work for money and few of them are even published enough to work for status. They are just doing what they love to do and probably work a daytime job so they can keep doing it.
The same can be said of so many other careers that do not pay or even offer much success.
But poets, writers, artists, social workers and food truck chefs are doing what suits them, for they are doing what they want to do.
In short, they have found their place in the world.
It is that thing of place and meaning that I find so important. I never lost my connection to friends who work in factories or who also fell in love with people who never went to college. Many of them even shop exclusively for generics at Wal-Mart and the Dollar Store.
I find they are just as happy as anyone else and have found just as much money, status and meaning as they need.
In short, they have found their place in the world.
Perhaps that is why the arc of my career has led me a hog barn. I certainly don’t do it for the money, meaning, or status.
What I get out of it is a reminder that food doesn’t come from packages and most important of all I get something that is worth all the money, meaning and status in the world.
A little humility.
31 thoughts on “Hog Heaven”
My catching point is that I think you need to work the money-making sludge for a while in order to earn your hog heaven. I suppose you’ve got your generic orange juice to drink in the meantime. 🙂
There’s no dishonor in a menial job, as long as it’s done honestly. In fact, I can think of a few folks who might need the lessons from your latest job far more than you do.
There certainly is no dishonor, but sadly, low paying workers are treated the worst.
When I moved to Durango after college, I would say that I dropped out of the rat race before ever starting. I did manage to use my degree (sometimes), but you could never call my trajectory a “career.” Now I’m doing just what I love (researching and writing) and have no regrets about any of the jobs, whether serving cocktails, sweeping floors, managing property (well, okay, maybe that one), bookkeeping, etc. If we had the space, maybe hogs, too!
Well, you are doing it in a beautiful place. I always loved the region around Durango.
I loved this! And yes, being satisfied with what you do is exactly the meaning of success. When I was young and stupid (now I’m just stupid), I tried so hard to get a “respectable” job in PR or some such, because that’s what an English major was supposed to do. It never worked out, because I wasn’t cut out for that kind of career at all. Eventually, I found my niche: taking care of my kids, writing, and helping homeless animals. The money was lousy, I spent far too much time dealing with poop (both human and canine), but I’m happy with how I spend my days.
You and me both – it is why I am shooting for that humility thing.
I never thought I would have to be taught to be humble, but nature and my wife keep insisting that I take more and more advanced courses in the subject.
I’ve worked entry level jobs, got my BA as an adult, worked my way up the Corporate ladder to Executive VP. I now work in the garden or sew because I want to, and I sure find it more enjoyable. There’s a beginning, a middle, an end, and no drama or politics. 🙂 I’ve worked with cows, goats, horses, ducks, and chickens but never hogs. I think I could make it work and enjoy it. 🙂
There is nothing like the joy of a 350 lb hog deciding to run a path between your legs. They can easily upend you.
Thank you for the visual. 🙂
While climbing the ladder I was fortunate to be able to also work with my hands. Sometimes for money and sometimes for the clarity of outcomes. I even worked with hogs. I learned the best way to load them was to go after dark and throw a flashlight into the rig.
Curiosity generated self-loading. Super post.
Now there is a clever solution. 🙂
Now what about when you find your place in the world, and the world keeps stealing it from you?
Loved your thoughts in this post.
That is what happened to a lot of people who worked on newspapers when Google, Facebook and Twitter ran off with their ad revenue.
True. And in many other fields jobs were lost.
By the way, thank you again for the ghost town tour. I loved it!
My stepfather used to say, “the longer I’m around people, the more I like dogs.” I imagine hogs would be an acceptable substitute for canines.
Not to dis swine, but I prefer dogs to hogs. Dogs do better around the house.
I earned a couple of college degrees then found that I didn’t like working in office settings. I’m not a political animal, so the business vibe was not for me. I also am not competitive enough to be a proper white collar employee. I’m of the opinion that if you trust yourself you’ll find your way, regardless of what you’re *supposed* to do with yourself. Just saying, you done good
I agree Greg. I’ve worked both blue and white-collar jobs and it always bothered me the stuffy attitude of white-collar people who look down on people who do service and labor-related jobs.
Our son, a CPA/attorney, spent a summer wearing a toolbelt and moving furniture after hours for a large insurance company. He learned how they were treated by the “suits.” One of the best lessons ever.
I worked for years as a system architect. A “laptop” job if there ever was one, and in my time I have sat on many a hiring committee and have always given high marks to people who have worked in “non-laptop” jobs. They just seem to know themselves better.
You speak the truth. I worked my way up to graduate degrees and a high-status job. Then, I gave it up and took to varnishing boats. A variety of people tried to figure out what the heck I was up to, and I remember two conversations that summed it all up. In one, I said, “If I wanted to spend my life dealing with politics, I would have run for office.” In the other (whose time and place I still remember), I said, “I want to be ordinary.”
I’ve been treated better on the docks than I ever was in certain hallowed halls, and I’m satisfied with what I have. As the lyrics to “Amarillo by Morning” put it, “I ain’t got a dime, but what I’ve got is mine; I ain’t rich, but Lord, I’m free.”
If one has the right attitude, menial physical work becomes a form of meditation and the hours fly by.
Exactly. Except I’d never call physical work ‘menial.’
I have made poor word choices before, but that wins a prize. “Repetitive” would have been better.
There’s honor in hard work, no matter how menial. I’ve often found the opposite is true of high powered, high paying professions. They can be just as dirty as the hogs…
So true, the back-stabbing, lying and cheating of corner office politics is enough to make one seek solace in the peace of a hog barn.
A lot of dignity in a hog barn. I’m just back from a month in the US, including a stint on a hog farm in central Nebraska.
What brought you to Nebraska?
I may have lived overseas for 40+ years, but Nebraska is my home state. I get there fairly often.
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