Hog Heaven

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.

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