Life happens

I think one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in 62 years is that no matter what you plan for things are going to happen and very often out of your control they’re going to push you into a different direction.

I once listed all the different jobs I’ve held throughout the course of my life from the time I got my first job until recently. From working at a cemetery to groundskeeping to park ranger, restaurant worker in various capacities as a bartender, waiter, dishwasher, and cook. Working retail in convenience stores and department stores, retail management overseeing a dozen employees. A brief stint trying to make it through Marine corps officers candidate school. Teacher and a substitute teacher, then later on in manufacturing working my way up into the engineering field.

My life goal from the time I was a sophomore in high school was to become a band director. I studied hard, I worked hard, I practiced all the time to get into music school at the university. At university, I found I was fairly mediocre horn player compared to a lot of my fellow students, but I felt I was very good at communicating from the podium. I wanted to teach at a school and maintain or build a music program like the one that I had lived through at Muskegon High School -a storied program of several decades of excellence.

The teaching reality turned out to be quite different. First job in a small school where most of the students weren’t really all that devoted to the band program and the school administrator to had principle and I did not get along well. the music program was saddled with too much work and not enough time. Additionally, I was also teaching 7th and 8th grade gym classes. the principle found a loophole in the union contract which had allowed him to maintain me as a permanent substitute which kept my pay from being at the level of my fellow full-time teachers barely making ends meet. Then in December, after what I was told was one of the most successful Christmas concert the school had seen in five or six years the Superintendent told me I was being let go and they were going to replace me with someone that had a fizz Ed minor in addition to their music major.

To say I was devastated would be an understatement. Eight years of my life devoted to this goal and now I’m out of work. I moved back to my hometown at the end of that semester worked at a Burger King as I substitute taught during the day while looking for full time band director positions.

To make a long story a little bit shorter the journey then led to working in a convenience store and being asked to become a manager and working as a retail manager for the next 10 years. Getting burnt out on 24 hour businesses an retail life, I went into manufacturing on the shop floor eventually working my way up to become an engineer.

I spent years being angry at having spent all that time and money devoting myself to a college degree that I wasn’t even using until I realized I was.

School, especially college should not be a trade school. Sure, you’ll get some skills along the way and some education in a particular field, but ultimately what you should be getting out of a collegiate education is learning how to learn.

Your education should make you adaptable not lock you in to a particular path.

Even as I worked my way up in manufacturing into the engineering department, I didn’t realize this. But it started to click when I realized that just having a bachelors degree on the bottom of my resume meant that my resume didn’t get immediately tossed into the wastebasket for those engineering positions. I often had friends and acquaintances who felt stymied in their job searches and they did not have college degrees. As job searching methods online by way of the Internet, I can guarantee you those algorithms were kicking people out of being reviewed by human resource departments simply because they didn’t have a degree at the bottom of their resume.

I picture an HR person sitting at their desk with a stack of resumes for an open position and going “degree” “no degree” “degree” “no degree” Regardless of whether the job really needs a degree and the number of years of experience the person applying might have.

So yes, my degree did open some doors. That open door would have mattered not at all if I hadn’t been adaptable, hadn’t figured out how to learn, what to learn, and when to learn it.

Don’t mistake my essay here as some sort of schmaltzy Horatio Alger story because it’s not. The Horatio Alger myth has been embedded in our society so badly that everybody who got somewhere thinks they got there all on their own regardless of which help they really had. It allows them to believe that the meritocracy is what’s making them successful as other people struggle through life. There are practically whole books written on this.

as the famous stoic Epictetus once said: there are things that are in your control and there are things that are out of your control worry about the things that you can control and not the things you cannot.

What’s in your control is to teach yourself how to learn and how to be adaptable. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to actually help or workout, but it’s pretty much guaranteed in today’s modern economy that if you don’t do that, it definitely won’t workout.

Originally published at

Cyclist, runner. Backpacking, kayaking. .Enjoy travel, love reading history. Congressional candidate in 2016. Anti-facist. Home chef.