As a teen we stumble through school in a state of lassitude and laxity. That is until we get our first job. The first job serves as a rude awakening and you quickly learn that cash is hard to make. You’re about to be tamed and tempered. You may be a teenager of perhaps 14 or 15 and are told to get off the couch, stop being so lazy and make yourself useful.
In days of old, you might get yourself a paper route as Thomas Wolfe did when he was 14. Those were the days when newspapers and magazines thrived. Wolfe writes about this first job with pride and some pain, getting up at 4:30 a.m. and carrying that heavy bag from home to home down in Asheville. He stuck with the newspaper and publishing business for a lifetime.
Your first job is your first taste of freedom and it will often tell you exactly what you do not want to do in life. When I was 16, my first job was working in my father’s factory, pushing a pipe threading machine that spit out burning oil and a foul smell as it bore threads into pipes and converted pipes into a variety of expensive plumbing supplies. I did this for two weeks over Christmas to buy a new kangaroo skin golf bag I had my eye on. I earned the necessary $75, took the cash over to Spencer Murphy’s pro shop at Glen Oaks Country Club and bought my golf bag. Hard earned money indeed, but a good education in what I did not want to do as a career.
My next job was the following summer when my father arranged for me and my older brother to work for Restaurant Associates at the 1965 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows. I sold Italian ices. Thousands and thousands of Italian ices. The World’s Fair was run by Robert Moses, supported first by John Kennedy and then by Lyndon Johnson and was designed to foster American dominance as we waged the cold war with Russia. All I knew was that selling so many rock-hard Italian ices made my hands so numb and cramped that I couldn’t use them for hours afterwards.
The iconic 12-story-high, 700,000-pound steel Unisphere still stands proud and tall, in the middle of Flushing Meadow, representing the 1965 vision of the future with those three orbiting satellites and signifying “peace through understanding.”
That job came to an end in late summer and as I gave my two weeks’ notice to my manager, Mr. Gore, his response was,“So what do you want me to do about it?” Again, I took this as subtle but powerful encouragement to further my education so that I might never work in the food industry again.
Soon after upon entering college, I noticed that one of the big men on campus was Kurt Dorfi, a Division I basketball giant, who had the fine looking red MGTF. Those were the sports cars with running boards and the tire on the back trunk, like the one in “Two for the Road” with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. So for the next summer it was caddying and working afternoons at UPS unloading trucks. And by the end of summer, I had enough to buy the car from Kurt and I established myself as big little man on campus.
However, the illusory meaning of life was not to be found in a kangaroo golf bag or in a red MGTF. After graduating from college, I tried the corporate route for a bit, working an entry level position at IBM but knew that my calling was not in corporate America. My calling was to be a psychoanalyst working with athletes and teams.
I’m not sure where this calling comes from, but I think we all hear that faint whisper imploring us to go in a certain direction in life. It is like geese in the fall that hear the calling to go south. They don’t know much about how to get there, but they all seem to muster up enough courage to take flight.
Many an author has told us to listen to this call. Jack London put the calling into his wolf dog Buck in “Call of the Wild.” And at the end we watched as brave fearless Buck ran into the woods to be with his wolf pack.
And in “The Stolen Child” Yeats wrote:
“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
with a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
Yeats is telling us to go forth into the “waters and the wild” to find happiness and meaning.
In “Look Homeward, Angel” Thomas Wolfe wrote “waken, ghost-eared boy, but into darkness. Waken, phantom, O into us. Try, try, O try the way. Open the wall of light.” He tells himself to awaken and go forth in the darkness to find his destiny.
All the world-class golfers and soccer players and tennis stars and rugged rugby players and tiny jockeys and pretty warrior-like figure skaters I work with have listened to the call. Abraham Maslow said that on the very top of the pyramid are those he called “self-actualized” people or those who have used all their talents and capabilities.
“Follow your bliss” is the way the famed mythologist Joseph Campbell put it. Your first job will often be an anti-calling, containing no bliss at all. Furthermore, most of the jobs you have in your 20s will be missteps and misdirection. But pay no mind to that. They serve as biofeedback telling you to change course. So keep your ears and eyes open, follow your heart and soon enough you will find the right path, that special call of the wild and off you’ll run.