I’ve had the privilege of counseling lots of students and young professionals over the years, advising them on how to break into the public relations profession or progress in their career. In fact, I have the joy of doing this for my own children now, with my daughter Amanda completing her sophomore year at GVSU (seeking internships toward her tourism and hospitality program) and my 16-year-old son Conner looking to earn some bucks toward college and gas for the car.
I love talking to young people with their whole lives ahead of them, with lots of empty pages yet to be filled. There weren’t a lot of people giving me career advice at a young age. My dad encouraged me to work hard at whatever I did, but didn’t really tell me what I should do. I think my mom secretly hoped I’d be a teacher, but didn’t really push me in any direction. They were both immigrants and didn’t have the opportunities their sons did. One by one, they saw their boys off to college and into various professions — a chemical engineer in a nuclear plant, a project manager for a large construction firm, a VP of a national industry association, a PR professional.
Frankly, they would have been just as thrilled had any of us gone into construction like my dad, or into farming, or run a local store. It’s all good work, you see. It *is* good work. I know that from experience, having done a lot of different jobs over the years. Some of them were very dirty jobs.
My first work was as a newspaper delivery boy. I delivered both the weighty Toronto Star as well as the tri-weekly Trentonian, a much smaller paper. That job gave me an achy back and blackened fingers. Little did I realize the foreshadowing, as I’d later go into journalism and create the words and pictures requiring all that ink!
In high school, I caught chickens. There were multiple ways and reasons to catch chickens. On one farm, I’d work with crew of young guys to catch young pullets so they could be inoculated against diseases and debeaked (so they wouldn’t peck each other to death). On that same farm there was the process of stuffing young layers into cages as part of a living “egg factory,” and there was the process of removing those same chickens from those same cages many months later to be sent off to the soup factory.
I also was a member of a crew that would catch the chickens that end up in grocery store meat sections or your restaurant plate. These big, heavy birds were caught past midnight, in the dark, when they’d stand still and remain calm. We’d snag one leg of each chicken, holding four in each hand, then haul them to an opening in the barn where we’d hand them off to men loading crates on the truck.
These chicken jobs were *dirty* jobs. We wore masks to keep from breathing in the dust, but I’d still cough up nasty stuff the next day. The dust was, well, dried chicken sh*t. The birds would crap all over us. Plus, my wrists were criss-crossed with angry red scratches from those chicken claws. But it was very good money for a high school boy.
I worked construction with my dad and for a few other companies, and that often involved digging in the muck, mixing cement (and becoming somewhat encased in it), roofing in the blazing heat, laying in itch-inducing pink insulation, and numerous other strenuous or uncomfortable tasks.
One summer I worked with a crew for the parks department, operating a weed whacker as we maintained various area parks. Many of them had poison ivy and the weed whacker did a great job of creating a fine spray out of the rash-inducing leaves, stalks, and sap. For that job, I’d wear long sleeves and long pants in the blazing heat, or risk being covered with uncomfortable rashes.
I’ve run the front desks of a lumber yard, a swimming pool, and a video rental store. I’ve vacuumed, mopped, washed windows, served food, washed dishes. And, yes, I was a journalist, a photographer, and a public relations professional.
The jobs I’ve done might have made me physically ache or become quite dirty. But it was all good, honest work. That is something I will continue to strive toward in my professional career and with my own business. It will be honest, open and transparent work. The work I do today isn’t as likely to make me physically dirty, but I must safeguard against anything morally dirty as well.
You can wash your clothes and you can remove the dirt from beneath your finger nails, but you cannot as easily throw your conscience or your reputation into the washing machine.