Lessons from Odd Jobs GraphicHighCallingBlogs has a group writing project underway. Marcus Goodyear is hosting on his page Lessons from Odd Jobs. He’s updating the list as entries are submitted and there is no hard deadline so if you want to add your take on the subject feel free.

Here is mine.

An Unusual Career Path

Even though I’ve had wide array of jobs in the 20 or so years I’ve been in the work force I’ve never been one of those fortunate people who could successfully describe what they do for a living in a word.

With job titles like Naval Flight Officer, Marine Manager, Port Captain, Vessel Planner, Stevedore, Marine Surveyor, and now Social Media Consultant I’m used to folks either guessing completely wrong about what I do or giving me that awkward look like a heifer staring at a new gate. {Blink. Blink.}

Either way it invariably takes about a 10 minute conversation to explain what it is I really do.

When I was in the Navy the conversation would go something like this.

Stranger: So what do you do.

Me: I’m in the Navy. {With any luck at this point they’d be content with that and just plow on talking about themselves.}

Stranger: Oh, I have a nephew in the Navy. Do you know Jim?

Me: Um, the Navy’s pretty big.

Stranger: Jim’s on a submarine. What do you do in the Navy?

Me: I’m a Naval Flight Officer.

Stranger: So you’re a pilot?

Me: {Trying not to groan.} No. I’m a navigator & weapons systems guy. The pilot flies the plane and I fight it… {Then into the ten minute discussion.}

Top Gun Maverick & GooseEventually I worked out a short version. It went like this.

Me: Did you ever see Top Gun?

Stranger: Yeah.

Me: I’m like Goose. Only I lived.

Run a similar scenario across just about every job I’ve had so far and you get the picture. I’m used to it. But I still sometimes dread the “what do you do?” question.

Oh to be able to say, “I’m a doctor.” Or lawyer. Or accountant. Or some other one word profession.

Anyway, since most of the jobs I’ve had are considered unusual (or even odd) I’ll give you a quick description of a job that I’ve had and one thing I learned from that job.

Odd Jobs & Lessons

  • Horse Trainer – In high school I worked summers for a horse trainer. My folks had some Arabians and I was the one who worked with them mostly when I was growing up.
    Lesson – You can get back up after you get kicked in the teeth. Yes, I got kicked in the teeth by a horse once. No, it wasn’t fun.
  • Naval Flight Officer – Like I said above, the NFO was responsible for navigation, weapons system operation, and communication, ect. Pilots have a logical career path post military. But they’d joke NFO stood for “No Future Outside” as ours wasn’t so obvious.
    Lesson – Eventually, with the right training and experience, you can get very good at things that seem nearly impossible at the first attempt. (And yes, launching off the pointy end of an aircraft carrier in a jet is just as cool as you might think it would be.)
  • Vessel Agent – In my fist job post Navy I was responsible for taking care of all the Customs import and export documentation (among a slew of other things) for some cargo ships.
    Lesson – Mistakes in business only cost money. In the Navy I’d been in many situations where a bad decision would have cost someone their lives. The pressure of business decisions is far less by comparison.
  • Stevedore – Stevedores oversee cargo operations when a ship is loading or discharging in port. These are the guys that are out there on the ships and the docks working with the longshoremen to get the cargo moved. It’s physical dangerous dirty work and they’re out in all sorts of weather.
    Lesson – Heavy equipment can hurt you in an instant if you loose focus. I nearly lost a finger one day. It got caught while hooking up 2 ton rolls of paper to a crane that was loading them for export.
  • Marine Manager – This was a job that was responsible for the ship-side cargo operations of multiple ship terminals. In my case I oversaw cargo operations in Philadelphia, PA; Jacksonville, FL; and San Juan, PR.
    Lesson – With the right team of people it is possible to improve efficiency, to do a better job with fewer people and less stress, and still have each of those people work fewer hours. It’s not easy. You may have to overcome some organizational inertia. But often it is possible.
  • Port Captain – Here my job was to plan out where the cargo was going to go on ships as they went through several ports along the coast.
    Lesson – There are some people that I just plain don’t want to work for. I’ve worked for some tough bosses in my day. And I get along with most everyone. But in this job I found someone that was so difficult to work for that I actually went out and found another job just to get away from him.
  • Marine Surveyor – My last job involved conducting various types of inspections on all sorts of cargo on and around ships then writing up reports on my findings.
    Lesson – The people you work with can make a job either wonderful or horrible. The last year I was in this job there was 100% turnover in my office. (I was the last to go.) It’s not that the new folks were bad people, but somehow the corporate office managed to completely destroy any sense team dynamic. It went from a great place to work to one I had to leave.
  • Social Media Consultant – My current gig. I work with organizations and individuals, consult with them on integrating successful social media and blogging strategies into their overall marketing.
    Lesson – Starting your own business is a bit like getting married – no matter how many books you read on the subject you can’t really know what it’s like until you say, “I do.”

Well there you have it. Some of the many lessons I’ve learned from some of the different “odd” jobs I’ve had.

What lessons have you learned from your odd jobs?


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