The word “occupation” has another meaning. For those of us who have one, it refers to what we do to make a living. I am a businessman; that is my occupation.
Businessman was not always my occupation. My undergraduate majors were art and psychology, although I did not quite exactly graduate; it was more of a mutual agreement with the college administration that instead of coming back for my final year, I would benefit from matriculating at any other institution anywhere else on the planet. One suggested a facility with bars and guards would be a good choice. I prefer to call it finishing early.
In 1975 the economy was in the ditch, there was little demand for an art/psych dropout, the Marines wouldn’t take me, and I was raised in the belief that it was a disgrace for an able-bodied person to accept welfare. My parents had made it clear their home would not be occupied by adult children, and the age of dependency had not yet been raised to 26. The party was over and it was time to grow up.
I cut my hair and shaved, ditched the jeans for chinos, put on a tie, and made up a resume that listed every job I ever held (12), all of my accomplishments and awards, my academic record and grade point, and all of my volunteer work – I didn’t mention the rowdiness that got me expelled from my one-man Occupy Carthage College movement. No hard feelings, by the way; I had it coming.
And I hit the streets, stopping in every business and factory and asking to see the boss. Not the personnel department, the boss; the lines were too long at the personnel department and all the people there were just filling out forms. I didn’t stop at night; I hit on every factory night shift foreman and restaurant manager and tavern owner right up until bar time.
It took a zillion rebuffs until one boss liked how I got around his personnel department firewall and gave me a job working in a warehouse for $1.15 an hour – minimum wage. I did not get that job because I could draw an apple or recognize obsessive compulsive traits in adolescents; I got it because I could lift 110 pound boxes over my head and that saved the company time waiting for a forklift driver.
That was my employable skill – lifting; that was how I could add value for the firm. But it was my foot in the door, and I was grateful to be employed. And no, minimum wage was not a livable wage back then, either, so I added another job and then added a half-time job until I could learn enough and add enough value to cut back down to just one.
The rest is pretty boring everyday American Dream kind of stuff - small town boy makes good. I won’t bore you with the details of how I went from human forklift to company President, and there are many more compelling stories then mine if you are looking for inspiration.
Over the past 36 years I have made it my business to learn new ways to add value for my employers and our customers – that is what the occupation of businessman is all about. Adding more value is how the ladder is climbed. I look now at the Occupy Wall Street protestors and wonder if they have any idea what it will take for them to swim with the big fish if and when they get around to the grown-up business of choosing and mastering a real occupation and providing for themselves and their families.
It is difficult for guys like me to sympathize with those protestors who expect high-paying jobs simply just because they have college degrees. In case any of you are reading this, I have to tell you that college isn’t even that hard anymore, and your need to pay off your loan is not a reason why I should hire you to work for me. It is on you to show me what value you can add to my firm; it is not on me to provide you with income. And you must compete with others who want that job as much or more as you do. Hit the gym, vocationally speaking.
Do you have 12 jobs to put on your resume? Can you list the charity work, sports and club awards from your school days that demonstrate your commitment to excellence? Did you figure out how to get around the personnel department to get to me? Are you willing to start at the bottom and lift heavy things just to have the opportunity to show us what else you got?
If you are sincere about wanting a job, start with the basics. Pull your pants up; turn your hat around – better yet, take it off; and take that hockey puck thing out of your earlobe and all the staples out of your face – you look like a freakin’ tackle box. Cover up your tats even if you have to wear a burqa to do it; either grow a proper beard or shave, knock off that indecisive stubble thing; comb your hair and wash those red and blue streaks out of it. And don’t call me “dude”.
But do tell me about the charity work you have done during your extended period of unemployment. Uh-oh…all that time on your hands, such great needs, and you couldn’t find a way to make a difference in some kid’s life? Head Start, Big Brothers & Sisters, Junior Achievement, Boys and Girls Club, 4H, Scouts, any church, and you can't figure out how to do any of that giving back you keep talking about? That tells me a lot more about you than your misspelled resume does...dude.
You know who impresses me in an interview? Those who serve in the National Guard or Reserve and the veterans returning from their active duty service, especially those who served in combat. Many have left pieces of themselves in foreign lands, but few complain; in a job interview, the disabled veteran really stands out against the scores of inabled civilians whose first question is how much time off they will get.
These terrific young men and women who served gave up a life of privilege and denied themselves and their family in order to do defend our liberty. They understand sacrifice, discipline, teamwork, goal-setting, innovation, planning, strategy, and character. They know results matter, they have demonstrated an ability to overcome obstacles, and they possess instantly transferable skill sets and vocational training. Plus we owe them - to the serially ungrateful, this may be an incomprehensible sentiment.
I don’t need a law to tell me to give a hiring preference to veterans; it is good business as well as good citizenship. The Department of Defense has a program called Employer Support for the Guard and Reserves (ESGR) which helps employers reach out to current military and those leaving the service to return to civilian life. Check it out, employers.
The Occupier who took the dump on a cop car Wall Street is going to have a hard time finding and keeping a job – not because he took a dump on a cop car, but because he thinks taking a dump on a cop car with kids around is cool. That brain isn’t a disability; it is a liability. We employers don’t have the time nor the inclination to fix him.
“Moment Of Clarity” is a weekly commentary by Libertarian writer and speaker Tim Nerenz, Ph.D. Visit Tim’s website www.timnerenz.com to find your moment.