Some people get pulled into the family business as a matter of course. Those who find themselves in this situation, may later on protest that it is not a good fit. They want out. They feel better suited to something else in life. It is however, not so easy to make a change once things are off and running in a certain direction.
Remember Harry Potter’s sorting hat - the one which recognizes all your hidden qualities and then sizes them up in the big mix? You can’t avoid the sorting hat of life. It’s just like watching Survivor on TV. It seems oddly wrong that life is a hierarchy when we have been told all along that people are equal… in theory at least. But when you watch Survivor you cannot stop yourself from judging basic matters of competence and who fits where. It’s just part of life.
Life constrains us with many things we must do to get from A to B. Some tasks are tiresome and unpleasant. Worse, they don’t seem to fit our personality. When this happens we feel something is wrong and sit down to assess. I have long figured out, that I like to DO things and I don’t much like to tell people what to do. That pretty much relegates my functions in life to that of a ‘DO-er’. That’s ok. I am a bit solitary and a bit of a worker bee. So it goes. It is a formula which seems to be ok if you are self-employed.
My most miserable moment sizing up these questions came from an ill-advised move out west to Calgary long ago. I was simply sick of being stuck in Toronto and wanted a change from the ‘Big Lonely’. Art friends from out west advised me that I would be fine finding work… but I did not accurately size up the realities of the up and down resource economy of Alberta. Neither did I really contemplate the animus that is directed at anyone who hails from Toronto. It’s an insider’s club out that way, and I was on the outside.
So I beat my head against the wall for a long time. Finally I was running short of funds and starting to answer pretty much any ad that seemed remotely related to my training, as a way of covering off my bases and getting a foot in somewhere. I desperately needed to be making some money. The ‘advertising positions’ posted looked good up front, but generally translated to things like selling cheesy coupon books on commission. The last interview I attended, was revealed to be an ‘opportunity’ to sell boxed meat door to door. And… I would have to supply my own vehicle. I spent a half hour selling the interviewer on why I was a worthy candidate and I got the job. Then woke up the next morning, realized that I was out of my freaking mind, and made preparations to come back to Toronto. I was not made to sell meat door to door – EVER. That is something that in the worst circumstance, I could not even sell myself on.
But there was one juncture that sticks with me because it was the most comical moment of the ordeal – someone I met at a cattle-call answering a job ad. The ad was looking for personable people who were good at sales, for an ad agency. There were the usual suspects in the room. A very hot girl sitting close to the door. If looks counted, she had a couple of obvious advantages. Another guy let slip that he was an ex-con who was looking to turn things around. “I’m a shoe-in,” he said. “I mean, sales is all about bullsh***ing right? And I’m a good bullsh***er”. Problem was, he did not come across as the kind of guy you would buy a used car from.
Of all those people, one guy stopped and asked me how I ended up there. He was singularly impressive and well turned out. In my best days, I could not hold a candle to this guy. He was dressed all in black. He had a neat leather valise in one hand, a very stylish watch, and his finger nails were immaculate. He was wearing pleasant after-shave, and he was also sporting cuff-links, which I thought was unusual. Still, he was a sympathetic character… he asked me all about myself and then discussion finally came around to how he ended up there.
“I want to get out of the family business” he said. “Can you guess what line of work I am in?” he asked me with a smile. I looked at him and sized him up and it did not take me too long. I offered up, somewhat reluctantly “are you an undertaker”? The man looked positively deflated. “How did you guess?” he asked. “I don’t know, you just SEEM kind of like an undertaker to me,” I replied.
He seemed personally distraught that I had so easily arrived at his present vocation. He wanted a change. An undertaker just did not fit him – or so he said.
But oddly, it did. It made me wonder just how much of life seems written in an invisible package that comes with our voice, our demeanour, our looks, things we are naturally good or not good at. There seems to be a fate set out for every man. To one a king, to another a bell hop. Life is just like that it would appear.
Are you in your place? Life always seems to be a mashup of this trying to become that, pushing the limits that allow for something new. Are we all we can be? Surely not. Are we doing what we are apt to do? Likely. Life seems to take care of that. The trick is to navigate between the two. We will always be stuck between being and becoming.
It’s the reality of defying the Harry Potter sorting hat. Where you end up after pushing the envelope is anyone’s guess. I always wondered if the undertaker got the job and the chance to push back on fate. It’s something we all should get a chance to do, even if it’s just an exercise in finding out who we really are.
Robert Browning likely said it best – that man’s reach should exceed his grasp. It is fitting that we should reach out for more. It is also perhaps poetic justice that we will not accomplish all we set out for, but that should not discourage us from trying nonetheless. In all of that push and pull, life will tell us. Eventually, I think we find that things have turned out pretty much like they should.
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