As a welder's helper for H.B. Zachry back in 1978, I learned alligator cooked in a welding rod hot box tastes a lot like chicken and that it's important to know who you are and have a tight grip on your values when submerged in a world of loose rules and questionable ethics. I was introduced to and outraged by the reality of extreme racism and, when the women in the tag shack wouldn't let me use the restroom in their trailer rather than the stomach-turning port-a-potties because I was one of the "workers", I experienced the disdain of discrimination. (I also learned how to go 10 hours straight without using the restroom.)
As a plant technician (chemical plant operator) for DuPont, USI, and Quantum Chemicals from 1978 through 1991, I realized I could learn anything if I put my mind to it. I discovered true friendship isn't restricted or limited by gender, age, race or religion. I learned public speaking from giving first aid classes. I learned the importance of going to the source of information rather than just taking someone's word on a procedure, especially when there was hydrogen, carbon monoxide or propylene involved.
When my body went into automatic at the sound of a fire alarm, I realized the value of preparation and practice, practice, practice. I witnessed male chauvinism, but learned to speak up for myself, maintain a good sense of humor, and to do my best even if no one acknowledged it. I learned it was possible to change others' attitudes. I memorized the words to almost every pop song recorded between 1950 and 1970, thanks to long nights in the lab listening to the oldies station, as well as snippets of the Cherokee language and Viet Nam culture and history, thanks to co-workers.
As a new mom working 12 hour shifts, I learned I could manage on little or no sleep. I learned that my most important job of all is being a mom, but that I might have to fight others to do the job well. I learned to trust God to watch over my babies because I couldn't always be there.
As a stay-at-home mom, I learned what loneliness means and the sanity-saving value of a call from a friend, a few hours away from home with the girls or volunteering at the school. I learned it's never too late to go back to school, but it's a lot harder once you're married and have kids.
As a substitute teacher, volunteer, and elementary school librarian, I learned that not all teachers are created equal, and that the inside politics of a school district can get pretty ugly. The children are often forgotten and common sense is sometimes only a term in a book.
But as a librarian, having to teach myself from scratch (because the district refused to pay the previous librarian to train me), I remembered that I could learn anything if I had the desire to do so and put my mind to it. Degree be damned! I learned the joy of passing on a love of reading and respect of books to children, of watching the wonder in their faces as I read to them, of seeing the tears in their eyes that matched my own when we came to the good parts.
As an almost full-time writer, I learned the importance of saving or printing out what I wrote when, after months of working on my children's book, the beginning of another book, and several essays and short stories, my computer crashed, taking my words and motivation with it.
There were a few years when I was a juggler - three or four part-time jobs, building the house, raising the kids, volunteering for everything. I learned there was such a thing as too much.
At Juggled Job 1, a part-time whatever-was-needed, didn't-even-have-my-own-cubicle-or-computer for seven years office worker, I learned humility and compromise, and felt again the acute regret of dropping out of college.
It surprised me that I found Juggled Job 2, newspaper reporting, mostly tedious and boring. Maybe that's because I covered the evening school board meetings after working all day, and then sat at the kitchen table, listening to the voices drone on and on and on from my tape recorder while I scribbled furiously well past midnight. I wanted to make sure I got the facts right, especially in this small town and during that conflictual time in its history. However, I also witnessed the power of written words, how they can shine a light on obscured facts and sometimes spark change. I felt the satisfaction of having my words make a difference.
At Juggled Job 3, substitute church secretary in our small church, I learned what multi-tasking really means. I learned more about the Catholic faith, more about humanity, more about invisible heroes, more about true compassion and service. I treasure memories of interesting discussions with Father Joe, the peace and sustaining silence of the sanctuary in the middle of the day, the heartbreaking stories of the St. Vincent de Paul calls - much needed wake-up calls for me, reminders of my many blessings and how quickly circumstances can change.
Juggled Job 4, substitute teaching, was the first I picked up and the last I let go.
Now here I am at 50, a year into yet another new job - just one job for the first time in a long time - learning about marketing and product naming, search engine optimization, videography, and even autism...things I never dreamed I'd be learning.
All of these jobs were blessings...doors that opened to me when I needed them... interesting jobs, for the most part, that have allowed me to continue learning, whether skills or life lessons.
However, one door remains closed - the one I shut on myself years ago when I decided to "postpone" getting my degree. Even though it's getting harder and harder the closer I get to retirement age for others to understand (and some days for me to believe), I'm still determined to re-open that door and step through it. Someday. Until then, I'll just keep learning any way I can.