Living Poetically: Life Lessons from the Dirtiest of jobs

PART TWO OF TWO—In my previous post, I talked about an idea of mine I’d termed long ago “living poetically.” Now that I’ve introduced this idea, let’s dive deeper and see if there’s any nice, clean truth to pull from iteven if it is a bit of a dirty job.

Okay, here’s the down-and-dirty.

A few years ago, I came across an interview with Mike Rowe, who’s probably best known for his role as host of the TV show Dirty Jobs. He talks about his life in the interview—where he comes from, the struggles he faced along the way to success on TV, as well as lessons he’d like to pass on to recent college grads trying to find their way in the world.

(Yes, I did read a lot of “advice-for-recent-graduate-type” interviews in those days.)

But after more than four years of attempted “adulting” in the real world, I wouldn’t really consider myself a recent college graduate anymore. I graduated in 2014, so it’s been a while since I officially wrapped things up college-wise. Still though, I find his story fascinating, not to mention relatable.

In the interview, Rowe talks about starting out as a young man looking to navigate the waters of adulthood. It took him some time, but eventually he was able to draw upon his passion for broadcast and carve out a path from himself in TV. It sounds like a lot of success stories we hear about—pretty simple, right?

Except, well—that isn’t quite the whole story.

Over the course of the interview, Rowe discusses the fact that while he’s certainly found his place in the world of television, that really wasn’t the path he’d had in mind. Not initially, at least.

The dream he’d wanted to pursue originally was much different.

“My grandad,” he says, “he built the house I was born in without a blueprint. He friggin’ built it! I saw him do that all of my youth. He was a magician. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Mike Rowe wanted to be the same kind of tradesman as his grandfather, putting hammer to nails, building structures that would enrich the lives of others. But unfortunately, he didn’t have quite the right skillset needed to get this dream off the ground—he actually failed woodshop, metalshop and autoshop.

“So yeah, it was my grandfather who said, ‘It’s cool that you want to be a tradesman, but you need a different tool box.’ That’s the best advice I ever got and I would pass it on.”

Rowe took this advice to heart, and when he got to college, decided to study communications (like someone else you may know, *cough, cough*). Because as he put it:

“…Communications is the sort of thing you do when you have no idea what to do.”

Yep—you got that right, Mike.

(Going from Rowe to Lowe really quick… did you see what I did there?) 😎

In previous blog posts, I’ve mentioned the sense of freedom I craved growing up—this idea that whatever I’d become as an adult, I needed it to be something with freedom from the mundane reality I hoped so desperately to avoid.

(Here’s the link, in case you want to read it later.)

Everything I wanted to be back then was larger than life in a way (at least in the mind of my younger self). An artist, NFL quarterback, rockstar, radio DJ… there’s an art and sense of recognition that goes along with each of these professions (some more so than others, admittedly). But back then, each seemed to have a larger-than-life aura about it.

It seemed like these people didn’t play by the same rules as everyone else. They simply lived to enjoy life in the ways they know best, be that in a world of art, sports, or music.

(That’s what I thought back then, at least.)

Since entering the workforce full-time though (and by extension, becoming an full-time adult), I’ve realized that however glamorous a profession may seem (even if you’re an NFL QB or the frontman of a band), you’re probably going to have your fair share of ups and downs. Hopefully you’ll have triumphs, but you’ll also encounter a few trials and tribulations along the way.

What I’ve also realized though, is that this is okay. And, just because you haven’t become exactly what you wanted to be when you were a kid (or at least, haven’t yet), hopefully there’s some element of these dreams present in your actual life. Let’s go back to Mike Rowe again for more on this and his dream of becoming a tradesman:

“I would say that being a tradesman is a state of mind. I can apply it to writing, acting, producing, or directing.”

For me, this sense of freedom I associated with dreams of being an artist, NFL quarterback, or rockstar—this is something I’ve been able to capture and bring into my everyday life through the very thing I always hoped to avoid:

A plain ‘ol, nine-to-fiver.

So, what exactly do I mean by this? How do you find contentment in normal, day-to-day life like you imagined you would in childhood dreams?

Well, like Mike Rowe said—it’s all a state of mind.

Opportunities that allow me to learn, grow, and make a difference day-in and day-out curb that craving for freedom. It scratches the itch, so to speak.

And as someone who still harbored lofty, ambiguous dreams of freedom post-college, this certainly came as a surprise.

But as I’ve continued to grow professionally, I’ve learned that when this desire for freedom occasionally crops back up, it can be a motivator to continue developing my skills.

Somehow in my mind, this helps get me closer to the great goal in the distance—my “finale of freedom.”

My green light across the bay, if you will.

Using this same fire I had as a kid (one initially urged me as far away from a workplace as possible), I now have a motivator to make myself better every single day.

And that’s where the real freedom comes in.

I’d say that like being a tradesman, the artistic element I associated with my childhood dreams can manifest in different ways. For some, it compels them to paint and write novels, or to make music or movies. For others, meaning is blended into verses of rhyme and meter, using symbolism to convey emotion and ideas.

The latter are poets, and as is the case in making any art, sometimes the ordinary is just as inspirational as the extraordinary.

For me, the life I live is the poetry I write, searching for significance in every single day. Each meter is built around a certain repetition—a familiarity drawing from the routine of previous days. For this reason, each of my days tend to rhyme with one another (in a normal, nine-to-five kind of way).

But if I’m doing my job as a poet, the meaning and significance I weave into each day will continue to intrigue my primary reader of “poetry”—myself.

This is one way I know there must be meaning to the life I live every day. It’s the life I choose to live every day—it’s that simple.

So while there have certainly been moments in life that haven’t quite measured up to the expectations I’ve concocted over the years, the feeling that I’m on the right track, that there’s really something to this whole thing—

That’s the soup I suffer for.

That’s the reason I so desperately wanted to pay off my loans as quickly as possible. I had to feel like I was in control—like I was steering the ship in the right direction.

I wanted to feel like I could write my own poetry, full of my own meaning, day-in and day-out.

Perhaps that’s the sense of freedom I’ve been craving as long as I can remember. Maybe it’s really a sense of purpose that I crave—the need for some poetic arc to round out this thing called life.

But, you want to know something else?

Even though life may not always live up to expectations, I think it’s still more sweet than sour.

That’s why no matter what kind of “dirty job” I’ve encountered one day or another as an adult, I’ve found that same fire inside that I’ve always had. My passion for bettering myself has burned hot enough to handle it with a smile on my face and sense of poetry in my heart.

Because that my friends, isn’t suffering at all.

About the author

Hi, I’m Andre! I’m your standard, run-of-the-mill, millennial with a thing for avocados, a major coffee-habit and a blog I work on when I'm not listening to podcasts or collecting cans of rare, sought-after craft beer.

Leave a Reply