Thursday, May 05, 2011

What others think.

What you think of yourself is much more important than what others think of you.
- Seneca

I was a tower crane operator two years ago, and was happy to have settled on that as my profession. My father was an excellent operator of 43 years when he retired. My brother has operated for some 25 years, and is brilliant, and from them I learned enough of their skills that I was good at it. On the jobs I was held in high esteem, and the projects were important, hospitals and universities and the like. Most importantly, I loved doing it. There's something inexplicably satisfying in doing one thing right, and doing it well, and being appreciated.

There were times when I wished for an easy day job, or something that had less responsibility. There were also the logistics of living in a relatively small town and traveling to the city to work every week. I was staying in hotels and with friends four nights a week, something my brother is still doing after 25 years. There are rarely cranes in Belleville. Still, it was honest money for honest work.

Tragically, the Business Rep who signed me into the union years ago fell sick. Without getting into too much detail, doctors first thought it was pnuemonia, then pleurisy, and then over the course of the summer, we were shocked to find out it was cancer. He was fifty two, and after a short, brutal battle, he died on September 11 of 2009. He was a friend, and a great guy, dedicated and honest, and through his seven years in the area he got the job done and didn't care what others thought of him.

Two weeks after his passing, I was offered his job, and it was difficult in many ways to decide whether to take it or not. First, I know the stress he was under. His job could be crushing in the long run, though it could be dealt with in the short. Second, I would be giving up what I loved to do. My wife and I reasoned that the loss of pay was worth it to be able to come home every night for the kids.

I accepted. I was given a blackberry, a fuel card, and a map of the area I was to cover. Two weeks of following other Reps around downtown Toronto, and I was let loose on my area with no further training. I was petrified. I knew I had huge shoes to fill, was expected to know what I was doing.

The job and situation brought a lot of scrutiny not just from the companies in the area, who expect organizing to "level the playing field", but also from the members I represent, who never did get to know me face to face, even when I was on the same jobs, because I was up in a tin box 200 feet in the air. Often I wished I didn't give a shit what people thought of me, because for all my bravado taking the job, I have relatively thin skin. Still, all those times I wished for a job that I could make a difference in the world, standing up for the things I value, like human rights, and worker rights, and equality ... all of a sudden I had that, taking me from what I had thought I'd do for the rest of my life.
Shifting gears caused its own anxiety, not having a regulated day. If I wasn't at work, I would think of my brothers in their machines carrying on. Jenn would remind me that I didn't think of them when organising on weekends, or going to conferences or preparing for negotiations well into the night while they were at home, and she was right (she usually is).

Fast forward eighteen months, and the job has not backed off in intensity, but I can handle it better. I don't have the Sunday afternoon dread I had at the beginning, and it's starting to make sense. At some point I had to just accept that my life is different from the other operators now.

Don't get me wrong, I never was a good ol' boy, but now I'm not an operator any more. That in itself is hard to swallow, since I spend more time talking to operators now than I ever did. So what do I do with all this?

I guess a pat answer will do. Make lemonade.

I get to see my kids every night, eat supper with them, and tuck them in, and every moment of that is time I would have lost in the cranes. I can sacrifice a lot of my well-being to be there with them, and if that means putting up with a job that is difficult, though ethical and fulfilling? Well, there are many worse fates in this world.

We should be careful what we wish for. It may come true long, long after we wish. With this job, I know I have to toughen my skin, and that will come. Without sounding all Wayne Dyer motivational poster-ish ... what other people think of me is none of my business.

Here's hoping that wish for the easy day job doesn't blindside me.

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