This past summer, I had the “privilege” of working with a construction company as a general laborer, assigned to all the dirty work that goes into building condominiums. Many of my dear readers would probably much sooner inhabit these condos than go anywhere near the god-awful shit that I had to endure in order to help build them. For those of you who undoubtedly wonder how anyone could tolerate such means of employment, let me tell you… with 11-hour shifts spent primarily in searing 90-degree heat, it was the hardest, most enduring job that I ever had, but it also succeeded in being the most character building.
Being enveloped in the raw blue-collar element for four months shone lights on so many important things that I once took for granted. Most of these men know of little more than how to use their hands to make money, and working 70-hour weeks is second nature to them. Many of them will never see a college lecture hall, some have jail or prison records and many of them lead rather unsavory lifestyles. However, these gentlemen managed to provide me with a savvy that I wouldn”t really be able to acquire with the “soft” collegiate life. Hearing them wax poetic with a street smart edge is highly different, and oftentimes more useful, than a professor boring you out of your senses for an hour-and-a-half regurgitating from a text that you used your whole damn life savings to purchase.
They also strengthened a resolve that I got at 15 when I began my work life: Never condemn a person because of their job if it is putting food in your mouth and a roof over your head, then play on, playa. Also, for those who frown on dead-end, lousy shit jobs, understand that someone has to do it. College life would be much different if no one was willing to clean your community dorm bathrooms or cook and serve your food for a biweekly paycheck.
You see, all of these experiences and realizations help shape the person that I am, and the person that I am to become. I”m growing old, but I am not yet grown. My 20 years on this planet have yielded an understanding of things that are perhaps ahead of my time, but I would be playing myself if I denied that I have so much more to learn. I am sure that much of my undergraduate audience assumes that they are grown because they are over 18 and off to college to live on their own. Legally speaking, age 18 equals adult status in our country, but reaching that age in no way equates being a grown-up being able to stand on your own two feet signifies the end of childhood, and only then are you truly an adult. Imagine if your folks took everything from you tuition, allowance, credit cards, vehicle imagine if they were to just kick you the hell out of the house altogether. Would you fold or would you be able to maintain yourself on your own?
Most of the people close to my age that I worked with at the job are truly independent they may not have what we have, but they work damn hard for everything that they do have and no one dictates what they do with their time or money. Sure enough, I caught monumental amounts of hell as the token “college boy,” but they made me think long and hard about where I do and do not want to be when I reach certain periods in my life. I do have a healthy fear of the future as I draw closer to my senior year at college, I can”t help but to sweat the idea that this “good life” thing is almost over. I hate bills, I can”t cook, full-time jobs are like kryptonite, and the walls are closing in fast on the days in which I don”t have to submerge myself into these things. The most gratifying aspect of my situation is the fact that I am gradually working my way out of the depths of childhood into my independence, as opposed to being dropped face first without a safety harness into the real world like some people. I do most things on my own these days, but I ain”t too proud to admit that my folks remain my safety net, at least for the time being, anyway .
So what constitutes growing old?
Growing old is about understanding your priorities, and realizing that oftentimes the little things in life matter more than the big things. Growing old is recognizing that there are two sides to every story. Growing old is knowing that the measure of a man is not determined by the strength of his punches, but by the strength of his wit to dissolve a situation sans violence. Growing old is realizing that there are always two sides to every story. Growing old is realizing that the menial bullshit that we concerned ourselves with in high school actually has little weight in the real world.
Growing old is knowing when to accept certain people into your life, and when to distance yourself from others. Growing old is realizing that, when all is said and done, no one can tell you what to think or believe. Growing old is accepting nothing at face value. Growing old is the constant expunging of navete. Growing old is when the world begins to make a lot more sense, only for you to realize that it really makes no sense at all. Growing old is a lifelong process that doesn”t stop at adulthood or parenthood hell, it won”t stop until you are dead. If I ever find myself in a moment of lamenting reevaluation shortly before death, I would wish to conclude that the growing I did in the time that I spent here was relevant to myself and others if not, then what was the point?
Dustin J. Seibert can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.