Plumbing for an education in an unlikely place

For the past month I was forced to work with – among other job-specific materials – nipples and titties, along with the occasional male end. I woke up at 6:15 a.m. each morning and began

For the past month I was forced to work with – among other job-specific materials – nipples and titties, along with the occasional male end. I woke up at 6:15 a.m. each morning and began work as a plumber’s aide.

It’s work I’ve done before, but with the exit of another semester and the entrance of another year, I thought a lot about the time I spent plumbing.

My parents are often uneasy with my decision to work jobs rather than interning or developing connections to find a career. I have bagged compost at a South Carolina monastery, worked with a small-time construction company and agreed to work on a ranch in Montana this summer.

Though I have not yet set my sights on a specific life goal, it would seem to many that this winter break I once again avoided preparing for future employment.

Few would argue that setting sinks or hanging hot water baseboard heating readies an aspiring journalist or political scientist. But I believe hard work has taught me a lot.

Acting as responsibly as a self-involved hedonist can be, I like to believe that my studies at Temple are centered more on a fuller life than a fatter paycheck, but I question that too sometimes.

Linda N. Arra, the director of career services at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., told the New York Times in October that “career interests typically don’t solidify until about the age of 25.”

So I tend to wonder why I take out so many loans to study here. I have yet to develop a close relationship with a bantering, advice-ridden professor as movies and television convinced me was inevitable. And everything I learned I could have gotten from my local library and $20 a month for high-speed Internet.

Instead, I respect those who seem to enjoy life the most, and it’s my experience that those without titles before and acronyms after their names do just that. There is something I admired about my plumber boss, who was quicker to play air guitar than discuss Friedrich Nietzsche.

I have been tussling with a post-adolescent idealism tempered by frenetic attempts at individualism like most my age. So at a large university without much direction, I worked varying jobs with a steady inner-monologue always assuring me that “I’m different.”

Yet, it seems I have become just what, in my earlier youth, I worked so hard to avoid – the embodiment of a stereotype. I rejected societal norms out of rebellion as a teenager and now I have begun to think my boss – along with other rank and file Americans – isn’t so crazy.

Sitting in a deli one morning a few weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I decided I wanted a child someday. That goal often comes with interest in a life partner, and, in an equally surprising turn of events, that too suddenly seemed more than destined but agreeable.

The answers of my childhood have become questions again. What does seem clear to me is that I feel closer to a solution with a plumber than a professor – or anyone else able to wield power or influence.

Perhaps it’s residue of a typically skeptical youth, but right now I want a career that can fund my life, not a career that is my life.

I always knew my boss loved that he could go home at 5 p.m. to pick on his wife, wrestle with his sons and throw snowballs at his dog.

I spent my childhood promising myself that I would be something special and avoid what I thought were normal jobs. What kids like me refuse to admit is that a lot of things are the way they are because no one has figured out something better.

It’s generational, and it’s tough to accept that we don’t have what it takes to change that. I guess some of life’s mysteries aren’t all that mysterious.

Whether you replace studying with soldering for a while or not, maybe we all should be more willing to learn through less than traditional ways.

Christopher George Wink can be reached at

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