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  • Jack McDevitt

Blog #42


There’s evidence that what we make of our lives is largely determined by where we are born and grow up. We are all influenced by our environment. Kids who spend their early years on a farm tend to become farmers. Spend time around guys who work at the local oil company and you’ll probably follow them.

I came of age in South Philadelphia, surrounded by laborers of various kinds, milkmen, trash collectors, guys employed in a large nearby factory called the Middyshade. When I was nearing the end of my high school years and looking for my first job, one of my neighbors told me he had a connection with a construction company putting together an office building near City Hall. If I wanted a job, he could get me one.

I reported next morning. They gave me a battered cloth bag and took me to an elevator. “Ride up to the sixth floor.” He smiled. There were no floors. There was nothing up there but a framework of girders. “Be careful when you get out. The guys overhead will be drilling rivets. Sometimes they drop them, Your job will be to track them down, pick them up and put them in the bag. Anything else gets dropped, get that too. Okay?”

I’m not sure how I reacted. I probably tried to nod and look calm. He asked me if I was afraid of heights? No sweat.

I lasted one day. But I suspect that, if I’d enjoyed being up there on the edge of girders, I’d have considered making a career of it. But I was lucky: I knew right away that it wasn’t meant to be my career.

A lot of the people who work in motion pictures are from Hollywood. Theatrical people frequently get their start in New York. Grow up near a community of pilots and the chances are good you’ll be come one. A substantial number of doctors and nurses had parents or other relatives who worked in those fields. Grow up in a fishing community and you’ll probably be riding around in a boat. There’s a TV series, Blue Bloods, that depicts a family dedicated to law enforcement.

I haven’t seen anything on politicians, but think about the Bushes, or the Clintons, or Teddy and Franklin. How many other people are out there somewhere with the same, or better, capabilities who never got past working in an office?

The point, if there is one, is to open as many channels as possible to our own kids so we don’t lock them in anywhere. Provide an education, and remind them that schooling isn’t all about working. It also increases our ability to enjoy our lives. But that’s another topic for another time.


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