Toughest job of my life

I was a mess. The dust from the tar roof that we were ripping off naturally settled on whatever skin was exposed — mainly my arms and face —and when mixed with my sweat, felt like I had stepped into the middle of a raging bonfire. On top of that, the sun, hitting the 95 degree mark, bore down on us without mercy. I would have killed for shade, but there was none.

My back ached from getting up-and-down so many times throughout the day. I had a bloody cut that ran up the side of my left leg, where my workpants got tangled with some sheet metal, and my whole body felt like I had run a marathon.

And it was just Tuesday. I had three more, twelve-hour plus days left in my work week.

Wiped out

In the summer before my sophomore year of college, I worked as a roofer for a contractor in my small hometown. We worked mainly on businesses, replacing flat tar roofs with sturdy rubberized ones. I worked a number of different jobs, but more than anything served as a glorified helper, doing whatever I was told and whatever needed done. The hours were long. We got started well before the sun came up and didn’t stop until the work was complete. And we’d get up and do it all again the next day, and the next and the next.

I hated the work.

It was tough and demanding. However, I loved the money. It was more money than I had ever earned in my life. On top of that, I got to work most of the summer on one of the traveling groups. We left early Monday morning, traveled two to three hours away, worked all week on site and slept at a dingy local hotel. The work was even tougher and more demanding, but the money even better.

Getting refocused

When I came home from one of those jobs late on a Friday, my local friends would always ask if I wanted to go out and get a bite to eat. The answer was always the same: I just wanted to sleep. My mother worried that I was ill. There was nothing wrong, I was just exhausted.

The job came at the right time. I loved everything about college, but I worried a lot about the loans I was taking out and how I would spend the rest of my life. I was a good student, but I cared too much about all the extracurricular activities — some good and some not so good — that were happening outside of the classroom. My focus on my school work wasn’t where it needed to be.

I started the summer thinking that I might give up on my dreams of becoming a writer and find a good, permanent job in my hometown. I ended the summer, knowing deep in my heart that going back to college was the best choice for me. I came out of the summer with a better sense of who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. My summer experience taught me that I was better suited for a job that took advantage of my creativity and imagination, rather than my brawn, and, in turn, I needed to refocus my attention to what was most important, learning as much as I could and doing my best work.

Lessons learned outside of the classroom

Many colleges and universities have ended for the summer. I always wonder this time of year how many students will come home full of questions and doubts. My hope for them is the same every year, that they are lucky enough to find a job just like the one I had that teaches them the value of hard work, pushes them physically and mentally, and challenges them to think about how they want to spend the rest of their life.

I can’t help but think that a few extra bucks in their pockets and a skinned knee or two are good things too.

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18 thoughts on “Toughest job of my life

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  1. Learning to value hard physical work is never a bad thing. Learning also that this amount of money = this many hours of that hard work helps to curb spending habits.
    This past year, my husband and I have built phase 1 of our homestead, from the ground up, with our own hands. We’d never built anything but one sadly crooked chicken coop before. We learned a LOT, and we have more ahead of us. A lot of it has sucked, some has been terrifying, all has taken time. (Subject of my own blog)
    What amazes us is pushback from many people: “oh my goodness, that is so much WORK! Why would you do that?”
    When did hard work become the people’s enemy?
    It has much to teach, and as you noted, it makes one appreciate the other things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I don’t get people not being happy for others dreams and success. Yes, they have other dreams, but still be happy for you, celebrate with you. Not everyone wants a cookie cutter house in the burbs that they can’t afford. I’m assuming a lot there, maybe that’s not the type of person you’re getting the comment from, I just don’t understand people not being happy for others. Your homestead sounds lovely. Good for you. Best of luck.


      1. It is the aghast “why on earth would you WORK?” comments that get me. I get that what we are doing is counter-cultural and “weird”. That’s okay. I dont mind. But since when did hard work become public enemy #1?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Memories Brian! I cleaned houses during my last few years of high school, looking to make more money than my regular babysitting jobs gave me because I wanted to buy a car! While you can’t compare my job to the tough job you took on I saw some things and had to clean some things in places that clearly no one ever went! I think it’s important for everyone at some point to work their butts off! It certainly made me appreciate that car when I earned enough to pay for it myself 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I think if they come home without questions and doubts, they missed something. But to be fair I think that applies to everyone even if they’re not off for the summer

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I share Deb’s thoughts. I think doing physical work (even though I was terrible at it) gave me motivation. I cleaned houses, golf carts, and did odd jobs for neighbors to make extra money when I was in high school and I think I learned how to respect the people who push themselves physically to make a living. Much like your description of the exhaustion you felt as a roofer, Brian (but goodness knows my experience was waaaay less intense). Me “working” with people, at a desk, in a classroom, sitting on my butt? Yes…it’s still work…but I learned lessons about pushing forward with my education because I was humbled by my tiny taste of physical labor. 😎

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It taught me a lot about myself, what I wanted, what I didn’t want. I gained a lot of respect for hard work, but also lost patience for those who didn’t. It was a long three months, but I went back to school much more prepared for college and who I wanted to become! 🙂 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have tremendous respect for the skilled trades and how hard the work is. It sounds to me that not only did you earn great money that summer but also had a bit of a personal journey and growth too. Makes for a wonderful story to write about again and again, Brian! 👍

    Liked by 3 people

  6. My husband worked as roofer at one point, too. I worked in restaurants in college. The first job was at a hot dog shop, I baked the scones and cookies, I served people and worked the cash register. At closing I had to do all the dishes in the kitchen, clean the bathrooms, put chairs on tables and mop the floors. My next job was at a nice restaurant but it was hard work waitressing the breakfast lunch shift! I learned that I could do any job in order to survive, but was glad college was a way to a different career.

    Liked by 1 person

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