What do you want to be when you grow up?
A select few know their life calling at an early age. I have been fortunate to find interesting and financially rewarding opportunities in digital advertising and market research during my twenty year corporate career that allowed me to live in New York, Los Angeles and Boston – plus travel the country and abroad (as a small town guy from New Hampshire this was pretty awesome). It took me over two decades, but I have found out that a “slash” career of being a writer and automotive technition (aka mechanic) is my calling. I love both.
Did I love my work previoiusly? Difficult to say as love is a powerful word. At times I really enjoyed different aspects and took pride performing duties to the best of my ability. I’d wager many folks are comfortable if they attain a like factor within their 9 to 5 domain.
About two years ago I left the corporate world to pursue a book idea – it was a fun and challenging endeavor. It has allowed me to connect with people around the world and provide education on a niche topic (height bias / heightism). The highlight was helping a young boy who was being bullied to connect with this favorite MLB baseball player (kudos to Jose Altuve and the Houson Astros).
As I like to practice what I preach, I have been testing and learning about different professions outside my comfort zone in the corporate workplace. It started with construction and landscaping – I am an active person who enjoys the outdoors and working with my hands. These two trades provided satisfying work that I liked, the other “L” word would have been a stretch. After about 90 days of each, I decided neither was a good long-term fit for me.
During this time, I made significant lifestyle adjustments as my income was reduced to a fraction of what it had been historically. As part of the money-saving program, I decided to perform maintenance on my Honda Element – oil service, brakes and suspension. Fortunately my Mom’s fiance was a former master mechanic and had owned is own shop, so I had access to a lift and just about every automotive tool imaginable.
In addition to my reliable Honda, I haphazardly opted to purchase an equally sexy and quirky 1990 VW Corrado as an “investment.” Vehicles rarely gain value as they age but I figured this would be a good experiment and learning experience.
After conducting research and connecting with a few active auto techs, I was led to believe an outsider like myself would have a tough go entering the trade with zero formal trading and no tools of my own.
Per a master mechanic whom I befriended via Instagram:
“The days of starting as a homeschooled (auto) tech and jumping in head first and hoping to get help from the rest of the guys in the shop are long gone.”
However, as my late stepfather liked to say: “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” With that in mind, I walked into my local garage, Dover Paint & Varnish (over the years they transitioned businesses but kept the name) to inquire about work opportunities. I knew them over the years as their team had always been good to my family.
When speaking with the one of the head technitions, I used the terms apprentice and even internship (The 40-Year Old Intern, sounds like the making of a movie, eh?). After all, my auto experience consisted of a handful of oil changes, a couple of brake jobs and one suspension overhaul.
Fast-forward three months and I am coming to terms with the fact I love my work. How do I know? For starters, I embrace 12-hour days and working on Saturdays! I have the opportunity to work on cars and trucks from virtually every major manufacturer – Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Volkswagen, Acura, Volvo…the list goes on. It keeps things interesting and I am learning every day. In addition to gaining new skills and meeting people from all walks of life, I am able to call upon former chapters as we use diagnostic software for troubleshooting and the web to locate parts for clients – and perhaps most importantly – I get to work with some truly great people.
As author and speaker Simon Sinek has found, many companies in America lack critical human elements such as trust (amongst colleagues) and empathy (from execs and management) due to a focus on product and/or the bottom line. Check out his YouTube presentation here.
The family-owned business I’ve become a part of serves as a blueprint as it has a reputation for simultaneously taking care of it’s clients as well as its staff. A unique, yet old-school business model allows for a true team atmosphere (i.e. no “flat rate” work common in most garages and dealerships) that ultimately benefits all parties involved. Each day I feel like I am providing a valuable service to the community.
Changing gears mid-career has been a journey that’s included some speed bumps along the way. Some friends and family have been supportive, others have questioned my sanity. However, it’s been worth it. I love my work. How many people can say that? So, if you feel stuck, don’t be afraid to shift gears.
Seth Ulinski is the author of Amazing Heights: How Short Guys Stand Tall.