The race for the Presidency is focusing on which candidate will best help people get a job. During the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama weighed in on the matter: “We (she and husband President Barack Obama) have to fix this. We have so much more to do.”
Whoever is elected in November, whether Obama or GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, it will be his priority to improve the economy. If the economy does improve, that will create jobs. Yet two things strike me:
- The individual, not the government, must assume responsibility for his career path.
- It always has been difficult to find the job you want.
I was reminded of this when the first man to give me a job as a writer died last week at age 83. His name was Harald Gunderson and, as a teenager, he was a working cowboy. Later, he joined the Royal Canadian Navy. After that, he worked as a brakeman with the railroad until he finally got an opportunity to be a reporter for a small-town newspaper. A few years later, he got his big break and became a reporter for a large daily. He went on to successfully publish several magazines.
My dad, C. Vernon Myers, had a similar path.
In 1932, Vern had a college degree in geology and was awarded a gold medal as his college’s most outstanding graduate. He was certain he could get a good job and parlay that into the career that he wanted — to be a writer.
The Great Depression interrupted his ambitions for 12 years. There were no jobs available in the mining business, and the oil boom had not yet taken off in Canada.
Even though his parents had put every nickel they had in sending my dad away to college, he had to come back to the community and work on his parent’s homestead. He used to recount the shame he felt in their sacrificing so much only to see him working in the pen with hogs.
With his connection to a packing plant, he was able to get a job as a shipping clerk and had a guaranteed salary of $60 per month. He took various orders for hog livers, bacon and pork chops. He told me years later that he was dreadful at this job because he couldn’t keep the orders straight. And even though he was married at the time to his first wife (the daughter of the owner of the meat-packing empire), he wasn’t liked by the family. He was shipped off to the shipping floor where this once-college valedictorian spent his days hauling and packaging just-butchered pigs and cattle.
My dad had flat feet and was in so much pain he could barely walk home after a 10-hour shift. Physically spent and mentally unchallenged, he took his next job selling life insurance. He made a little more money and kept thinking about his ambition to be a writer. He read a book by Thomas H. Uzzell, who said: “When you write a million words, you will be competent at your craft.”
So Vern bought a used typewriter and after trying to sell life insurance six days a week, he would come home and pound out short stories. He later told me they were terrible but that after a couple of years and almost 1 million words, his work was showing improvement.
He tried to show his stories to newspaper editors, but to no avail. It was still the Depression, and new jobs for reporters were going to paper boys.
Finally Vern got a break because of World War II. He took a job helping to plan an oil pipeline from Canada to Fairbanks, Alaska. He was making $300 a month. He wrote a book in his spare time: Oil to Alaska.
After the war ended, he put all his savings into printing 1,000 copies of his book. He said they sold like “hotcakes.”
At the same time, there were two major oil strikes in Alberta. The two Calgary daily newspapers wanted someone who knew something about oil and who could also write. My dad walked into the publisher’s office with a copy of his book. The man skimmed it and after a few moments said: “Congratulations. You’re the new oil editor for the Calgary Herald.”
Nothing Worth Having Is Handed Out Freely
I knew the adversity my dad overcame, but I always assumed it was because of the Great Depression. I, too, wanted to be a writer; and I wrote for the university newspaper.
When I graduated in 1980, I was sure that some oil company would hire me as a public-relations writer. However, in 1980, Alberta’s oil boom had gone bust.
My dad had a successful investment newsletter, but he wasn’t going to give me a job out of the gate because he said I wouldn’t learn how to write if I was working for a monthly investment letter. He also wanted to see if I was willing to pay my dues.
Things had gotten so bad in Calgary that I was offered one job: to be a bank teller. I spent three months at that (I was abysmal at balancing my cash register) and quit my job on a Monday morning three days after marrying my wife Angie.
My parents paid for me to study journalism at a technical school for a year while Angie paid our living expenses with the salary she earned working at the hospital.
The next year, I was passing out my new resume. I wasn’t getting anywhere, but I still had one last place to go: Gunderson Publications. I did some research at the public library, got the latest copy of its flagship magazine, World of Beef, and saw that the publisher had just returned from his daughter’s cattle ranch in Ontario, Canada. I leveraged that to get into his office and started asking him about his trip, and how I wouldn’t disappoint him if he brought me on as a writer. He hired me. My starting salary was $700 a month.
I put in 3.5 years working for Harald. I covered one massive train wreck but spent most of my time at cattle shows and reporting on the results.
After a time, Vern thought I was good enough to start off as a researcher for his newsletter. My starting salary for MFE was $1,200 per month.
Nobody Owes You A Career
In the former Soviet Union, every citizen was guaranteed a job. What kind of job was decided by some committee. It doesn’t work that way in the United States, where there is still some liberty. Yet many people think they should be able to do what they want without the sacrifice — that the government or society should make it happen.
For example, my eldest son is a teacher in England. He has a life-long friend who calls himself a writer. This young man travels the world on the family’s money and writes a personal blog. He writes about things that interest him in his travels, and his writing is dreadful. I have suggested to him that if he wants to make a living as a writer, he has to make some sacrifices — like taking on a real writing job. Like so many people today, he doesn’t want to pay that price.
If these attitudes do not change, America’s fortunes are poor — regardless of who is elected President in November.
Yours in good times and bad,
Editor, Myers’ Energy & Gold Report