The column | Fake it till you make it thats what got me here

Here’s an old joke: The day the circus comes to town, acrobats, clowns and animals parade down Main Street.

Bringing up the rear, behind the horses and elephants, trudges a janitor responsible for sweeping up piles of animal waste. Pushing a broom, he grumbles aloud about his lowly task. A guy in the crowd overhears and asks him, “If you hate it so much, why don’t you quit?”

“What,” replies the janitor, “and give up show business?”

In my life, I’ve had several contenders for worst job ever. Not pooper-scooper bad, but close.

In the summer after 11th grade, I landed a job at a record warehouse. I was responsible for inventory, which meant counting albums. That’s all I did. It was so boring I spent most days napping in the back.

At age 20, desperate for money, I showed up at a training session to sell cloisonné brooches door to door. I found myself in a room with 30 other desperados. Our trainer opened a black velvet-lined case to reveal the enameled jewelry within. It looked to me like discarded bottle caps.

“This stuff sells itself,” he said. He taught us a sales pitch that ended with, “Will that be cash or check?” Then the trainer gave me my own case and sent me on my way.

I hit up my mother’s office first. As Helen’s son, I figured the ladies there surely would buy something from me. Nope. They all passed. Including my mother.

From there I tried an apartment building. Not one person answered my reluctant knocking. Finally, frantic, I walked into a laundromat and approached a bag lady milling about. She stared at me like I was insane when I said, “Will that be cash or check?”

I immediately turned in the case, my sales career lasting 90 minutes.

I next got a job at a phone answering service. These were the days before answering machines. To take calls, I had to plug in old-fashioned trunk lines of the sort from a ’40s movie. We worked in a galley-shaped room with one tiny window to air out the smoke. And everybody smoked.

I lasted five wheezy days before crying “I quit!” and storming out in disgust. The owner chased me down the street, grabbed my shoulder and said, “You’re making a big mistake.”

At 23, I landed a job as a publicist at an L.A. record company. On the surface this was solid gold. Free records, free concerts, hanging out with stars (I once gave then-rookie Jon Bon Jovi a lift to an interview in my Honda Civic). But I hated this job most of all.

I sucked at it. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t manufacture the fake enthusiasm necessary to persuade jaded journalists to write articles about mediocre bands. But as a responsible father, I stayed there, and way too long. After eight years I was fired, baruch HaShem.

Drawing on my music industry connections, I started a home business churning out bios and press releases for record companies. This allowed me for the first time to get paid doing something I liked: writing. I kept up the business for decades.

Six months after moving to the Bay Area in 2002, I found the Jewish Bulletin. Though I had little journalism experience, I had plenty of writing under my belt and, moreover, a previously unexpressed fascination with all things Jewish. I got hired.

It’s been a good match.

After 12 years here, I’ve learned a few lessons about work. The ideal job should draw on one’s talents and/or passions. It should over time elicit a sense of competency and, ultimately, mastery.

After a rocky first year, I settled in, and I think I’m there now.

Finally, we need to feel our work makes a difference, no matter how small. A barista can make the perfect decaf nonfat cappuccino to brighten someone’s day. A journalist at J. can shed light on some aspect of the vast Jewish universe.

I like to think the stories I write in some way make an impact, especially on the Jewish world I care about so much. That hope sustains me on days I feel as if I’m pushing a broom.

Dan Pine is senior writer at J. Contact him at [email protected]

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.