The next step: Working three jobs and the painting dilemma


Just in case you were wondering, working three jobs is not fun. It’s doable, but not ideal and very tiring.

Unofficially working three jobs is what I have been doing since the beginning of May. I say unofficially because my third job is an at-will, when-I-have-time, freelance gig helping my uncle paint the exterior of a 97-year old, two-story house. For almost every weekday the last two months, I have cleaned out the journal inboxes (two separate, part-time jobs) in the morning, helped my uncle at the house for two to three hours, and returned home to continue working for the journals. After dinner, I have often cleaned out the journal inboxes again so there is less work in the morning.

Some days are not so bad, but others are brutal, especially when proofs need to be reviewed. Those day do not seem to end. One day last week, after I returned home from painting and caught up at both journals, I lied on the floor just to rest my weary bones, muscles, and mind for a second. I ended up falling asleep and napping for a half hour. (Without a pillow, I rested my head on my arm. It was oddly comfortable and therapeutic, and I could not help thinking that our primitive ancestors slept in the same position in caves and rudimentary huts. Anyway...)

I am getting all my journal work done, and my uncle and I are slowly but surely finishing the house. But, needless to say, I am ready to return to the relatively easy life of working just two jobs.

Along with providing a little extra income—as well as increased strength from carrying and maneuvering ladders and planks—helping my uncle paint has given me much-needed insights for my seemingly endless ruminations about what to do with my life, about my next step. Painting is something I have contemplated doing for a living, perhaps even alongside my uncle, a retired banker. I have a lot of experience painting—it paid for entire semesters of college—and I usually enjoy it. Painting is very meditative and satisfying work; one can see progress and results, and feel a sense of accomplishment when projects are finished. It has the potential to be very profitable, too—especially in a college town, where some academics feel that physical labor is below them.

It can be dangerous, too. One thing this project has done is reaffirm my aversion to heights and extension ladders. At some point during an exterior painting job, one will need to access a hard-to-reach spot with an extension ladder. That is not for me! I suppose I will do it if there is no other option, but I’ll do it slowly, carefully, holding on for dear life. You don’t want to mess around on ladders, no matter how tall, because one wrong move can easily cost you your life. Thankfully, though, my uncle does not mind heights. He has often used what he calls ladder jacks—two extension ladders with a narrow plank running between them—to work on large areas up high. Screw that! I was uneasy just helping him set it up. (With the ladder shaking at each step, a pulley clanging against a high rung, I steadied myself with one hand on the outside of the ladder while holding one end of a metal plank in the other, my uncle doing the same on another extension ladder 10 feet away—much less apprehensive, though.) Though I became much more comfortable with heights as the weeks wore on, heights and extension ladders are still far from my favorite things in the world.

Though I have painted for friends, family, and neighbors off and on since returning to Iowa City (when I have the time, that is), the questions I have been wrestling with are: Do I want to paint full-time? Do I want to paint for a living?

After nearly two months of scraping, priming, and painting—both high and low, in the shade and sun, in the cold wind and heavy heat—my answer is leaning no. Or at least it is leaning no while I am working two other jobs. This house was a doozy, too; the exterior had been neglected for a long time and a lot of love and elbow grease was required to restore its beauty. Could I do it part-time, working on less intensive projects? I think so.

However, as someone who went to college and earned an English degree, has worked in publications for 10 years, and is a writer (albeit one who has not written much the last couple years), do I want to be a house painter? I can’t shake the feeling that there is a much better fit for my interests and education. I have no clue what it is but I know it is not house painting. Perhaps I am overthinking, being too self-conscious, but those are problems I have, problems that have vexed my search for what’s next.

There’s one thing that I know for sure, though: I don’t want to work three jobs at the same time.

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