Autoworker’s Career Advice Still True After 40 Years

By Joe Grimm

Ford Motor Co. is leveling part of one of its Detroit-area plants, the source of some career advice that has stayed with me for about 40 years.

Ford’s Wixom plant was at peak employment in 1973, but I was only contemplating employment, hitchhiking past Wixom for a weekend visit home from college.

It’s the kind of plant that journalists like to say is “sprawling,” with 15 miles of assembly line snaking through the buildings on 320 acres.

Workers there built the Lincoln Town Car and the Continental and the Thunderbird — Detroit’s signature machines.

It was a Friday afternoon, and a worker coming off second shift stopped to pick me up. He was driving the nicest car I think I had ever stepped into.

And he was crying. Why would a man who drove such a luxurious automobile be crying?
He asked me where I was coming from.

I told him I was coming home from college, but I thought he had already guessed that.

He told me he had spent his whole life doing a job he hated, building cars like the one we were riding in. Now, he said, it was too late for him to do anything else. He had nice things but said he had wasted his life.

He told me to stay in college and to get a job I would like.

I think about that man’s tearful advice when I drive my Ford past that plant. I think about him when people smugly rate jobs based on salary or security or all the other things he had that were not what he really wanted.

Do what you love.

Joe Grimm, a consultant and adjunct faculty member of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, recruited for the Detroit Free Press, Knight Ridder and Gannett from 1990 until 2008. He now teaches at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He has run the JobsPage journalism careers site at www.jobspage.com since 1996. Questions about careers? Email Joe for an answer.

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