My great grandfather, Henry Wersel (1863-1936) was 'uneducated'. According to family oral history, he went to school until he was 12 or so, and then started to learn the family trade making fine furniture. But somewhere along the line, Henry got an opportunity. Not to get a traditional education, sitting in a classroom, but a job. A job that he would start sometime after his 17th birthday, and that he literally died on the way to 56 years later. That's right, he worked at the Cincinnati Enquirer, in Cincinnati, Ohio, for 56 years.
I remember when I got a faxed (remember them?) copy of Henry's obituary back in 1996; how I felt when I read the remarkable words of his life (you can read it on my post here). His life was his work and the books that he so lovingly collected. I remember thinking, 'Why would a man who didn't go to school collect so many books?' and 'How the heck did he become a writer?'
I found the answer in myself. I love learning. Today, I'm termed a 'non-traditional' learner. It took me 22 years after leaving high school to be prepared enough to go to college, sit in a classroom, listen to a lecture, absorb the material and regurgitate it back on a test. Did I retain any of it? Some. But I'd be inclined to say that there's at least half that left my brain the minute I put down my pencil after the final exam. Am I glad that I took the opportunity to go to college? Absolutely! I loved being an adult student surrounded by incredibly intelligent young people, and to this day I visit the campus simply for the experience of being back in that atmosphere.
Prior to going to school full-time, from 2003-2006 (yes, got my BA in only 3 years...DON'T try this at home!), I obtained my NASD/FINRA Series 6, 63 and 7 licenses to sell securities. Considering that I barely passed basic math in high school, this was quite a feat. But I'd wanted to move forward in my career in the Financial Services industry and so, on a dare, I signed up to take the tests. I studied the material provided and passed the exam on my first try (only 65% pass.) I was so excited that I was a Stockbroker! I spent the next seven years learning everything I could in the Financial Industry, trying to make a career out of being a Securities Professional.
I wonder if Henry ever felt the need to use the word "Professional"? At 17, he started out working the presses at the newspaper. I can't even begin to imagine what that must have been like. It was incredibly physical, dirty work. And yet, how rewarded must he have felt when he was able to read about the world he lived in and know that, without him operating the presses, that knowledge wouldn't get to people?
I don't know how it is that Henry was able to move from the presses to being a writer. I hope someday to have the opportunity to get back to Cincinnati to do some hands-on research regarding the Enquirer and its growth. What I do know is that at some point Henry became a contributor to the paper, and at the end of his life he was editing a column called 'Why and Wherefore'. Of course, he didn't have a piece of paper that said that he'd passed some group of courses that made him 'qualified' to do this job. He did the job, and did it really well, and so the paper let him continue to do the work. Was he a Professional, or did that matter? I wonder if people who read the column thought, 'Well. That Henry Wersel writes pretty well for an uneducated person.'
Yes, there's a point in here. I'm currently struggling with issues in my own work. After having been in the business world and/or working for nearly 30 years (yes, I started working as an infant) I find that I'm once again not able to find full time employment. Sadly, the industry that I'm in, Archives (yes, it's an industry) requires a certain level of education to be considered a 'Professional'. A level of education I am not willing to invest in because my ROI (return on investment - see, I DO remember some of what I learned) would not be sufficient. Yet, I spent 7 years getting my hands dirty doing the work of an Archivist, reading everything I can get my hands on and educating myself so that I can move forward in my career. No, in doing the work I love.
Wait. Henry went from Pressman to Writer, right? I'm fairly certain that at some point, a turning point for Henry, someone gave him the opportunity to write a column. And I bet he hit it out of the park. He was eloquent and yet concise. He articulated his thoughts in a manner that everyone could understand. He spoke not only to the educated, but to the uneducated as well. These are the genes I have been given. I want to honor them by showing that I have the ability, even the talent, to be great at my work. So who's going to be willing to give me the opportunity to hit one out of the park? Do people even do that anymore?
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