Jan/Feb 2015 Nonfiction

How to Land a Totally Improbable Job in a Completely Unexpected Way

by Karen Tesdahl

Image courtesty of the British Library's Photostream

I'd been working in the offices of engineering consultant firms for about twenty years, but that wasn't possible any longer. For the short run, our economy had been shot in the foot by a couple of planes hitting two tall towers in New York City. For the long run, office work had become increasingly difficult for me because of neck and shoulder pain from constantly bending over a keyboard.

I'd been out of work for months, and my unemployment compensation was running out. Any job was looking good, even one with a paycheck that was less than the one from the unemployment office—but which job could I get (and do)? I attacked this question with my favorite tool—I made a list:

1. Consider your options carefully and eliminate unrealistic ones.

Periodically I skimmed the want ads in the newspaper. My chances looked grim. What could I actually do without any special training? I ruled out sitting at a keyboard all day. I knew I had no aptitude for sales. Waiting tables and even fast food was out—I don't multitask well. That appeared to leave cleaning jobs and security positions. Some didn't require special experience. They all seemed to require bonding, however. What was that? I eliminated unrealistic goals and tallied the rest which added up to zero.

Then I ran into Woody. He's not the sort from whom I would normally take advice, but I was desperate. He said something like this: "Come on down to the track with me. The trainers need hot-walkers bad. You think you can walk racehorses a few hours a day?" Woody wasn't being helpful. He figured I'd give him a free ride down there and back if I had a regular job at the track.

2. Do some homework—understand the job and the company.

I had a rosy mental picture of leading an agreeable animal at a leisurely pace in the sunshine with a little breeze in the air. I gave no thought to the cruel heat of summer or the harsh winds of winter, and I didn't know that race horses in training are as hard to manage as two year old children, or 1,000-pound children. My only experience with horses had been at the riding stable down the street from my childhood home on an old nag who hadn't the energy to misbehave. But I had two good legs and two good feet. How hard could it be?

3. Make a good impression—respect the rules.

We parked at the grandstand lot and sneaked into the backside by walking down the track backwards and exiting where the horses come onto the track. It was too early for the horses to be out there exercising. I was unaware of how many rules we were breaking at the time.

4. Focus on your task.

Woody suggested that I stop by a couple of stables and off I went before I lost my nerve. Woody went off on his own (I thought). A bright blue sky had cast its spell, and I began to enjoy my walk th the loosely arranged barns. The warm sunny day inspired a daydream about a wholesome farm as I watched the occasional horse and rider make their way to the track. Colorful horse laundry fluttered on lines tacked up to the outside barn walls. Cats slinked around corners and I heard the crow of a rooster. A rooster? But this isn't really a farm. Why was he here—maybe as an alarm clock? Was the wake-up call for me?

5. Don't get discouraged.

I stopped at all the barns Woody mentioned without results. At Barn Five the trainer had just hired two new hot-walkers, and at Barn Sixteen most of the horses would not be in until next week. Some trainers wouldn't hire a green hot-walker because they had rough horses. That phrase started to work on my mind as I walked—rough horses. A seed of reluctance began to undermine my positive attitude. I reminded myself that this was an adventure, but maybe I wasn't ready for it. Nobody was taking me on today anyway.

I was on the trek back, telling myself that maybe this was good. Maybe I should ease into this thing—look around a bit, think about it and come back tomorrow.

6. Don't be pushed into anything you don't want to do.

But I wasn't destined to go home jobless after all. When it happened, it happened fast. As I approached Barn Twelve, I remembered a tip about the Kettlebrooks and stopped. A lanky blond in rider's gear, leaning against the corner of the barn, told me I would have to wait for Jack. I had almost escaped when Jack, the assistant trainer, walked in at the same time as Woody... Woody? Had Woody been following me?

Anyway, Woody made his pitch, "Sure, she's green but she's smart. I'll show her how. Come on—give her a break." Why was he trying to sell me instead of himself? I suspected Woody didn't really want to be tied down to a steady job.

As Jack told me he had enough hot-walkers, his hot-walker, Sam, limped up fuming about the new hot-walker not showing.

"She'll be here," Jack said to Sam.

"No, she won't. She wasn't here yesterday," Sam said to Jack.

"Okay, I'll give you a try," Jack said to me.

Within five minutes of walking into the barn, I was roped, hogtied and hooked up with a horse.

And that is how, after all my careful planning, I landed a job just by being in the right place at the right time. Odds are that you can too if you follow my example closely... and if you don't mind slaving in one-hundred-degree weather in the summer and minus-five-degree weather in the winter... if you don't mind being jumped on, dragged and bitten... if $225 a week before taxes suits your needs...


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