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How do you get over your first love when it was your first job?

I didn’t realise how much of my identity was wrapped up in my job. I loved it. Then a workplace accident forced me to redirect my life.

IT WAS NOT supposed to be like this, I can promise you that. It was all planned out, like soldiers in a line, neatly placed side by side, with a purpose and a certain direction. At the time I did not know how much my identity was influenced by it, and only now when I look back, do I see that it was all of me.

I was happy, and it frustrates me to have had it taken away. That may sound selfish, but once you’ve read this, I hope some of you understand and can relate to it.

You see, when I was young I had no aspirations to be a fireman or a policeman, like so many others. I never thought about what job I wanted to have when I was older. It simply did not interest me. I was more focused on just getting by, day to day. That all changed by chance when my dad came home one day and informed me that he had arranged for me to go and work in the local pub that very night.

It never felt like work

Not knowing what to expect I went, and instantly fell in love with the place and the people. The smell of the pub, of carvery dinners, cigarette smoke, and stale beer, for some reason gripped me. I worked there for about two years, and was then offered an apprenticeship, which I duly accepted. My parents were reluctant for me to leave school at 16, but I was never a lover of the education system, and so began a 10-year stint behind the bar of my local pub, surrounded by my friends and the people I had grown up with.

Not a single day passed that I did not want to go in through the doors of the place that was a home and somewhere very special to me. It was never, ever like work. It was a pleasure, it was something I was very good at, and it was more than a job. Every day I would hear about how people hated their jobs, and how they wished they could leave and do something else. I couldn’t understand why a person would do something everyday that they disliked so much. It made no sense to me. My job was something I enjoyed more than anything.

The old saying, ‘do something you love and you will never work a day in your life’, could have been my motto for the 10 years or so I stood behind the bar. I simply never wanted to do anything else, and could never envisage going to work to do anything but pull pints. Unknown to me at the time, the job became my identity in many ways. I was the guy who worked in ‘The Nest’. I guess my personality helped. I was outgoing, enjoyed being challenged, and thrived on the relentless pace that a busy pub brings.

I would never be able to stand behind the bar again

As the years passed I occupied every role. From keg stacker to sandwich maker and barman to toilet cleaner, I offered to do whatever was required. As I said, it never felt like work, and so I was happy to do anything I was asked. I was rewarded for my work ethic too, and was earning upwards of 40k a year at one point, but that all changed one day doing the most mundane task.

Lifting 50kg kegs of beer takes its toll on the body after a while, especially when you show little regard for common safety practices. I was young and thought I was unbreakable. That was not the case, however. Having had some trouble with my back on and off for about 18 months I was mopping the floor one night when I was shunted to my knees by a vicious pain that would eventually lead to me having to give up my job.

The damage was not unreparable, but standing behind the bar for long periods was not going to be something I could ever do again. ‘Wear and tear’ was what the specialist called it. Words I would come to loathe. I felt, at the time, that I would simply find another job. ‘Something in computers’ is what most people advised me to do. Like that was what anyone who did not know what to do next having had his or her career ripped from them should do.

It took me some time to get motivated. I had honestly never thought about doing anything else. It’s funny, because before I start working, as I said earlier, a job or career was never something I had thought about – and now here I was searching for some meaning to my life.

I began studying again 

I was lucky enough to come in contact with the good people at the National Learning Network, an organisation that helps so many. As someone who could not return to work because of an injury, I fell under their umbrella, and so I started a course known as Connections. It consisted of several modules such as mindfulness and personal development, and it also used writing as way of expressing what the person was feeling, what they wanted from their life, and how they were going to attain fulfilment having being forced to give up their previous job.

Form there I began studying journalism, something that was in many ways a million miles away from working in a pub. After four years in college I was awarded an honours degree in media production management. Throughout my studies I was lucky enough to work with several newspapers and online sites, and I enjoyed it. It was challenging and rewarding, and it brought some meaning and purpose to my life again.

However, it always felt as if I was cheating on my first job. I know that sounds strange, but working in the pub was my first real love. It was the first thing I was ever really good at, and the only part of my life that seemed to have any structure to it.

Will I ever get that feeling again?

As of now I am still pursuing a career in journalism, and I do enjoy it, but I wonder will I ever love it. Will I ever get the same feeling as when I was standing behind the bar of the Cuckoo’s Nest on a busy Saturday with crowds bellowing across the counter to be served?

I write this not looking for the complete answer, but for your opinion. I wonder if this is normal. Is this normal? Do people, like in relationships, have three of four great jobs, that they move through as they evolve, grow and mature?

Simon Walsh is a sports journalist. He blogs at Diary of a Stutterer

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