The letter came from 21-year-old Julia.

“Dear Mister Sean,” it began, “I cannot find a job that fits me…

“I keep trying job after job, and I just want to find my true career path… And be happy. What should I do?”

Well, Julia, I’ve had a lot of jobs. My first real job was hanging drywall, after my father died. I was 14 years old. I was chubby for my age. I learned how to sand drywall joints, how to apply drywall mud, and most importantly, I tasted my first beer.

Mister Rick, my boss, was a cheerful man who looked like Otis Campbell. He gave me my first sip. I was covered in Sheetrock dust and sweat, I looked like Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Mister Rick handed me a can and said, “You earned a sip, son.”

I took three sips. He grabbed the can from my hands and said, “Easy, son. I don’t want you getting drunk.”

“What’s it like being drunk?” I asked.

“See those four trees over there? Well, if you were drunk, there’d be eight trees.”

“But, Mister Rick,” I said. “There are only two trees.”

I was an ice-cream scoop once. That was a pretty good job. I was allowed to eat all the leftovers.

I gained 19 pounds in six weeks.

Once, I worked food service. I was a line cook. I wasn’t very good at it. I lasted one year. On the day I was fired, the head cook took me aside and said, “You’re an employee with incredible motivational skills, did you know that?”

“I am?”

“Yes. Whenever you’re around, everyone has to work twice as hard.”

I worked as a tile layer. I had a job digging drainage ditches. I hung gutter. I helped my mother clean condos and apartments.

And once, I stooped so low as to work as a telemarketer.

“Hello,” I said into the headset, “would you like to buy a magazine subscription?”

The guy on the phone replied, “How about you give me your home number, and I’ll call you back?”

“I’m not allowed to do that, sir.”

“Oh, I guess you don’t want people calling you at home, now do you?”


But my all-time worst job was as a newspaper delivery boy. I was a kid. I helped my mother throw the Northwest Florida Daily News.

Each morning, we would arrive at the delivery spot, at 2 a.m. A forklift would deposit a pallet of newspapers about the size of a Waffle House.

My mother and I would roll newspapers until the sun came up, listening to Paul Harvey on the radio. Then we would deliver papers until noon.

One morning, I remember a particular Paul Harvey episode. I remember I was having a bad morning. I remember I wanted to cry. It was 3 a.m.

My mother and I were tired and miserable. I didn’t want to throw papers for the rest of my life.

That’s when Paul Harvey said something I’ll never forget:

“One thing I know: the only ones among us who will ever be really happy are those who have sought and found out how to serve others.”

Those words never left me.

So I’m not the guy to ask for advice, Julia. I don’t know much of anything. But I will tell you this:

Find a way to help other people. For I am convinced, wholeheartedly, this is the only path to happiness.

And if that doesn’t work, you can always try ice cream.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to

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