#formerstudentFriday is an occasional series in which former students and I team up on topics of their choosing. Through their voices and perspectives, we can level up in everything we do.
The thing about teaching is if you do it long enough you’ll have taught every character archetype imaginable. It’s like being in a never-ending Steven Soderbergh film. For me, there’s a Super Bowl MVP, a murderer, a kick ass video game designer, a model, an award winning writer, and so many others.
Pat Barker sat to my right, about three or four seats back, as a senior in my English class. He was self-effacing, sharp, and far smarter than he gives himself credit for. His humor was too bright for scatalogical laziness, too witty for a typical high school audience. So, he bided his time, tried traditional adulting, and ended up exactly where he is supposed to be. Like so many other #formerstudentFriday posts, Pat’s winding path was the most direct.
I wish someone had told me that this was an option. Or, more accurately, I wish I had been listening when they did.
When I say this, I mean the life I’m leading now. I’m currently in my seventh year in Los Angeles. In three days I start my new job as a writer and producer for a TV show on Fox Sports One. A couple months ago I wrapped my last job as a writer for the Comedy Central Roast of Alec Baldwin. Between those jobs, I was a full-time Uber driver – a very common story in the notoriously “feast or famine” world of Hollywood. I went from writing jokes that made Robert DeNiro laugh on a Saturday to driving strangers to the airport on Monday. I’ve lived this reality for the last seven years, and there’s no place I’d rather be in life. I know because for the seven years before that, I did the exact opposite.
When I started high school, I had no idea what I wanted to be. Maybe an accountant? My uncle was an accountant, and he made good money. Drove a Lexus. That’s a nice car. Accountant it was! Until I took a few accounting classes in high school and realized something – being an accountant sucks. Sorry to anyone reading this that ended up in that field. I’m sure you love it, the thrill of balancing debits and credits and all that. But it just wasn’t for me.
When I started college, I still had no idea what I wanted to be. Maybe I should get into business management? Managing businesses seemed like a “successful guy thing.” So I registered for that as my major, thinking that my worst case scenario was changing my mind and my major the next year. Wrong. Worst case scenario, as it happened, was graduating and getting a degree in a field I just didn’t care about. I went through all five years (yeah I know it’s only supposed to take four, shut up), took all the classes, had no passion toward the subject matter, and graduated. Then I took a job managing a CVS – a job that I’d hold for seven years – and did it every day, even though I had no passion for it. I did it because I thought that’s what life was. I didn’t even realize how much I hated it at the time, because I didn’t think there was any realistic alternative.
The alternative had been under my nose the whole time. I started doing standup comedy as a junior in college, and it turns out that I was pretty good at it. I quickly rose through the ranks of the still-developing Philadelphia comedy scene, and by the time I was 26 I was a big fish in a pretty small pond. I absolutely loved doing stand-up, and the contrast with my professional life was so stark it was ridiculous. I was just too close to see it. I had my “real life” – 50-60 hours a week, good yearly salary, benefits, the whole deal. Then I moonlighted as a comedian, a career that seemed like an absolute pipe dream even as I was achieving it. There’s no stability in comedy, and therefore I never saw it as a viable career option. So here I am, with a thing that I’m passionate about and really good at, and I’m just putting it off to go in at 6 AM and unload trucks to set up the Tide display. Crazy, in retrospect.
In 2013, CVS scheduled an inventory on my birthday. Inventory was always insane – managers would typically work around the clock to make sure their store was in immaculate condition. I worked 36 straight days leading up to that inventory, and on my 30th birthday I celebrated by telling my district manager I wanted to transfer to a store in LA. This officially started my new life.
I only lasted three months at the CVS out here. It sucked, and it wasn’t what I moved here for. I took a job at a warehouse instead, then transitioned into Uber driving. As I worked my way down the career ladder, I started succeeding more in the entertainment industry. Somehow, it all led to me doing more cool shit than I ever thought possible and making a real living in the process.
The moral here, I suppose, is that there’s no universally correct path. I’m sure there are accountants out there who are reading this from their Lexus and thinking, “damn, this guy’s an idiot.” Fair. But this life, with all of its uncertainty, works for me. I spent so much time worrying about being “realistic” that I never considered being happy. I’m a father now, and I can’t wait to tell my son he can do anything he wants with his life. My parents told the same thing to me. Wish I didn’t take 30 years to listen.
But hey, better late than never.
Pat Barker is a comedian and writer. Since beginning his standup career in 2005, he has gone on to appear on Comedy Central and the NFL Network, as well as release a full-length album titled “Nice Jokes”.” Pat has also written for HBO, Fox Sports, SpikeTV, Comedy Central’s Roast of Alec Baldwin, and four straight years of Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year” award show. He currently resides in Los Angeles, California, where he lives with his wife and two-year-old son.