3 things I learned from the smelliest job ever


Living in a small farm-town, job-hunting for a teenager is a far cry from a delightful experience. In big cities, teens have the option to apply for jobs in fast-food, retail, clerical offices, and much more. Although these positions may be a far cry from a desired career, they all offer a luxury that teens on the farm don’t have…. air-conditioning.

My sophomore year of high school was ending, and I needed to find myself a job. My parents, out of the kindness of their heart, took $500 of their hard earned money, and purchased an old clunker for me. At that price, you can just imagine the condition of the vehicle. Nevertheless, I considered this to be a good thing.  As I was handed the keys of the car, I was told that I would be responsible to cover the cost of vehicle maintenance and insurance. The car, a white 75 Oldsmobile Omega, was made of solid metal. Not only was it heavy, it was also the size of a small yacht.  Instantly, I knew that the cost, of fuel alone, was going to be a huge obstacle. In addition, my parents informed me that the purchase of the car left them without funds to pay for my church’s youth camp. It was inevitable, I needed to find work.

The community, that I lived in, boasted of two small grocery stores and a Dairy Queen. Much to my disappointment, it was a well-known-fact that they were fully staffed. The only option available for me was to seek out employment on a farm. Thankfully, before I had the opportunity to reach out to one of the farmers, (cue in the sound of a fanfare) my friend David, let me know that he had a job for me. His father, one of the most recognized farmers in the valley, had purchased an onion-shed and was looking to staff it. For those of you that don’t know what an onion-shed is, it’s a onion processing plant. Once onions are harvested, they are taken by truck to a shed. There they are placed on a conveyor belt, sorted by size, and placed into 50 pound bags. Once I was hired, my role was to tie the bags, and prepare them to be shipped off, by stacking them on pallets. This wasn’t something that I had ever envisioned myself doing. However, there was a paycheck involved, several good friends worked there, and although the shed was void of air-conditioning, I wasn’t out working in the sun.

My first day on the job was eye-opening…. or you could call it eye-closing, because both descriptions are appropriate. Once the conveyor belt was set into motion, my eyes began to sting and were flooded with tears. The friction of the conveyor belt, without warning, converted each onion (and there were a gazillion of them) into a chemical weapon that would cause the bravest man to cry. I hadn’t anticipated this. However, from that point on, I knew that each work day required me to check my man card in at the door, and shed uncontrollable tears, for at least 20 minutes. I also hadn’t anticipated the amount of soreness that my scrawny little body would face. At that point in life, I had never stepped into a gym to lift weights. I had no idea what throwing around heavy sacks of onions would do to me. Muscles that I never knew existed, were brought to my attention for the very first time, because of the pain that radiated through them. I also found out that it is almost impossible to wash the scent of onion off your skin when you daily work with them. I was pretty much convinced this job was going to send me on a social nose-dive. Nevertheless, I toughed it out.

At first, I wasn’t certain whether having a car, or buying a ticket to youth camp, was worth all that I was putting myself through. However, what I first likened to be as the lake of fire, ended up being one of the best summers of my life. Despite the tears, soreness, and standing on my feet for up to nine hours a day, I found myself having an absolute blast. Although I was in a working in a sheet-metal building that was only cooled off by an industrial-sized-fans, I got to hang out with my best friends all day. To add to experience, the job taught me the importance of teamwork. Even though there was a significant language barrier (I didn’t start speaking Spanish until later), I worked with a team of men to ensure that the work was being done rapidly and accurately. If one of us messed up (and it did happen several times), our stacked pallets would become tumbling pyramids with a domino-effect. One mistake could set us back considerably. Most of all, having a weekly paycheck felt amazing. The feeling that accompanies the receipt of a paycheck, for hard work, is indescribable. That summer I was able to save enough money to cover my car expenses, I purchased my youth camp ticket, and I splurged on clothes, among other things.

I ended up driving my clunker to youth camp that year. The first night of camp I was prepared for a good time. I had anticipated the joyful sounds of music, and being surrounded by friends that I had met the year prior. As the music started, I joined the congregation and began clapping my hands in fervent worship. I was so happy, my summer in the onion shed was behind me, and everything that I worked hard for was with me in that moment. Although I was grateful for the opportunity to work, I was beside myself that my onion days were behind me… that is, until the guy standing next to me turned to me and asked, “Hey John, Is it just me, or do you smell onions too?”. Sheepishly, I looked at my hands and laughed. Apparently, I’d be carrying my summer experience with me for longer than I had hoped.

My summer in the shed was no joke. However, here are three life lessons that I gleaned from my experience.

Smelly situations have the potential to lead to big blessings

The smell of onions made me cry on a daily basis…. and worse yet… the smell penetrated my skin and wouldn’t leave no matter how hard I scrubbed. Nevertheless, my smelly experience not only provided what I needed… it provided much more than I had expected. I believe that, at times, God allows for us to go through smelly situations. He allows this, because it’s exactly what we need to get to where we need to be. Sometimes, the path to the promised land includes daily tears, pain, and it downright stinks. Yet, the joy of celebrating our arrival is worth the struggle.

Heavy situations build strength

The first 15 years of my life, I felt weak and powerless. However, lifting 50 pound bags of onions, 8 hours a day/6 days a week, transformed my life….. I often find myself in groups of men talking about sports, and I get ask what position I played in high school. I usually chuckle and sarcastically say, “saxophone.” I’m no Arnold, however, I do have a build that leads people to believe that I played sports. However, this process didn’t begin in a locker-room… It began in an onion-shed…. In this life, you will inevitably find yourself going through heavy times. Although they are the cause of undesirable soreness, they are also preparing you for strength that you’ll need down the road.

Others will inevitably fail to understand your process of development.

When my camp-friends realized that I was an onion-scented Glade-plug-in, they laughed until they couldn’t anymore (I can’t blame them… it is pretty hilarious). They couldn’t understand why I would put myself through the torture of working at a onion-shed…. As an adult, I continue to get this response once people find out what my first job was….  and yes… the response is usually accompanied by laughter. What they don’t realize, is that this, somewhat unpleasant experience, is part of my life story. It is one of the tools that God used to develop me into the man that I am today.

In your life, you too, will inevitably face the laughter of people who don’t understand your path towards growth. In those moments, I encourage you to do like Taylor, and shake it off. God’s promise is that he works all things together for the good of those that love Him. Rest assured that no matter how big, or insignificant, your situation may seem, God is using it to make you more like Him.

Unapologetically yours,

John Eli Garay

John Eli is a transformational life coach who has spent over 15 years mentoring individuals in life skills, career transitions, and through organizational change. His resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher-education advising. From an early age, John recognized that God created him to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. He is currently walking out his purpose by helping others confront, and work through, any negative self-talk that keeps them from living life to the fullest. His ministry includes blogging, speaking, and personal development coaching. He currently lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife, mini-schnauzer and an antique piano whom he calls, “Betty.”

To schedule a coaching session with John Eli click here.

Published by John Eli

I am a self-awareness coach (coach for humans), life strategist, blogger and speaker. I’ve spent over 21 years mentoring individuals in life skills, career transitions, relationships, and life recovery. My resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher education. From an early age, I realized that God created me to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. I am currently living out my purpose by creating a space where people can rediscover and become all that they were created to be. I currently live in the beautiful state of Arizona with my wife, two dogs, and an antique piano whom I call, “Betty.”

36 thoughts on “3 things I learned from the smelliest job ever

  1. Haha! I enjoyed this post. So true. I learnt many things as well as I spent a couple of years working on a potato farm. The stench of rotting potatoes was a bit overwhelming in the winter months. Thankfully, it usually washed out quite well! 🙈

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My Dad had a job on the road during my high school years. My summer after my sophomore year was when we moved back to the farm, at this point a non-working farm. One of my jobs was to dig out the holding house that led to the slaughter house (an old turkey farm). Once the turkeys realized what was around the corner, they relieved themselves. The turkey doo was about a foot thick. Even being old, it smelled. But once it was transferred a half mile to the garden and turned into the soil, we had some very good years of bumper crops.

    My Dad also taught me carpentry. We remodeled the old farm house. We built a two car garage with a laundry room and workshop. Then he put me to work splitting rails, just like Abe Lincoln, using a sledge hammer and wedges. I turned an old chestnut tree into a few hundred fence posts.

    As a result, I had upper body strength for the first time in my life, but it was fleeting. But I learned a lot from my Dad during his time at home between jobs. Good honest, hard work teaches you a lot.

    Thanks for your reflections.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My father’s first job (at about 12 years old) was to help train bloodhounds. He had to leave a piece of his clothing and go climb a tree in the woods and wait for them to find him. He said he learned a lot about patience and bug bites.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh yes the onion shed. I remember my summer in that stinky heat. I wouldn’t trade that experience at all. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. LOL, any time my hands smell like onions I’m transported back to my own summer in the onion shed.

    I’ve done many jobs over the years, and not even my time in the Army compared to how hard that job was…

    Liked by 1 person

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