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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Jack of all Trades makes Respiratory Therapy career commitment

January 13, 2014
After a multitude of odd jobs, Matthew had finally settled on a career he would be proud of.

Ask 27-year old Matthew Harbawi what kinds of jobs he has held in his work-life and he will tell you that the list of what he has not done is shorter. His first job, at age fifteen, was lifeguard at a local public swimming pool, where he fished a few panicked youths out of the water. That experience was a great springboard for an array of test-careers that followed.

Matthew has been in sales, transportation, customer service, a cable TV retention specialist (“lots of people yelling at me”), bank teller, waiter, cook, dock worker, box packer, caregiver, and he even sold men’s suits at Macy’s. He does not see this checkered work history as a disadvantage, however.

“The fact that I’ve done so many types of jobs has shown me what I’m good at, what my weaknesses are and what I really want to do,” says Matthew. “I’m not like those people in career limbo. I do not have the questions of, ‘Can I do this? How will I do this? Will I be good at this?’”

He will also tell you that the most important job he has ever had is the one he is doing right now. Matthew lives with and cares for his Uncle Chris, who has cancer and who is also struggling with the effects of a second long-term illness. Matthew and a couple of other family members help his uncle with his ongoing needs, including doctor visits.

In fact, it was his uncle’s illness that motivated Matt to enroll in SJVC’s Respiratory Therapy program in Rancho Cordova. Although respiratory therapy has no connection to his uncle’s conditions, Matthew came to realize that sense of satisfaction you get helping someone struggling with health issues.

“I’ve been doing this long enough that it motivated me to get in to the medical field,” says Matthew. “When it comes to your life, health is very important, and I want to make a difference in people’s health.”

Matthew knew during his first month of RT classes that he was in the right place. “I knew right away that A) I could do this and B) this is where I belong.”

Looking back over the last 9-months of the program, Matthew admits to feeling pretty overwhelmed by all of the information that had to be memorized. The bond among students in the program helped to balance that stress with the comfort, trust and teamwork he found in the classroom.

“We spend more time with each other than our own families, and we’ve become a sort of second family to each other,” says Matt. “There have been so many of those good moments of just red-faced cracking up, laughing so hard it makes you cry.”

Matthew has just slipped under his many months of a steady 4.0 GPA, and still finds time to volunteer for Autism Speaks and Habitat for Humanity. He received an Honorable Mention in a nationwide essay contest for Mesothelioma, for which he was given an award. This year he plans to compete once again.

“Matt’s participation in this contest helped to raise awareness of mesothelioma, while also helping to defray some of his education costs,” says Nancy Meredith, Scholarship Coordinator.

Matthew knows he is where he should be and credits his uncle Chris as his inspiration to be here.

“He helped raise me, and when he was first diagnosed with cancer he basically said to me, ‘You’ve done a lot of things, but you haven’t done much,’” says Matt. “He said, ‘I want you to do something with your life.’” Matthew took his uncle’s message to heart.

“So that’s what I’m doing. Something. It sounds simple, but it was a nice way of putting boot to rear,” says Matt.

That ‘something’ carries him forward. “I just kind of take it one day, one semester at a time,” says Matthew, who plans to continue his education as his career evolves. “Someone said, ‘when you stop learning, you stop living’.” He hears Chris’s words, “Just do your best.”

Matt’s uncle Chris’s influence is felt on an even deeper level. “I just try and enjoy every moment that I’m given and realize that it can all be taken away at any time,” says Matt. “If I can’t enjoy the small things in life, then what am I doing here.”

When asked if there is something he would like to say to his Uncle Chris who so inspires him, Matt says, “Nothing I haven’t told him already and nothing I don’t tell him every day.”

Take a moment to follow Matthew’s lead if there is someone in your life who gives you that kind of support and love.