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David De La Torre

David, 26 years old, from Chicago, is a licensed barber. I met him after work at the “Public Barber” in Uptown.

What does wisdom mean to you?

Knowledge about life, experiences, feelings. Wise people know how to handle certain situations they had in the past and apply it to new situations. It's a way of getting through life without making the same mistakes you made in the past.

Are you somewhat wiser today than 5 years ago?

Definitely. I’m more disciplined. With work, diet, eating, respecting my 8 hours of sleep at night. In the past, I would wake up late and be tired all the time.

I'm more responsible. I come to the shop very early almost every day, and make towels and open up everything. Five years ago I probably wouldn't have been able to do that.

What made you wiser?

I wanted a better life style, I wanted a better living. I actually graduated barber school 5 years ago. I just realized I wouldn’t have a good life if I didn’t think things through, lived day to day, and didn’t have a vision. I wouldn’t get anywhere.

What do you mean by a vision?

Having a goal, something you’re headed towards, instead of just living. I plan for example, to have a couple of shops, or even a barber school later on.

Your work as a barber seems important to you, why?

Passion, I used to love cutting hair when I was 17-18. At the first shop I worked in, I probably made less than $300 a week, but I would still show up every day and make it work. And eventually coming here, and what I’m doing now just came, and I didn’t think it would come so fast. I did something I really liked, and it just kinda blossomed into a big thing, and then the next step is owning a shop, it’s endless.

What do you like about it?


I think the best thing about being a barber is you make somebody else feel good about themselves, and by doing that I feel better about myself. I’m doing something positive, I’m helping somebody feel better about themselves, and I love that.

The money is like a bonus at the end of the day. I’m really happy about what I do here.

You meet a lot of people in your work, is there something that challenges you in this encounter with different people?

Everything’s challenging… Learning how to communicate with the person and trying to understand what they’re trying to say. Every haircut is like an interview with a person; asking questions, trying to build a relationship. Sometimes people don’t want to speak, sometimes they tell me a lot more than they should. Sometimes it’s like a therapy session. That’s challenging too. Somebody is having a bad day. A couple of weeks ago one of my clients lost his job, and I remember I had done the haircut for the interview, he was so happy about it, so excited. He got the job and it lasted 5-6 weeks, and one day he came in, and I tried to cheer him up because he lost the job, he was bummed about it. That was very challenging, you build relationships with people and you kinda know stuff about them.

Cutting hair could be challenging at times too. Trying to understand what people say. Sometimes people don’t give you proper instructions how to cut their hair, so my job is just to ask a few questions trying to figure out what they’re trying to say.

What kind of values are you trying to bring into your work?

Honesty, communication, knowing you’re making a difference, a haircut is a lot more than just a haircut, it’s a confidence booster, positivity, making a change.

Making somebody feel better about themselves, to give them more confidence.

Why do you care?

I don’t know. I never ask myself that. I guess I just feel like it’s important for someone to feel good about themselves.

Is it just at work, or also in other circumstances?

In every part of my life. I feel like I’m too nice sometimes, I go the extra mile when I shouldn’t.

What motivates you when you’re outside the barber shop?

Family. My mom, my brother. A big reason why I kinda started doing this was to help my mom out a lot. So I would say that’s a big part of everyday, what I do. And she’s kind of brought me up to be this way, not being materialistic, not to care about money.

Not being materialistic?

Things come and go. People, they’re here now, and they’re gone forever. She taught us this early on. My dad passed away when we were kids, it was a big lesson for us. Just appreciate people now, because you’re not gonna be here long, they’re not gonna be here long. Might as well make a good life to each other, be good to other people. A big motivation for me is my mom. Helping people out, the alternative to being a barber was being a police officer. Another serious consideration.

Are there qualities that you would like to develop, inner qualities, values?

I would say to be more comfortable with myself, love myself more, be more confident. Another thing I need to learn is not to please everybody. To make other people unsatisfied sometimes, if it’s better for me.

People take advantage of it, I feel like I have to read people sometimes, to know who to go the extra mile for and who to back off, which I’m kind of learning now. I’m being exposed to different people and different settings. I have to work on that. Not pleasing everybody, learning to read other people.

To be more comfortable with yourself?

Be more proud, not to be so shy. Outside of the barbershop I’m very quiet and very shy. Sometimes I want to say something and I don’t because I don’t want to cause tension.

What can make a person uncomfortable with themselves?

Fear of starting an argument, tension. Just letting things happen because you don’t want to interfere with it. You don’t want conflict. Avoidance of conflict.

A book that has made you change your perspective?

I’m actually reading a book right now called “Band of Strangers”. It’s a memory of a WWII veteran named James K. Cullan, 21 years old. He talks about his experience training younger men, and one of his best friends, 19 at the time, lost his life serving. That opens up your eyes. That generation was very young and gave up everything, and a lot of them lost their lives very young and even the ones who survived had all this emotional distress they had to carry. That makes me appreciate the time that we have right now. So just appreciate every day. I’ll be 26 and I’m happy that I’m in my 20’s, it’s a pretty good life span so far, compared to what some of these guys went through.

One advice you would give to a younger person today?

Don’t make a permanent decision because of something that is temporary.

An example would be someone that takes their own life because you’re going through a hard time in college or high school. I get that time in your life is everything to you, and you feel like that’s what your whole life is going to be for you. In just 2, 3, 4 years things could change, with the snap of the finger, and you’re in a whole different state of mind. I know that sometimes I hated high school, I hated being bullied, I thought that’s how my life is going to be, and I felt trapped. But that’s one small chapter in your life, you still have much more. Don’t make permanent decisions based on temporary situations. Things are gonna change. Even if you don’t see it right now, your life is not going to be that hard, you’re not going to always go through these things.

You ask yourself about the meaning of life?

All the time.

If we’re only here temporary, what’s the point of all of it, of going to work, and paying bills...

At the end of the day, we all end up in the same place.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t know. It’s scary to think about it sometimes.

You don’t know what’s going to happen after this. That’s pretty scary.

Anything else you want to add?

Appreciate everyday. Just to be better everyday.

Find out who you are. You asked me some questions that I couldn’t think of any type of answer.

Try to figure out who you are. Understand why you do certain things, like why do I try to please or help other people. Just understand yourself better.

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