While the week has been a reflection on what lies behind, I think it prudent to look ahead.
Much of what I have said about my current — erstwhile, when I walk out the doors today — employer is likely to be true elsewhere. I cannot think that other employers would stifle the growth of their employees, especially when their employees look to grow in ways that are profitable for the company. I cannot believe that one company holds the monopoly on excellent colleagues or mentors to help a person chart a path forward.
Looking ahead, I see so much uncertainty and possibility. And that is both frightening and exciting. Going forward into the unknown is frightening and I think we do ourselves a disservice when we try to put on a brave façade and pretend that the unknown does not cause us trepidation. Of course it does. It is unknown. Our first algebra equation probably intimidated us, and the only unknown there was the value of x. The unknown can never be present without some measure of fear.
But the unknown is also exciting.
The unknown is rife with possibilities. In that uncertain future, there are stories not yet written and experiences waiting to be had. Over that horizon is something new; something as yet uncharted. There may be dragons or there may be fields of swaying grasses or both. There is no way to know except to get myself over the horizon and onto what awaits.
There is a song lyric from the late 90s or early aughts that often comes back to me when I move from one thing to the next. “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” This chapter has been wonderful. It has been filled to bursting with excellence and challenge and joys and frustrations. But this chapter must end in order for the next one to begin.
It is time for me to turn the page.
I hear often about how the people are the most important part of any job. It was true during my brief stay in the educational field — the good people were excellent and the others less so. During my time with my current employer, I have been privileged to work with some of the finest kind of people. I have also been graced with the chance to work with people who challenged me.
This particular entry will not be very long, as the subject is a bit too involved to really be done justice in a blog post.
Suffice it to say that there have been colleagues who encouraged me to become more than I was when I was hired. There have been coworkers who challenged me to lay down my pride and understand that there is no room for ego in the kind of work I do. There were people who led me to new challenges and people who reminded me that the mundane still needed doing. There have been people who were colleagues and coworkers and friends and some who came to feel like family.
Only three days remain in this position. It is odd to look around at my work space and realize that I have been steadily stripping it of my personality. What was once very much My Work Space is now just a work space. There are still a few knickknacks that have not been trundled off to my car and thence home, but not many.
This job has afforded me the opportunity to learn. Not just how to do this job, but to learn many things in pursuit of doing this job better.
When I was hired, the company still using old MS Word forms. They were archaic and clunky, but they got the job done. One perceptive colleague went to our supervisor and informed her that I needed more work — my colleague was correct, I was growing bored and delving into the depths of our ERP system in search of information that might point me at my next task. My supervisor asked me to research PDF forms and dropped a pair of books and an instructional DVD on my desk. Not long after, I had learned the basics of PDF form building. This was only the beginning of a deep rabbit hole. That level of PDF knowledge allowed people to ask about a deeper level of knowledge, and Acrobat forms gave way to LiveCycle forms.
Now that my department was making inroads to PDF forms, my supervisor asked me to research whether or not those forms could be integrated with the ERP so that data entry could be minimized. That was yet another rabbit hole that would continue deeper for years to come. And I reveled in the new learning. I learned bits and pieces of the API that allowed integration of the forms with the ERP system — not enough to be useful, just enough to be dangerous and curious about how I might get to usefulness.
This integration opened a new door and a later supervisor asked about integrating PDF forms with our FRACAS system. This led down the path of XML and schema and XSLT. I am far from proficient in any of these, but I learned enough to solve some riddles and navigate some data labyrinths. It was thrilling and challenging and I basked in the ability to research and learn and experiment and to do so in service of my employer.
Several years of this made me the closest thing to a resident expert we had on these topics. I knew enough to be able to state whether or not something was plausible and then be turned loose to find the full answer. All the while, I was allowed to learn and grow and become whatever was needed at the time. In five-plus years, I have learned a great deal and have been privileged to be able to do so in service of my employer, turning what I learned into something useful and profitable for the organization.
They let me learn and grow and become. While it was largely self-serving, it is still something I appreciate.
I had four days remaining with my current employer when I drove to work this morning. As I type these words, I have three days left. But I still wanted to do an entry for today.
My current employer taught me a fair bit about how the corporate world works.
The extent of my corporate experience, before this job, was working as a salesperson for Office Depot while I was in college. Before graduating college, I transitioned into a job that was part of the educational field. Moving from the private sector to the public meant that I did not really understand how the private sector worked.
I have been given the chance to learn this over the course of the last five-plus years. While not every lesson has been pleasant, they have all been instructive.
I have learned that supervisors are often well-intentioned and just as often ill-equipped. I have had supervisors who knew precisely what my job entailed and supervisors who had not the faintest notion, though they wanted very much to do a good job — their prospects depended on their performance as well as mine, after all. I have had supervisors who were excellent mentors and supervisors who offered no mentoring at all. The difference, I think, is largely one of personality, but whether or not the supervisor received any mentoring seems to factor in as well.
I have learned that decisions are most often made based on pure economics. When the company does well, new hires are frequent and needed materials are easy to come by. When the company does poorly, layoffs are coming and expenses — even necessary ones — are difficult to get approved.
There is more — so much more — that I have learned and that may or may not be consistently true across all companies in all industries, but my employer has given me the ability to learn at close proximity. I am grateful to have been given the chance to re-learn how the private sector operates while also benefiting from and, I hope, being of benefit to my company.
I have only five days remaining in my current place of employ.
This may not seem like a big deal, but this company has done much and more for both my family and me and the people here are about as close to family as co-workers can be.If I can stay on it, I would like to do a countdown of things that have been done for me by the company and those who work herein.
My current employer gave me a chance to reinvent myself and transition into a new career path.
I spent most of my young life thinking that I would go into teaching. And I did. I spent five years in high school English classrooms. When things went sideways, I decided that the difficulties present in finding a new teaching position might be an indicator that I needed to consider a new career path. So I tried to tailor my resume for writing and editing jobs. There was a long period of receiving “Thank you, but no thank you.” letters from various employers who had their pick of qualified candidates. I received a call from my current employer when I was filling out the paperwork for a part-time, temporary teaching spot.
Yeah, things were that bad.
I interviewed with the woman who would eventually be my first supervisor in this company and who would do a fair bit of mentoring me. I was interviewed by those who would become my colleagues and trainers and I was interviewed by some of those with whom I would work regularly. None of this set klaxons sounding in my mind. I was too busy trying to get my mental arms around the temporary teaching gig.
After three or more rounds of interviews, I was offered a sort of journeyman writing spot. I spent most of my energies trying to learn what was expected and to execute on that. I also felt that I owed my supervisor and this company a debt of gratitude, as they were the ones who gave me a chance to reinvent my professional self.
For the next five years and change, I would spend a good amount of energy trying to repay the debt I felt I owed. As colleagues transitioned to other things and supervisors charted new courses, the debt began to feel repaid. At this juncture, I feel that I have given my best efforts and have repaid the faith placed in me by those who gave me a chance — none of whom still work here.
I am grateful for the faith placed in me by those who gave me a chance and made the case for giving that chance to those who might have expressed doubts. I hope that their faith has been justified these five years and change and that the chance they took and its results inspire similar wagers in future.
I stood at the sink tonight, doing dishes as I often do, and found myself thinking fondly of the times when I — as a boy too short to see over the counter without the help of a step stool — would stand beside my grandmother and help her with the dishes. She invited the help; welcomed the help and we spent many an amiable time cleaning up after a meal and talking. I cannot remember now what the conversations were about. I am not even sure that it matters.
What matters is the memories. The memories flooded into my mind as I thought about standing beside her doing dishes. I also remembered her taking me to buy my first fantasy novel (I had learned about it on Saturday morning cartoons, of all places) and my first book on astronomy (she asked me multiple times whether I was sure that I wanted that book). I remember her looking for used pads at work that she could bring home and have available for me to use to draw. Twenty years later, I still have one or two of them around with sketches done while visiting her house.
I wash dishes like the Star Wars mug and remember when I opened that gift at my graduation dinner — a gift given me by the man who would, one day, be my Best Man and for whom I often find myself praying, though I know far less how to do so these days. Time has drawn us apart, but the mug brings back memories of when we had time to spare to paint bedrooms orange.
My wife, good woman that she is, wants to bring a dish washing machine into our apartment. I cannot fault her reasons. She wants me to have more time to spend with her and our children. More time to pursue things like this blog entry and the novels and music and art I often neglect. She wants to make space for me to be … me. A husband and father and artist and musician and novelist (God willing) and the plethora of others hats I sometimes wear. She wants to make space for all of that. But I wonder if in gaining the time to explore those things, I will lose the time I spend remembering.
I am not angsting, though this post might seem to indicate otherwise, merely reflecting on the things that trigger welcome memories. The memories, tonight, reminded me that I need to appreciate those I have in my life while I have them. Grams, my grandmother, has done admirably well at that. My friend and I crammed lots of memories and fun into a handful of years. Perhaps it is time to get that dishwasher and make time for making more memories. The dishes will still be there.
The challenge: Once a week, for 10 weeks, choose one emotionally descriptive word that positively describes my wife.
- As a man, I broke through the boundaries of emotional simplicity and began to explore emotional complexity.
- This challenge forces me to positively define my wife. By doing this, I have to accept what I positively say to be true. Thus, it being written in black and white, the things I write become a permanent fixture here and most likely in the minds of the readers – including her.
- Growth. Always growth.
Here is week eight.
This is another of those words that does not seem terribly emotionally evocative, but it is. Modernity has lost, in large part, the art of gratitude. We thank people, but too often the thankfulness ends with the words. We feel that we have dispatched our duty and move along.
My wife is not thus. She will not only thank me for the things I do (things which are, I suspect, woefully inadequate), but will go on to praise these actions to others. The gratitude does not end with me being thanked, but with an appreciation that carries over into other places. It is an abiding gratitude.
I would be lying if I said that it was an all-the-time state of being — everyone has off days and bad days and just plain days — but it is her habitual state.
This gets into emotional territory when you realize how much men like to be recognized and appreciated for what we do. People in general respond to positive reinforcement. Thank us for doing something and we are more likely to do it again, if only to be thanked again; to be appreciated again. Emily Dickinson wrote a poem about success that included this observation: “To comprehend a nectar / Requires sorest need.” No one is quite so able to appreciate gratitude as one who does not often meet with it. I am not gratitude deprived — not by any stretch of the imagination — but my wife is nonetheless grateful for what I do and takes pains to express that gratitude. It may seem a little thing, but it works wonders for my ability to motivate myself to continue to do those things in future.