I don’t know how he did it.
Over twenty+ years as a US Marine then switching to a desk job because he had experience in things like fuel bladders and equipment supply. No longer able to tell me where to find the joy in a profession that in the past years (and prior employer) almost took every ounce of pride I had in being in a field predominately made up of men. It must have been entirely a shock to his system to go from olive drab to endless meetings about quality improvements and value engineering. As I rolled through our birthplace a couple of years ago, I was ever mindful that the dull feeling of loss and homesickness sometimes has absolutely nothing to do with where you are. Semper Fi, Mack, semper fi.
I often wonder what happens in the mind of a person who knows, or assumes, that they will be working for the same company until retirement age. I think that the short-termed nature of the military lifestyle enables qualities like dynamism and extreme adaptability but has its shortcomings such as the inability to comply with the idea that anything is forever. Which, in turn, seems like a good trait now that I consider it. Unless you feel the absolute power of empathy. Remaking yourself and developing consideration for life circumstance and capitalizing on those values mean that you have to have developed a very keen sense of compassion. Even after those many years in the USMC, his career was broken up in a series of subject areas
that I’m still in awe of. He took on many roles in his career, and it’s one of the foundations that I build on. My mother also played many different parts in her lifetime, and it also boosted a sense of curiosity about every possible thing that I thought I could do. Even today my ability to grasp many topics but still retain an insatiable hunger for more information is surprising.
My most extended stint was 12 years, and I will admit that the security of said job felt like an old leather jacket. It kept you warm and comfortable when needed and tossed aside where appropriate. Those 12 years as an individual contributor in the technology field (where you help everyone) was easily disconnected at the end of the day. In that 12 years, I went from answering phones to putting computers back together in both a hardware and software perspective. During that time Dad and I had plenty to discuss because his computer was always in need of an upgrade. When I started my second job after a plant closure ended the first, I worked for a government contractor. Now I’d have something to discuss with Dad. It didn’t last long. While I’m sure, he would have wanted to help me out with my then professional decisions and dilemmas, he indeed won’t be able to now. Unless you counted those knowing looks he had even in the latter stage of Alzheimer’s, thank God, given me. Eyes that say a million things and words that will never again happen is as heartbreaking as you can imagine. Imagine his wife, my mother. I can almost hear him railing and pounding his anger at a disease that has robbed him of his quick judgment and sound advice.
But back to my career. In some cases being the contractor can be such a boon to the system because in most cases there was a stated need (requirement) at the inception of said effort versus an employee who seemed to forget over the years that not only has that need probably changed but it left told employee behind. However, the ideals of box checking and pip punching are safe. They are secure, and in an ideal world do have merit. They have to, right? It’s like a time warp of big green log books and the worn, pale torn off corners of process improvement posters from years gone by. There’s no revitalization for the time-tested govvie – only new carpet every twenty years and cement blocks smooth from the dinosaur age lead paint under fifteen coats of process change.
I would have thought that 3-year changes in leadership would have some positive effect on employee morale but what the reality is: the ideology of meeting expectations on those on their way in or out is a little different. Although one would think that it would bring a fresh new set of eyes to make significant improvements to the employee workforce, it appears as if it’s just another box to check.
Yes, my father’s experience commingled with my prior employer theatrics are perfect for a dull yawn of a play.
I’m relatively sure I’ve lost you, my reader. So, with the recurring news about government workforce, about standing up to or having some need to use your empathy skills to step outside of this ideology we’ve somehow missed the point. Some years back I was, my career was, broken into a thousand little pieces – similar to heartbreak only it was my brain. You wouldn’t have been able to see this “brain break” if you had peered in because it was as if the whole world was spinning so fast around me that I couldn’t find a good hold to force it to stop. Not to mention the terror that the government and my then employer instilled in me. In those terrible moments of anguish that my then employer caused I wanted that force, that one who I knew, who could shoulder the burden and help me navigate this horror, was silent. I watched men and women I loved, and respected get tore down to nothing. To zero. Eventually, the dust settled, I moved on and only occasionally mourn the relationships I had built with my peers.
Later, I decided to morph yet again with a smaller government contractor who fed me life’s blood and rekindled that romance with me, I, Career. The customer who I was supporting was a small ragtag bunch of people who reminded me of Mack. CMack. I, take my father’s long quieted approach, Career. Since Alzheimer’s was slowly degrading any ability for communication and I took on a role of part-time caretaker I had to get some records together for Dad and found some old work documents that were shuffled in and out of place, here and there. I found an award he’d received for assembling some standard operating procedures from thin air, and I ruined it with salty liquid frailties. A sharpshooting pistol expert builds boxes, makes beer, develops SOPs that will last ages, and then contemplates religious dogma and humanistic philosophy. Oh, and he excelled at this
. Such a complicated person and yet I remain mystified that his God-like status didn’t conquer something like Alzheimer’s.
As luck would have it, later, I joined the private industry again to polish my chops in a manager role. Initially, I felt a sense of accomplishment, challenge, and reward. I quickly realized that my spirit was slowly being drained and challenge without resources never amounts to much. Autonomy without power is null. I could never get the thought out of my head that if I were diagnosed tomorrow that all this work-related misery was going to be one of the last things I may remember. In the memory of a memory, I couldn’t face a continuation of that and committed to find something more palpable, rewarding, and impactful.
I’ve morphed again and focused on finding my way. I am to set an example for my son who is navigating his way through I, Career. Never undersell your talents, never exist in a job because it is safe, and always look for impact. Slowly I’ve been able to untangle myself from some of my experiences and solidify the knowledge of “career.” My years at Merck & Co., Inc., really set the stage for organizational grounding and I’ll have that forever. After the last five years, I’ve come to realize that perhaps I’m seasoned enough to pick a different fate. I’m reticent that I can’t talk it over with Dad. His terrible fate haunts me. Not so much that a physical ailment has taken its toll, but selfishly that I can no longer ask “What would you do?”.
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