Lots of people were there, but not for long – different people, short time frames.
Since posting Writin’ an’ Readin’ and Meanderin’, I’ve been locked in on the word “meanderin’,” realizing that seems to be my life pattern, and consequently hitting blogger’s block. But here goes anyway, the professional version, job search oh-oh-one, equipped with tunnel vision – Dad, a scientist/engineer; Mom, a teacher/homemaker; Me, a dreamer.
The first plan – major league baseball player – dissolved when I made only alternate all-star in Little League – lotta hustle, not so lotta skills. Attempting a comeback in teenage league three years later, I was off target. Trying out for the base softball team after college, the sergeant/manager running infield practice commented, “Nice throw, lieutenant,” when I hit him in the rear on a third-to-home throw. That was after learning I had been cut from the team the day before, but it wasn’t intentional.
The next plan was a vague desire to be a writer, but I didn’t know where to start, and thought I should first go out and learn something about life. The plan never crystallized, but life did.
I could put off the search for two years, compliments of U.S. Army reserve and my Second Looie commission. The Cold War was still raging during the Viet Nam “conflict,” and I was stationed in Virginia with Army Air Defense, defending the nation against our adversaries. I like to think they knew I was there, and didn’t attack. The most memorable event of my career, other than the throw home, was the evening one of the Air Force reservists, getting in his required pilot hours, squawked in to the overnight commander – “General Stewart checking in, Sir.” The commander inquired, “Would that be General James Stewart, Sir?” – the answer was, “Affirmative.” (“Jimmy” was a Brigadier General.)
Halfway through my army stint, Maureen and I married, and she taught Math at the local country high school for a year. My assignment involved shift duty, and I would substitute when off-duty (and awake), preparing for a possible teaching job. The only career decision we made was to locate near one of our families – hers, six hundred miles from the base; mine, thirteen hundred. The decision on where to interview was mathematically based. My Alma Mater had a well-established Placement Office director, and he pointed me toward the only offering in the catalog for English Majors, Technical Writer for IBM in the Virginia area – a prospect I dreaded – and set up an interview in the Boston office.
Meanwhile, Maureen’s high school had an emergency opening for a Math teacher for the new school year, but she would be five months pregnant, in a day when most administrations thought women needed to be on leave at that point, so the plan emerged that I could take the job and she could coach me through the math stuff, which she had done when I was substituting.
Along the way, a college classmate with a newly-minted MBA visited my base, and advised that I wear a blue suit and a white shirt when I interviewed with IBM. He also observed that, of all our classmates, I was the least likely to go into business, and by far the least likely to work for IBM. I only had a green suit and wore a yellow shirt for the interview, but I must have done well on the programmer aptitude test, because I got a call for a second interview, not for tech writing, but for a technical marketing support position in Boston .
I was offered the teaching position, asked for ten days to decide, and, on day nine, the IBM offer arrived. My professional meanderin’ career was underway.
Circumstances assisted in my job offer. My Father told me that in the year I was hired, 1967, only IBM met its quota for recruits. His company, Exxon, and all others, could not fill their hiring quotas. I was leaving the military, and many were still NamBound. Years later, in constricted economies, English Major was a no chance entry proposition for a technical job.
I meandered right into third generation computing, the early days of the System 370 mainframes, youth and energy in every business office. I spent about a three-year gestation period, staring at weekly new promotion announcements, wondering how things all fit together. Finally, I thought I could demonstrate what I had learned –and spent five years, effectively moonlighting, creating Chairman of the Board (copyrighted and trademarked in 1975), a board game guide to moving up the “ladder of success,” with real-world situations not even taught in business school. It’s a longer story I will detail in a future post, under “Foibles and Follies – Rush to Publication, #1.” I’ll also reference it in a post on “Career Death Wishes” – things to avoid (= being off-mission) in business careers.
Meanderin’ through twenty-five years in IBM greatly expanded my world perspective. From biases acquired in high school (teachers are lowly-paid, business students aren’t college material) and college (assistants are lowly-paid, professors also at that time, business students aren’t academic, and business = greed), it took me a while to learn that, without profits, there is no business, and there are no employees. (Not that there isn’t greed, especially in the higher echelons and regulatory collaborators.) Also, I was able to upgrade my bias, “It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know,” to a more realistic – “It’s WHO YOU CAN GET TO KNOW,” when I finally realized that focusing on the bosses’ objectives, not personal perspectives, was the key to synergizing with the mission, and “politics” is prerequisite in any large organization. I abstained from politics. I was back in Little League, hustling, but lacking some essential skills.
Not locking in to, or mastering, one industry or technical specialty, I was at least adequate enough to be drafted into a different industry every few years – customer support assignments in banking, insurance, utitilies, government, and retail industries, and one great five year assignment in a customer center, half technical and half marketing demonstrations, best for my skill set. One “coincidence” characterized many of these assignment shufflings – often the team acquiring me was responsible for running the annual kickoff meeting, and I was able to use my (personally but not professionally) preferred skill – script writer!
When IBM issued its first official “down-sizing,” the severance package was tremendous, and I was happy to leave a job I no longer enjoyed. Just as the severance was drying up, a former IBM colleague linked me into BankBoston; five years later, a merger with Fleet Bank (now Bank of America) “surplused” many employees, and the severance was favorable. As that one dried up, a BankBoston colleague networked me into Fidelity, and four years later, I was no longer an alternate all-star, and the dismissal was individual (possibly “job gone overseas” – the team hired four in Bangalore), but also an escape, and a blessing. Thanks to zigzagging through these labyrinths, I was completing my main commitment of assisting with sixty semesters of college tuitions, and happily discovered there is something to be said for relaxing.
My professional meandering was done. My writing and publishing meandering resumed.