Same as last post – Lots of people were there, but not for long – different people, short time frames, but with one major, five-year exception.
(Front note: Creative inspiration may be lacking in this post, but I find it necessary to acknowledge the practical adventures along this path of my life. Next I will write enthusiastically about the attempts at corporate creativity – the roads not taken.)
As I have often groused about feeling like a fish up a tree in the career that paid the bills, and how the business journey impacted my writing journey, I now feel the need to declare that it worked both ways – each journey impacted the other – and give credit to the business environment for enabling my recent “promotion” into the writing environment. There were significant, adrenaline generating adventures along the way, to go along with the “Why am I here?” and “How do I get out?” ruminations.
First, I acknowledge not following Dad’s advice. He was beginning to sell life insurance to supplement his professional engineer salary as his family began to grow, when his boss suggested he would advance more professionally by keeping focus on his primary job. That enabled Mom and Dad to manage a family that included at least one teenager for thirty-eight of their fifty-nine years of marriage. But my focus resisted the corral.
The “career” evolved in three stages: 1) mesmerized meandering in and around the business world; 2) understanding the meandering; 3) surviving the understanding, and gasping to the finish line. A fourth stage, the “profession,” is where I am now, the “doing what you love” promotion, compensation (non-monetary) for enduring the previous three.
STAGE 1 – MESMERIZED MEANDERING
Highlights: Helping programmers, all young and enthusiastic in the early days of the System 370 mainframe, launch their programs and careers. Helping install the first on-line customer information system in New England, enabling gas company clerks to answer billing questions without competing for printed ledgers, and finding myself leading the project when the senior project manager went on medical leave – my first recognizable accomplishment. Programming the first real-time banking application for ATM’s in New England (accounts would be updated as the transaction happened, not collected in batches and updated overnight), then convincing IBM to publish the application for general use, and writing support manuals, my first two copyrights (attributed to IBM).
Darknights: Stressed to the max when a banking customer hired a Type AAA (bully) manager for the programming staff I was supporting. He brought in his henchmen, and morale caved. My anxiety (knots-in-stomach sleepless nights) reached the point where I thought, even if I get fired, I have to let the director know he’s managing a disaster. The transparent director thanked me, said he needed the input, and the guy was gone soon after. I encountered AAA one more time, leaving the next bank I was going to work for after IBM, on his way to a big job at the phone company. Wish I could write his resume.
Creative Diversion: Effectively moonlighting for five years, developing a board game about what I had learned, Chairman of the Board. Details in a future post as Foible and Folly #1.
STAGE 2 – UNDERSTANDING THE MEANDERING.
Still bewildered, wondering why newer employees were scrambling up the ladder past me, blaming the business “environment” for my lack of progress, I got lucky in mid-career.
1981 was my most significant year, including: time off for a bout with pneumonia; a spiritual retreat where I learned to be comfortable in my own skin; an intensive weekend mid-career planning seminar at my Alma Mater; a ten-week sabbatical program in New York City which IBM offered employees to help explore career opportunities; and a dramatic, decision-assisting dream, possibly celestial guidance.
The career planning seminar had several introspective exercises, similar to What Color is Your Parachute? drills. First, ten sheets of paper, with “I am…” on the top line, “I can…” in the middle, and “I need…” near the bottom – curative for “I am not…” self-awareness lead-ins. Second, read all codes in a comprehensive book of product codes, make a list of those “things” that have appeal, whittle the list in half several times, until only four are left. I ended with pens and office supplies and oak furniture, confirming I like writing, suggesting I may be stubborn as hell. Finally, and most significant, examine life since high school, identify the twenty most significant aspects, good or bad, and four prime areas of interest will emerge.
“AHA!” #1 category for me was family matters – good thing, since we had five children at the time. #2 was creative activities; I remembered many writing assignments as far back as elementary school. #3 was technical problem solving with customers. #4 was – EMPTY! Problem solving was a major part of my job, but the main objective was to help sell more and always increase revenue – missing from my ordering of priorities. Those scrambling up the ladder ahead of me were reaching for different fruit! And it wasn’t the organization’s job to adapt to me, it was the other way around. The seminar counselor also commented that I wasn’t the corporate type, and I would have to occasionally pat myself on the back – probably the best benefit from the exercise.
The ten-week sabbatical program in the Big Apple was an educational retreat to explore various subject matters of interest to the company, with fellow employees from all different divisions, hoping to define a future path. I had three personal objectives: third, survey career possibilities; second, learn new subject matter without stressing on making A’s; first, write a script for a musical about a farm boy with one year of college education who leaves the farm for the big city, meanders, stumbles and falls, and eventually builds a world-changing behemoth organization (which became IBM — the rest of the story in some future post). I finished that script around week nine, writing from one a.m. to three a.m., after seven hours of classes and some homework, and attending twenty-one Broadway shows.
Creative Diversion: writing The Adventures of Tom Watson.
Darknights: My re-assignment on return was into nerd-central, an office-based super-technical support group, managed by the dullest individual I ever worked for, a job which became instant mental quicksand. Then, a miracle occurred!
The dream was disturbing at first, until I found a reasonable interpretation. One of my female colleagues – friendly, but not a friend – was being waked in a white dress, in a casket, in a funeral parlor. I think I interpreted, while still asleep, this signals the end of my career. But, just before waking, a loud voice said something like, “But stick around!” The same voice the next night, although I don’t remember the visual dream. That week, a new manager was announced, the most supportive of my abilities, and the technical center morphed into a marketing support center, where I would create and present marketing seminars, and manage the mainframe supporting other seminars. This dream job lasted five years.
STAGE 3 – SURVIVING THE UNDERSTANDING, and gasping to the finish line.
Now fully aware of my place in the universe, deciding that pursuing the ideal occupation might leave me and the family creatively insolvent, I trudged through several new IBM assignments, and the first “right-sizing” (a.k.a. “layoff”) in IBM history, with an early-retirement status; five-plus years at BankBoston, then being declared a “surplus employee” after a “merger-of-equals” with Fleet Bank, and retirement from its predator, Bank of America, which I never worked for; and four mostly stressful years at Fidelity, attempting low-tech assignments, individually cast off, possibly “job overboard” when four techies with residence in India were added to the staff.
Spoiler alert: Disclaiming any investment insight, I observe that BayBank merged into BankBoston as it’s CEO was retiring, and BankBoston merged into Fleet Bank as its CEO was retiring, and speculate that someone(s) cashed in big.
Highlights: At IBM, in a new account branch office, being technical leader on a long campaign selling a four million dollar system, the largest score of my career. At BankBoston, representing the bank on an advisory committee for one of the first software producers in the new “data warehouse” discipline for consolidating legacy data bases; also, discovering in the Millennium project that some CD customers had investments that would “mature” in 1902. At Fidelity, uh… let me think – working with one super-techie from Russia who had the patience to help me with low-level coding procedures to monitor high-volume international data transmissions?
Darknights: At IBM, Type AAA lady on a rapid ascent scolds me for not being able to explain to her customer how connector seventeen in port six transfers data from spindle G to memory bank RQL, or something like that. I didn’t care then, I don’t care now, and no one ever did, but I stayed as far away from her as I could, didn’t applaud when she was named salesman of the year, but did when she left the company soon afterwards. At BankBoston, the darkest of daylights, walking sometimes for an hour to get away from the office, soon after my spouse died; the director who hired me was totally supportive. At Fidelity, at the exit interview, the manager stating I wasn’t very good on details, and I was not bold enough to answer, “Did you ever read my resume?”
STAGE 4 – THE PROFESSION.
Can’t say I’m a “professional writer,” given the non-existent income, but I can say I am “professing writing.” When I speak to college classmates still in the workforce, I report my status as “sane, not necessarily solvent.” They respond, “solvent, not necessarily sane.” The biggest reward is getting to this stage of life and counting hundreds of blessings, and many long-term friends, that overcome the stressful memories, and being grateful for the journey. I was incredibly lucky, and incredibly blessed. The dream still astounds me. I didn’t exactly follow a dream, a dream came and dragged me on, and got me where I wanted to be. Deo Gracias. Amen.