This week I was invited to sit in as a member of the studio audience, when the company president web-casted his end of the year all-hands meeting. This is a business ritual that I have witnessed over thirty times. The sole novelty of this week’s edition was the addition of all the television paraphernalia. I was cautioned by my manager that if I was going to attend, then I needed to be prepared to ask a question, just in case I was called upon. I polled my co-workers for suggestions and received suggested questions that ranged from the erudite, but way beyond me to ask, to the confrontational and sure to get me fired variety. Finally Anne, my muse, gave me a question that I could ask, “Have you ever heard of the reality TV show, Undercover Boss and if so, what would you expect to learn about your organization by appearing in such a role?” The guys at work thought that this was an acceptable question, but a softball one too. Fortunately, my Plan A, sitting in the back row and keeping my mouth shut worked flawlessly, so I never had to exercise Plan B and ask a question.
I am at the point in my career that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it is not the headlight of an oncoming train. No it is the Holy Grail of the workingman, retirement. It is a long tunnel, so the light is still a good way off. This is a good thing, because I am still too young to retire. I know that I will want to eat these words come the next snow or ice storm, but how else am I to find the plethora of daily social interactions that I enjoy today. I work with men and women of all ages, mainly men though and mainly old men at that, but not entirely. Come retirement, I will have to work to fill this social void. There will be that usual flurry of travel come retirement, but that quickly subsides. Then I will have to volunteer. This sounds a lot like working, but at a much reduced pay rate. I do not plan on double dipping. Just like with high school, after my last class, my last test, I will walk out that door and never return.
How did I become the old man who I use to make fun of, all those many years ago? My friend, Chris C. and I use to commiserate about these old men, last millennium, when we were still young men. The old men that we were commiserating about seemed obsolesced about their jobs, but they were also our bosses. This is Chris’ story, so he should be telling it, but this is also my blog, so I’ll tell it for him. Chris worked for Climax Molybdenum, which is now defunct, but once operated in Ann Arbor. Back in the eighties, Japan’s sun was rising and a delegation from Japan paid a visit to Climax. Because of the intense heat and bright light involved in the process, welder’s masks were required to see what was going on. With young men, even in a business environment, a certain amount of grab-ass humor pervades. The Japanese representative was inadvertently given a welder’s helmet that had had its vision slit taped over with black paper. Chris’ boss explained to the Japanese representative what he was “seeing” and afterwards this representative thanked him. It was only later that the mistake was found.
Engineering is not a science. I feel adept at saying this since my job title is Engineer/Scientist and I freely move between both disciplines. I have made more wrong turns in my career than I care to admit. Still, I am happy and feel successful for who I am. Like engineering, life is a series of approximations. Like science, life is also a series of absolutes. I’m just glad that I have balanced this dichotomy so well, so far.