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Where Did All of This Experience Come From?

Sperm whale defecating at ocean surface

      Until recently, I honestly hadn't realized how much I have learned over the last 20 or so years.  In my current position as a department manager, I am now responsible not only for my actions but also the actions of the team.  It certainly is a departure from the days when I was a management associate (trainee) where I was told by another project engineer that my position with the company in the scheme of things was lower than whale sh*t.

     The other day I called up the old co-worker that I worked with during that time as a trainee.  We laughed about the hours we spent filing drawings like clerks, the days we spent on top of a coke oven battery watching smoke (yes, I said watching smoke), and the months we spent working fourteen hour nights, seven days a week during the summers of 1993 and 1994 on blast furnace rebuilds.  We were young, stupid, always clowning around, playing immature games; but we sure did learn some valuable lessons on maturity and responsibility along the way.

This week I was meeting with a young engineer who is struggling to find his place in the vast responsibilities that he has been thrown into.  Even though I am trying to help him, he sees it as an obstruction and distraction away from what he wanted to do.  Just like the Harry Chapin song Cat's in the Cradle,  ". . .the boy is just like me. . ." If some of my old superiors could see me now, they would be laughing themselves into hysteria.  All of the stubbornness, impetuousness, impatience, and brashness of my youth is coming home to roost.  Now I am the one who needs to mete out patience and rationale when those on my team want to strangle their peers and punch the walls!

          While writing this post, I was copied on an email that a member of the team sent to one of the production supervisors.  The production supervisor sent a scathing email, but copied a half dozen other people on it, calling out my co-worker.  In anger and frustration, he returned with a volley of his own.  I did a quick edit to the email and sent it back to my coworker with a joke about how he has lost his cool, and how important it was for him to remain professional, even though he wasn't going to get it in return . . . . Whew!  Where did that come from?  Ten years ago I was the hothead who would go over and tell a guy off for calling me out in front of others that way.

     I suppose that over the years, all of these experiences have actually gathered up to count for something; but certainly not everything.  Writing this blog has helped me understand the process of learning real life lessons, and incorporating them into an operating scheme.  I certainly appreciate the time that my managers spent with me trying to mold my unbridled potential into something useful for them.  I know that there were times when they wanted to punt me across the Detroit River into Canada for the simple reason that I wouldn't shut-up and listen.  Maybe some of it sunk in.  It must have, since I can remember it now, and can empathize with the frustration of a few good men (and women) that tried to set me straight.

    So here I am, after a long day of work, pecking away another blog entry that twenty-five people will hit while looking for a cool picture of Harry Chapin, or a gross picture of a whale relieving itself, and maybe a few of my bored readers who actually think my diatribes have some value.  Perhaps I have floated up from the bottom of the ocean, and am no longer lower than the whale sh*t that has settled to the bottom.  Perhaps all those long hours in the mill working the hard jobs, or the times us steelmakers would sit around and shoot the bull over a couple of beers and a game of poker, have actually amounted to something useful.  Maybe I can impart some of it to others before I forget what I have learned.

At least I can enjoy the fact that I can always find a photo to explain the ball of tangled neurons that make up my thought patterns.


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