Somewhere, out of somewhere, I developed a good work-ethic. My schoolteachers would be amazed. I don’t even know quite where that came from; maybe it was that working meant making money. I held some BS part-time jobs in college, but some time after I was done with college I got hired full-time by the company for which I still work. My parents never had one word of advice on writing a resume, getting, or holding on to a job. Both had worked in a structured environment; my mother worked at a hospital, my father worked at a college. I recall one time I was telling my mother about my work and I had to explain a business concept to her, probably having to do with the Economies of Scale, and she remarked something to the effect of, “Wow, I think you know more about business than anyone in our family!” Well, probably, but considering that my family ranges from Liberal to Socialist that doesn’t count for much. Some years later I realized that she was unclear on the difference between gross and net profit, so there’s that. My father never had a word of advice on work; how to deal with management, coworkers, or later, employees under my supervision. I might tell him a work story and he might then regale me with a sorta-similar tale of his teaching days.
The first thing I learned about full-time work was, wow, they really put the “full” in full-time! I’d never worked so hard in my life. Working was important to me, though. I was in the business world, the real world, and for the first time I was making some serious money. Like, enough money to live on. Not that I was in a hurry to live on my own.
My parents had fostered into me a fear of corporate America, partly directly, and partly indirectly by way of the leftist propaganda to which they subscribed (Utne Reader, The Progressive, NYTimes, etc.). I was afraid and convinced that I was going to fail, that I would be chewed up and spat out. I lived at home and saved my money, knowing that I could lose my job any day. I felt I needed to get established, to set aside some savings in case things went tits-up. So, fear. Also inertia, and a lack of ambition.
When I did move out it was amazing. Being on my own and responsible for myself was the best thing I did for myself. You know how people sometimes muse on what they would tell their younger selves? I would tell myself to GTFO of that house. On the other hand I don’t know that I would have listened.
I started out in an entry-level position but I’ve worked up to middle management. The family I work for has put a tremendous amount of trust in me, probably more than they know, and a lot of responsibility (I have 24hr access to our corporate headquarters and warehouse, and I have full admin privs to our LAN). I’ve learned that I’m comfortable in a leadership position but also that I can be a leader or a follower depending on circumstance and role. If I’m a follower then, so long as the leadership has a good plan and executes well, I am but a cog: set me to task. If there’s poor leadership I’ll advise as to what we should do to facilitate the task or avoid/mitigate problems, but in a leadership vacuum I just naturally go straight to taking charge and I turn into Boss Man, issuing commands and taking initiative. I wasn’t raised to be assertive or a leader, so I’m not sure where that part of my personality came from.
My parents do ask me about work but they almost never remember what I tell them. Let me give an example: A few years ago I was sent by my company to a vendor workshop in Arkansas. This was a workshop being run by our biggest customer for the operations people of their key suppliers. It was my second time going, and my third away mission for me to take for the company.
Now, to begin with, bear in mind that I hate to travel. It makes me anxious – not knowing where I am, being away from the safety of home, having only my wits and what’s on my person to deal with whatever comes my way, and worst of all, my poor sense of direction and a nagging fear of getting lost. I never travel for vacations; heck, I rarely leave my neighborhood. I’m a natural contingency planner, so when I’m unsure of where I am and where I should be going, or if anything even seems to start going wrong, I’ll immediately start thinking ahead, like, “Well, maybe I could find a hotel room if I can’t get my bearings by nightfall, or maybe I could go sleep on that park bench if I can’t find a hotel…” and so forth. I think “worst-case scenario” and how to best mitigate that, and what should plan C look like if plan B fails, and so forth. My anxiety has me getting way ahead of myself even if plan A is still working just fine. On my first two away missions I brought with me printouts of the airport layouts of both origin and destination, the directions to and from the airport to my hotel, all neatly arranged with my flight information and assorted contact numbers. It just made me feel better having that with me (see this post for more on me and preparedness).
Secondly, on this trip I’d be representing the company for which I work, alone, to our biggest customer; my boss, the owner and president, told me that one reason, and if for no other reason, he wanted me to go was “to show the flag”. Now, understand that I’m an operations guy; I do back-end work in making the business work. Shipping, billing, EDI, logistics, employee training and supervision, Tier 1 technical support, and more – it’s a small company and I “wear a lot of hats” – but I don’t generally speak to our customers, or at least it doesn’t happen very frequently. What’s more, this kind of mixture of social and business interactions does not come naturally to me. In business-speak this trip would be somewhat “challenging”, or, to put it less euphemistically, it was going to be kind of difficult.
When I learned of the workshop and my bosses were deciding whether to send me I told my parents in a phone conversation that it was possible I might be going to Arkansas for this thing. My mother was apoplectic to the point of incoherence, as in, she made noises and a few words and she literally could not say anything coherent. After a minute of this nonsense she managed to blurt out, “Well, at least you won’t need an abortion!” (to which I replied with calm exasperation, “Are you done?”).
So what was that all about? Well, Arkansas is a “red” state. Yes, home and starting place of Bill & Hillary Clinton, but still, a red state. She was very upset that I’d be going to a red state. Now, bear in mind, this was a business trip. I’d be flying out there, staying at a hotel, and would never have to leave the hotel for the duration of this conference. I’d be meeting some people from Arkansas, sure, but mostly employees of our customer and hotel staff. Most everyone else would be from around the country and other parts of the world. We were gathering to do business things; nothing to do with politics.
I thought my parents might be more interested in the trip itself, or perhaps share some sympathy over my anxiety about travelling, something my father and I share. We did talk a little about the trip, but then the topic got changed to their grandchildren. We talked a little more about it when I called them a few months later that summer after it was confirmed I was going sometime in mid-September.
After my trip they didn’t ask me about it. I made a bet with myself that they wouldn’t ask about it by the end of the year – and I won! They never brought it up. Ever. Like it never happened. It’s not so much the red-state thing, it’s that they don’t remember because it’s not relevant to their lives. It might have been a big deal to me but it didn’t matter to them.