The prospect of going back to work has been on my mind a lot lately. Probably because it is inevitable that I will be forced to, it is food for thought nonetheless. I have to say that despite never really reaching a level of security and financial well-being I did accomplish a lot in my career and if n0thing else I know that some of the things that I did mattered to someone. I was never a guy that took a day off and noone noticed.
My father was a huge influence on me as a worker. More than one person remarked on my work ethic over the years and I simply explained that it is impossible to not be this way if you knew who raised me. My Dad was always working, either at work or on the house or yard. It came naturally to me to help him without being asked and it was unacceptable to sit inside and watch him work. So from an early age I was cutting grass, splitting wood or pounding nails. I didn’t mind, in fact I liked it.
My Dad was the epitome of old-fashioned. He believed in loyalty to a company. He believed in retirement parties and gold watches after 25 years of faithful service. He believed that the company rewards loyalty and that noone will ever succeed by changing jobs every few years. Most of all, he believed in shutting your mouth and doing your job, if you don’t like what you are doing then quit. Otherwise be quiet about it. This approach worked for him and was permanently etched into my psyche. He was a Union truck driver for a good company that he retired with. My mother wasn’t so fortunate.
My mother was the first in our family to experience the “new” corporate America in the 80’s. She was a manager for a now-defunct publishing company that sold textbooks to schools and colleges. They put her through school and she moved up the ladder steadily. 6 weeks before her 25th anniversary with the company she was laid off. They had already ordered the watch. When she asked what the company planned to do about replacing her she was told that S.O.P. (standard operating procedure) would be to replace her with 2 or 3 young college graduates who wouldn’t make cumulatively in one year what my mother did and farm some work out to a developing country. It didn’t matter that she was experienced and very good at what she did and none of her replacements knew the first thing and that the job was sure to suffer.
My parents had very different work experiences. I wanted to believe in my father’s way but my mother’s experience was not lost on me. I vowed that I would be a loyal employee and work hard but if the company was not loyal to me then I would always be prepared to look for something better. But I always stayed true to the basics my father taught me; your employer and you have a contract that if you provide a service then you get paid. It’s not a complicated relationship so don’t let pride and hubris get in the way.; work harder than everyone else and you will move up; be the guy who offers solution, not one who points out the problems; do good work and the rest will fall in place.
I started out in retail, then food service, then sales and finally management. I always managed to be a guy that my employers relied on to go the extra mile per the lessons of my father. I also learned to recognize a zero-sum game when I see it and if the job was a loser or the employer didn’t value me then I applied the lessons of my mother, move on before you become extinct. I developed my own hybrid work-ethic, work hard for those who value you and suck up what you have to because an an adult with responsibilities I needed the job and there was no room for ego unless somehow ego can pay my bills for me.
So going back to work is an intimidating prospect. On one hand I would like to be needed again, especially now that my kids are older and my parental superpowers are no longer needed. On the other hand I don’t know if I am too old-fashioned and jaded to work in certain industries. The last job I had before I got too sick to work was one that hired me for my experience and then never asked me to apply any of that experience despite having more of it than my manager. It was the final time that an employer failed to deliver to me when I delivered for them. How do I avoid that happening again?
I guess that I will know the right opportunity when it presents itself. I have learned an awful lot about people, in particular employers, in my life and my Bullshit detector is calibrated and fail-proof. I will know right away if I can work for someone or not. I know there is someone out there who appreciates a guy with his father’s work ethic and his mother’s resilience.
There has to be.