Writers are often advised to “write about what you know.” My recent postings on recruitment, employee development, and fitting in was informed by almost fifty years in the gear trade at seven different shops and my consulting firm. Before leaving the topic, I thought it only fair to share some of the good, bad, and humorous things that happened along the way.
My first move started in an attempt to escape problems elsewhere in my life. I had gotten great annual reviews but was maxed out in terms of advancement for at least another 4 years. Co-workers saw an ad in our local newspaper for a gear designer but none wanted to move. After a bad day, I sent in a resume, by snail mail, which was all we had in 1978. Two days later the phone rang while I was having breakfast and I agreed to fly up for an interview.
It was my very first commercial airplane flight — a beautiful November day that disguised the brutal winter to come. The interview went well, but I started to have second thoughts and, not wanting to be rude, figured to sabotage my prospects by asking for a 50% salary increase and 3 weeks of vacation plus flexible hours so I could take a few Fridays off to go back to Milwaukee to visit family and friends.
I did not expect to get a “when can you start” call on Monday morning. A family tragedy almost derailed the move but I decided to go ahead with it. Back-to-back blizzards caused my household goods to go missing for a month. One Saturday, the outside temperature plummeted to -37° F — without wind chill. The job was not quite as advertised, but the people were so nice I grew into it.
My fear of rejection by the existing employees was misplaced. I got invited to a big “wetting down” the first Friday I was there and found out it was in my honor; those outrageous salary and vacation demands had caused HR to review the current “scale” and everyone credited their raises to my great negotiating skills.
Eighteen months later, I got transferred to the Chicago plant. It was closer to home but might as well have been a different planet. My new co-workers really schooled me in city life and taught me to ignore stereotypes. People are good or bad based upon their behavior — not their backgrounds. Sometimes you learn the hard way to focus on actions, not words.
Relocating with a family is a greater challenge; it certainly complicates matters when your work satisfaction does not match your enjoyment of the community. Nothing cuts you to your soul quite so much as your three-year-old asking, “Did you get the job?” when you come home from an interview; unless it is explaining some years later to your ten-year-old that we had to move away from her school, her friends, and her activities because of work politics.
As Jimmy Buffet famously recalled: Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but it’s been a good life all the same. So many great people, so many good memories overwhelm the jerks and the problems. No matter where you are on your journey, concentrate on doing work you are proud of, treat people fairly, and stay positive.