Am feeling more and more worried about the future of American workers…

Time was, a person could teach or work in a factory or do just about anything and make an honest living.  Most of that evaporated long ago, but in the past 20 years there was still hope – a person could be a programmer.  But as more and more programming becomes increasingly complex yet more automated, I am thinking that in the long-term there will be a fewer programming jobs with just a few highly paid IT jobs, and everyone else will be working menial and low-paying jobs where it is hard to make a living.  I feel like a century from now, we are all going to be serfs again, with a few business titans owning everything and the rest of us fighting for scraps and eating government subsidized fast food (i.e. poison).  The problem with humans automating things is we don’t make life easier for the masses – we make it more pleasant for the elite while the rest of us have to scrape to find increasingly difficult to find jobs.  I am not sure what my kids or my grandkids are going to do, let alone me in my golden years.  I hope I am wrong…

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Am feeling more and more worried about the future of American workers…

My experience with scary lung disease helps me empathize (on a minor level) with EB Sledge’s post war experience

In China Marine, EB Sledge has a few episodes where he realizes that people cannot understand what he has been through. For months on end, he slept in mud, watched his good friends killed on a daily basis and lived in a constant (i.e. hourly) threat of instant death where 90% of the people he went into battle with were killed, some in hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese.  (As much as any book I’ve ever read, With the Old Breed made me feel like I was there). Now, here he is at home, the parades are over and life has moved on, and nobody knows the grind it took on a daily basis to fight the war.  So in essence he is left alone to deal with his feelings…  

My experience was nothing like EB Sledge in its intensity (I don’t know how the marines stayed sane, and many snapped after multiple campaigns).  But I can empathize, since in that first year after getting my scary lung disease under control, I felt so alone.  Here I was, a survivor, but there were no walks or ribbons (many people march for friends in support of breast cancer), no one knew what disease I had or that I was continuing to fight it (and Ankylosing Spondylitis), and everyone was able to continue their lives while I was still trying to get my life back.  It was shocking. Lonely.  Devestating.  (And I experienced only a fraction of a percent of what EB and other combat veterans experienced!).  It wasn’t that people didn’t care, but they had their own lives to lead and how could they possibly know what I was feeling?  Which is why I burst into tears in the doctor’s office that day when he told me how boyant/chipper I seemed despite being through so much, and thank god I did since he sent me to therapy that got my life back on track.  My life will neer be the same, and in some ways it is better while in other ways it is much worse, but at least it is back on track again (and, overall, I am *much* more content and less anxious now than I was pre-illness).  

Anyway, on a minor level I can understand what EB felt when he returned home.  And I continue to look foward to reading about his journey in China Marine.  And I feel soooo much for that man, and the other people who have returned from battle (including our Afghanistan/Iraq veterans).

My experience with scary lung disease helps me empathize (on a minor level) with EB Sledge’s post war experience

I have gone from being The Idea Guy to being timid and afraid to trying new things at the office

When I was teaching, I revamped the curriculum for several of my classes to great effect (significant increases in enrollment).  Then when I went into Corporate America, I couldn’t believe how uncreative and lethargic everyone was.  Basically, one company or SVP would roll something out, then everyone would copy that.  How boring that was, so I started proposing lots of new ideas.  I even went so far to proposing an idea a month to our SVP (of a Fortune 500 company), who called me The Idea Guy during a speech in front of 500+ people, basically encouraging others to do the same.  Sometimes my ideas were marketing ideas, and sometimes they were product ideas (my favorite was the watch that would detect a heart attack and the bra that would detect rape, both of which were sent to me years later by peers after other startups got funding for similar ideas).

Sometimes this got me into trouble, and sometimes it had great effect (I made good extra money working on marketing on the side and a few of my ideas got me a few extra contracts).  But the past few years, with my illness combined with working for two awful companies in a row, I am afraid. I am afraid to propose something silly then have it cost me my job.  In short, my confidence is tattered.  I’ve got to get it back. One of the things that made me effective was no fear – if a wild idea got me in hot water, no big deal, off to the next one.  It hurt me a few times, but more often than not it gave me an edge.  

I have gone from being The Idea Guy to being timid and afraid to trying new things at the office

The scariest thing I ever did as a parent in USA was drop my oldest off at Kindergarten

More than anything else, this shows the sheltered life I’ve led, but I think the most nerve-wrenching thing I did as a parent was drop my oldest (son R) off at Kindergarten, which happened 13 years ago tomorrow.  I was so worried about him – would he do okay?  Would he make friends?  Would he be bullied?  It was stressful and worrisome.  I didn’t feel that way about my daughter L, not only because she was the second in line (we’d already done it so I knew what to expect) but she was much easier to adjust to things at the time.  But, again, it shows what a privileged life I lead – there are people in USA who have to worry about their kids and drive-by shootings, etc.  I did not go to a great high school (it was half minority in a poor area and there were problems with gangs, etc.), but I did not have to raise my kids in that.  I feel blessed.  And I wish I could make it so no one had to raise their kids in that.  The fact we have that in the USA is really unforgivable to us, our Leaders, and our top 1% who have retired and spend their days in luxury.

The scariest thing I ever did as a parent in USA was drop my oldest off at Kindergarten

Illness made me more comfortable emailing Decision Makers and using my full name.

Part of my job as a Sales Person is reaching out to “new” Decision Makers.  It is a part of the job that most experienced sales people hate, but honestly it is an important part of keeping revenue potential high when you/I don’t work for a big and established firm.  Before my illness, I never used my last name (“Hi, this is Robert with ABC Company”) when I called, and never emailed someone I hadn’t met before – primarily because I didn’t want someone recognizing my name in a personal setting (a fear of at a dinner party someone saying, “Hey, I know you, aren’t you that sales person who called and emailed me last week?”).   But my potentially fatal illness a few years ago changed that – now I am okay emailing strangers, and using my full name when I call someone.  Why? Because everything in life is so temporary, and at the end of the day, no one’s opinion really matters any more (note: I still do the ethical thing, but not because I fear being judged — I do it because it is how I am wired to be).  That summer when I was coming off treatment, when I didn’t know yet if I would survive, the world seemed like a shadow and I didn’t feel like I belong in the world; for the most part that has passed, but in some ways I still maintain that couldn’t-care-less-what-you-think  mentality.  HOnestly, it’s quite pleasant and yet another gift my illness bestowed upon me.

Illness made me more comfortable emailing Decision Makers and using my full name.

Self-reflection: difficult for me to have a healthy relationship with most of my bosses

For as long as I can remember, almost always I am highly deferential with a boss — or an antagonist.  It happens — but it is rare — that I have normal or healthy relationship with my boss, but more often than not I feel discomfort in disagreeing or befriending a boss, and when I lose respect for them I simply ignore them.  Best case?  It’s that special boss who recognizes my exceptional work ethic and analytic skills and just lets me run with my job without interference.  Once a boss no longer is my boss (due to reorgs, someone leaving the company, etc.), my awkwardness goes away and I no longewr feel any discomfort towards them.  In eseence, it is their power over my career that generates the odd feelings in me.  Luckily, though, I think most of my bosses have always liked me for the very reason I am independent and hard working without their having to watch over me.

So why is this, that I feel awkward towards bosses?  I think it’s because I have a very strong willed mother, and there were a lot of rules that — if broken, even accidentally — meant more often than an extended yell fest. When I was younger, I yelled back, but eventually, in my 20s, I got tired of yelling so stopped.  But the residual dread of having someone lording over me was already etched into me.

Ironically, this fear also makes me a better leader/manager – it means I take efforts to build collaboration and safety within my team, and retain an emotional intelligence on what it means to be the employee, and the results of this saftey and collaboration have spoken for themselves (most recently, turned the worset office in the 20-office region into the #2 office in a mere 2 quarters).

Most often, it hasn’t been a problem with my career – I am usually a highly-productive and independent employee, and most of my direct managers have liked and respected me.  The one exception was last year, when following a reorg I was assigned to a highly controlling, not very talented and rutlhess boss in a highly demanding job where it was generally impossible to meet expectations and he fired almost 80% of his management year over year.  The long hours where I invested a lot in my team combined with my own responsibilities reduced my ability to find an exit strategy (another job), which meant so much of my time was spent pandering to him and trying to avoid being fired.  It was awful.  In the end, it didn’t work, and to be honest I resent him for it.  

(Confession: Last week I found myself walking in front of an airport gate where the destination was Dulles, where my crazy ex-boss lives.  I scanned the crowd waiting for that flight, privately hoping to see him, knowing that if I did I was going to go out of my way to aggressvily walk through him so that he fell over but not without my raising a hand.  Just my thinking this tells me how much I detest that man.  The last time I did something like that was just after college, over 25 years ago, when at a Rose Bowl party another guy got jealous over a girl paying attention to me, even though I was just starting to date my wife and had no interest in anyone else; but the boy kept approaching me, touching my face and saying, “Why are you so interested in this pretty boy?” to the young woman.  I didn’t mind his comments — I was above his opinion of me and often took “pretty boy” as a compliment — but didn’t like his touching me. I warned him once, and when he did it a second time I pushed him backward until he fell over a chair.  “I told you to stop,” I said.  And just like that, the issue was over… For me, the issue with my ex-boss isn’t that he didn’t treat his people well, it was that he was a bully – he held the livelihood of my family in his control at a time when I still privaely battle chronic fatigue, which precluded my ability to address his madness in a way I wanted to.  So now that he no longeer has that kind of control, I relish the idea of punishing him a little bit.  I honestly think he migth be the only person in the world that I think that way about, but he was like working for Henry VIII.  Of course, the reality is I probably would have ignored him, and if he noticed me told him to leave me alone, that I didn’t have to bother with him again ever again, and that he was lucky I didn’t punch him.  Still, it is nice to day dream a little bit. :)).

Self-reflection: difficult for me to have a healthy relationship with most of my bosses

Strange Dreams last two nights

Two nights ago, I dreamed my company was moving offices, and I showed up late on the day we were moving and had not yet packed, so everyone was waiting for me and our owner was upset with me although I tried to explain I was not aware that we were actually moving and that I needed to pack up.

Then last night I had a very strange and fast moving dream.  I was part of Sopranos, but Tony Soprano was killing all his family and friends in rapid succession and I was frightened of him.  Then the dream changed quickly to where I was wanted for murder and my parents’ long-time friends (N and M) were trying to rat me out, then M himself was a detective trying to capture me and I was on the verge of being captured when my dream ended.

I think the first dream was the insecurity I feel about taking a vacation just a few months after starting (although I’d cleared the vacation before accepting the job and they have been supportive).  I don’t know what yesterday’s dream was all about – it was just odd.

Strange Dreams last two nights