Knowing Thyself

One of my teenage nephews got his first job shortly after school ended for the summer. It made me think back on the types of work I had over the years. It also made me think back on the career advice my parents, teachers, etc. gave me when I was growing up.

I did lots of chores for my parents from as far back as I can remember. I was mowing lawns for my parents from about age 8 and helping mom cook supper from age 6. My grandma used to let me help her in her vegetable garden. My grandpa and dad used to take me and my brother with them whenever they went out to cut firewood on a local rancher’s property. They didn’t let us run the chain saws, but they did let us stack and store the cut wood even before we started school. When I was 8, my dad gave me an old hacksaw so I could practice cutting on small pieces and limbs. When I was in junior high, I helped out at my uncle’s farm every summer. I usually had to store and stack hay bails, help take care of pigs, clean chicken houses, and things like that. And I loved it. I loved it all. I’m glad my family thought it was good to get their kids involved in chores and family business when we were still in grade school. I even helped my dad organize files and clean in his dental office.

I got my first “real job” as a fast food cook. Got told off by the owner my first day out of orientation. He might not have known it was my first day. I’ll never know. Lost the job a month later when I couldn’t work fast enough to be a cook in fast food. For the rest of the summer I worked on a construction crew at a livestock sale barn. We were in charge of rebuilding pens and fences to keep cattle and pigs in while they were being sold. It was hot and dirty work. But it didn’t bother me as much as working fast food.

Over the next several years, I worked in retail. I hated dealing with customers. Caused me too much stress. I usually did better when I was unloading delivery trucks, organizing the store room, stocking shelves, and cleaning.

There is an underlying theme in all of this: I did much better at jobs that didn’t involve interacting with the public and weren’t really fast paced. As bad as I struggled in retail and restaurant, I would have struggled even worse in sales and in person teaching. Of course, the mental illness made this even worse.

I think in addition to my mental illness, the big reason I struggled at work was I often took jobs that weren’t aligned with my personality and skills. As much as working in crowds and with people I don’t know bothered me, I’m sure more people are bothered by work when they would have to spend entire days alone or with the same people. Most people I know don’t understand how I spend days on end alone and not break. It’s just the way I’m wired and my skill set.

As it is I’m on disability for my mental illness. But because I don’t work a regular paying job doesn’t mean I don’t keep occupied. I read alot. I have this blog, while it may never have a large audience, has several hundred postings since 2013. And I spend my time reading up on lots of science and tech advances that most people simply don’t have the time or energy to research on their own after dealing with work and family duties.

Sure my work probably won’t make me rich, but I have what I need. I may be just below poverty line (at least by American standards) yet I don’t feel deprived. But I do have simple tastes. A good time for me was going to the bar with my then girlfriend and playing darts and singing karaoke. Or having a plate of chicken wings with a few college buddies while playing board games. Or going to watch a couple friends play baseball for my college. Or going to listen to a couple local bands perform at on campus concerts on Friday nights. I may not have enjoyed going to high school sporting events as much as some people in my hometown, but I certainly enjoyed playing football and competing in speech meets.

I guess the only work or life advice I could give my teenage nephews or any teenagers is simply “Know Thyself.” Find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. Try a variety of jobs and activities, especially when your still young, have lots of energy, and still living with your parents. If you don’t like being around people or don’t handle rejection well (like myself), you’re not going to do well in sales or as a business owner. Don’t try to be what your family wants or do something just because it pays a lot of money. Do something you have the skills for. Also be ready if you have to change jobs. Science and tech are destroying and creating jobs far faster than they were even twenty years ago. Know Thyself and keep leveling up.

Continuing What Works and Discarding What Doesn’t

Right now I am currently in one of those long periods of stability bordering on normalcy.  Probably why I’ve gotten so much work on this blog done over the last couple weeks.  I’m currently on a hot streak.  To paraphrase Kevin Costner from ‘Bull Durham’, “when you’re on a winning streak, you don’t do anything to mess with it.  Respect the win streak.  They don’t come along very often.”

This overall ability to get things done and not be really phased by what problems arise is no doubt due to more than one factor.  For starters, spring has always been one of my better times.  Even before I had mental health problems I did my best school work, read the most, wrote the most, was the most physically active, and the most socially outgoing in the spring to early summer.  Too bad I can’t bottle this positive mojo juice to carry me though tough spots and darker days.

I don’t have access to ‘hot streak on demand.’  No one does.  Yet with the benefit of several years of accumulated self knowledge and experience, I can have the next best thing.  I have learned how to do great deals of work during good times.  I have learned how to do damage control during bad times.  I have learned how to make winning streaks last longer, feel better, and more productive.  I have learned things that lessen the darkness of bad spells.

The first step to sustainable productivity and happiness is knowing yourself.  Knowing yourself is not knowing what you think you should be.  It is knowing what you do well naturally, accepting it, and acting on it.  I’ve held enough jobs to know that a happy worker isn’t always productive or an irritable one isn’t always unproductive. Vice versa is true.  Some people are productive because they are Pollyanna types and some are productive because they are hard cases.  One is not necessarily better than another.

What is not good is thinking you always have to be one thing at all times, especially when that one thing goes against your core nature.  For myself, I know I am not naturally Mr. Social Hour.  I do better at a job, or any undertaking, when I’m not chatting with others and making small talk every ten minutes.  I can’t stand small talk at all.  Yet because I keep silent when I work and get engrossed in problems, I am have been condemned as anti-social and a poor team player since childhood.  Should it matter if I don’t comment on the weather or don’t know when my coworker’s wife is giving him a hard time?  If I’m doing a good job and providing some value, it really shouldn’t matter.  Likewise, I don’t take offence should a coworker or friend be too busy to talk as long as they are professional and courteous.  I don’t need my ego stroked at all times.  I don’t need to hold hands and play nice at all times to get my work done.  I know myself well enough that I know that is not how I become productive.  My core nature would rather ‘kick ass and take names’ instead of ‘kiss ass and drop names.’

Unfortunately I haven’t found many environments outside of blogging and working alone that allow me the freedom to play to my strengths.  It is far easier for me to research for this blog and my own enlightenment for ten hours straight than do twenty minutes of messaging the egos of others.  Most of these egos wouldn’t need messaged if these people felt free to play to their strengths more and discard what doesn’t work for them.  Kind of crazy how people are usually more productive and happy when they are free to use their individual strengths.  Sure there are social pressures to conform to fit certain types.  Yet we aren’t happier with ourselves and others when we do and compromise our strengths and integrity.

For example, I get annoyed every time I go to my bank to buy quarters for laundry or chat with a banker and the poor clerk or personal banker has to feign interest in my day or chat me up because it’s ‘part of the job’ or it’s ‘being part of the community.’  Who cares how good or bad my weekend was?  Even I don’t care sometimes.  I have a hard time imagining somebody like J.P. Morgan talking about the weather with Thomas Edison or making idle chit chat with an Andrew Carnegie type when he wanted to borrow money to build a new blast furnace.

And it’s not just my bank that does this faking interest because some boss thinks it adds a personal touch.  I get this practically every time I go shopping, especially at the large bookstore I shop at.  Every time I go through a check out line the poor clerk is forced to take interest and comment on what I’m buying and reading.  Just once I should have said, “Thank goodness I’m not buying ‘The Anarchist’s Cookbook’ or ‘Best of Letters to Penthouse.’ ”  I totally know why online retailers like amazon and eBay are doing so well.  Heaven help us when AI is figured out and my computer is forced to fake interest in my activities.  Hopefully the computer will be intelligent enough to not fake interest because it is illogical and pointless.  Having faux interest and playing nice at all times doesn’t always work and thus should be discarded.