In the early 1980’s my career drifted into the doldrums. My dream of becoming a professor had died in 1973 and then what had been a surprisingly good alternative career in the community college system ended. My position as a public information officer and community education coordinator fell victim to a downturn in post-secondary education in late 1979. The problem was national as the tail end of the Boomers finished college, I was “right-sized,” a sister term to ” let go.” (Both terms are the euphemisms for employers. My jobs didn’t just pass away either. They died. ) The college dropped from an enrollment of 7300 to around 4000.
I found some middle-class welfare under the infamous CETA program and became a youth employment trainer at a joint vocational school in the secondary public system. Of course, many in my Republican, white, upper-middle class background regarded CETA as a a boondoggle. In many ways it was and I was not supposed to need the benefits of CETA. But I had just missed by one getting a PR position in a hospital and personal funds were running low. So I took the job, vowing to make the best of it, and hey, maybe I could do some good for some kids who were not “college timber.” During this period, I began to understand that career, such a seemingly rewarding passion for others as all the motivational gurus , might never be so for me. So, I started to pay more attention to life in the bigger picture. I cherished the hours I was then spending in the forest, with tractor and chain saw, cutting wood to feed my burner at home. I became involved in community affairs and even ran for office in that period. Serendipity happened and life seemed good, despite my fall in status.
The program included actual jobs for young people. The best-laid Federal and Ohio plans anticipated that employers would be partners in acclimating young people to the world of work. Together business person and youth adviser would work on matters of punctuality, attitude, dress and work performance. In short we were to instill the work ethic. In the process we would increase the kids’ employ ability. Back in the vocational school they were taking general education courses plus special training in secretarial services, retail services, cosmetology, agricultural mechanics, small engine repair, electrical technology, masonry, carpentry, etc. Each year the school actually built a home for spring auction. Conceptually the program could not have been better, but then entered human nature, the economy and mis-perceptions. Turning employers into serious mentors was always a problem.They didn’t have or take the time required. Cynically speaking in the worst cases we needed miracles to turn sow’s ears into silk purses. Looking back, I learned much and saw a side of society I had never known. I came to respect highly the dedication of the best vocational teachers. I saw some of them perform miracles with kids who badly needed a miracle.
In my work we used the Ohio Career Information Service. OCIS was a partnership of the bureau of employment services and the department of vocational education. We dialed up a number and then pushed the phone receiver into a plastic device that resembled a double cup holder. Rubber gaskets cut out interference from ambient noise. Once the electronic ears were in place we had contact with a main frame somewhere in Columbus. We could print out miles of job and career descriptions. Youth came to our lab to explore every whim and dream they had ever had. My associate and I shared our worldly wisdom with them. He was an air force vet and former park ranger. We were advisers and had to avoid calling ourselves counselors. In some cases we tried to encourage a few whims and dreams.
We also had a nifty test that assessed student preferences for working with things, data and people. From my background I knew only that you completed the college track and went on to college where you majored in business and commerce, liberal arts, or science and math and then picked a major in some field — which either stuck through graduation or went through numerous metamorphoses. My partner and I took the test ourselves. He was a former park ranger.
I was thirty-eight, feeling totally unsuccessful, but thoroughly interested in the data generated. Various jobs, of course, entail differing percentages of time proportioned among work with data, things and information. My job as a YETP adviser rewarded the do-gooder in me. The data gave a measurable dimension to the guessing game of “What Do I Want to Be” and I enjoyed the role of teacher and adviser. I decided that common sense, trial and error had pretty much led me into appropriate career choices, although true success in PR required more social interaction than I liked. I also learned how privileged I had been.
And yet the kind of interaction a lawyer has with people would never have worked for me. The professor thing also was entirely appropriate with the possible exception of university and departmental politics. Late thinking about people, data and things truly made me feel that staying in the ordered universe of the Navy would have been good for me — alas.
I still bemuse myself pondering the perfect blend of involvement with people, things and data as if such fine tuning and modulation were possible. Large doses of small talk and hanging out have never been appealing to me. Chatting while sharing work or dining is pleasant; and I particularly like a good discussion over an issue, a book or a movie. Babbling at a bar over lite beer does not wear well past an hour or so. After that I’m ready for a book.
Writing a blog, posting it and then seeing it up there in front of the world and God? That’s cool. I spend hours now in a cellar cave with my computer and a little Internet business. And while this thing at which I stare and punch has its limits, I am mostly rewarded. My dog will show up when it gets muggy upstairs. I look forward always to a spinoff conversation with someone in Minnesota, Florida or Louisiana which happens sometimes by phone — but most folks want to plug data into me and hear it come out from me, input-output. I am an appendage of my Power-Spec PC. Along about six, there’s sometimes a bike ride and always, somewhere in the mix, pleasant times and chats with my better half. I know. I’m needing to get out amongst ’em, though.
Steadfast and cautious,