Some Things that Nobody Tells You About Adult Life


Be as nice to the janitor as you would your boss. When I started my first job, I only took notice of the people I worked with directly. What I didn’t realize is I was snubbing everyone else. Unfortunately, when I needed something from one of them, they could be downright mean. In my next job, I decided to go out of my way to be nice to everyone. Unexpectedly, the guys in the stock room were willing to bend rules for me time and again. Those guys saved my ass on many occasions. A little courtesy pays big dividends.

A professional job isn’t one long coffee break. My dad owned his own business and he was successful. What I saw growing up was him showing up at the office at ten. Taking a coffee break with a buddy an hour later. Working another hour. Taking a long lunch, etc. I also had a college professor who came from the professional world that made it sound like work was conducted around the water cooler in between fooling around. Boy was I shocked by 50+ hour weeks with no breaks and eating your lunch at your desk.

Brains aren’t enough. I was a bright kid. Adults told me the world was my oyster. I had visions of being celebrated for my smarts only to get a job…a real job…in the real world…with a lot of other bright people. All of a sudden, I was average. Bright was the new average. I wasn’t special anymore. There were oyster owners who were being celebrated not only in their visions, but in everyone else’s as well. They were able to create innovative profitable products for the company that won awards. They had their names on patents. They published papers. What were the special attributes they had that allowed them to succeed? Read the next three items for some of them.

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they aren’t.” —Yogi Berra. I soon learned it wasn’t enough to understand how an audio product worked in theory. I had to design one…out of real parts…parts that had real world quirks…quirks they didn’t teach you about in school. But wait, there’s more! Other people would have to make hundreds of thousands of copies of my design each year and the vast majority had to work. Of those that shipped, the vast majority had to keep on working for several years. “Reality is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of ugly facts.” –Robert Glass

You never stop learning. Did I mention that real world parts work differently than the ideal parts they teach you about in school? After being burned a few times, I embarked on a self-education process that led me to an area of expertise that served me for years to come. I became Mister Real World Part.

Persistence is the most important ingredient in success. Thomas Edison wasn’t that smart. If he had been, he wouldn’t have fired Nikola Tesla. However, he was persistent. Other than the fact that he stole his employees ideas, it was persistence that allowed him to amass 2,332 patents worldwide. After all, he said, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration 99 perspiration.” I’m not sure about the genius part, but he was persistent.

United we stand, divided we fall. Two of my early jobs had cut throat cultures. Employees would guard their knowledge with tighter security than the CIA. Job security they called it. At a later job an older engineer shared his vast wealth of knowledge with me. He became my mentor. Fast forward to the next company. This company had a large turnover of co-workers, so I achieved seniority. Now I could create the environment I wanted for my department. I implemented a share and teach policy. There would be no secrets. By teaching each other, we’d all be smarter. New hires eagerly participated and thrived. It was my favorite job.

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Maybe it was just me. Maybe it was my tyrant of a dad throwing his weight around at home. Whatever the reason, I imagined that adults didn’t take shit off nobody. I thought I was going to be in control. If someone tried to fuck me over, they better watch out. It never occured to me that if every adult acted this way, adult life would be like the wild West. As a young gun slinger, I soon met my match in a garage repairing my car after a wreck. Every time, something went wrong, I read them the riot act. It never occurred to me that all these things went wrong on purpose. It was payback for the riot act. My dad’s friend intervened on my behalf, so I eventually got my car back. He told me,”You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” I started taking his advice and now only a couple of things go wrong when I take my car to the garage.

Date at least a year before proposing. Marriage impulsiveness must be genetic. My parents, my sister and her first husband, and me and my ex, all got married within six months of knowing each other. My parents stayed together but were unhappy. My sister’s first marriage and my marriage both ended in divorce. In my case, my ex-wife was a wonderful, loving person until we got married. She had been putting on an act. She was really the hose beast from hell. I should have waited long enough for her to let her guard down before proposing. How long would that have taken? A year? Two years? A decade?

Creating a good work/life balance is an art. It is an art I have yet to master. If you tell a prospective employer on the interview, you only want to work a 40 hour week, you don’t get the job. I have seen the guys who work only 8 hour days be the first to be laid off. Where do you draw the line? How do you set limits and keep a job. I am presently on a sabbatical, because I am burnt out.

If you have enough money, you don’t have time and if you have enough time, you don’t have the money. When I worked, I had plenty of money, but little time to spend it. My hobbies suffered. Now that I have taken time off, I have time for my hobbies, but can’t afford to buy what I need for them. The same goes for travel. Oh well. Such is adult life.

Things never turn out how you plan them. I always thought I would travel a lot. Engineering is not conducive to pleasure trips. I cancelled my Italy trip four times, because bosses asked me to. I still haven’t gone. I have always had the white picket fence fantasy, but my marriage was dysfunctional and we couldn’t conceive. However, I do have a house. Now I just have to put up the fence. We got married in Japan in a Shinto ceremony. I never expected that. There must be something else unexpected I can report. Did I mention that I got my car back from the garage?

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

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