Tag Archives: career advice

work shoes

The Story In A Workingman’s Shoes.

By Chris Warren.

I went out yesterday and bought a new pair of work shoes. I know it’s not exactly a profound life event, but when I looked at my old shoes it struck me that every beat up, worn out pair has a story to tell about a Workingman.

Most people have several pairs of shoes for everyday use, but the Workingman, a guy who doesn’t wear a fine suit, usually has only one pair. Those old shoes carried me through every moment of my career for several years. I wear them more than any other single article of clothing I own.

The photo above shows two pairs of my work shoes. Both are the exact same make, model, and size. One pair is three years old and well past the end of its useful life; the other is brand new, never worn. When compared side by side, it’s a bit startling to see what three years of honest hard work will do to a pair of shoes.

Those shoes were a silent witness to many great things that happened to me, and a few not so great things. They were there when the boss dressed me down over a mistake I made; they were also there when the same boss gave me a fat bonus and told me what a great employee I was. They’ve been to funerals and retirement parties. They’ve shoveled snow and walked through 100 degree heat.

Every scuff and crack and stain and scrape on those old shoes has a story behind it. Of course, I don’t remember the details of how and when every blemish occurred, but collectively they are the testimony of a guy who clearly does not spend much time sitting around.

Workingmen are not a complicated lot, which, by the way, should not be interpreted as being uneducated or simple-minded. Their skills are technical and complex and can take years, even decades, to master. The Workingman’s job requires advanced math and analytical abilities; many of the people in work shoes and hard hats hold college degrees and/or have completed vocational training that essentially equals or exceeds a college degree. They show up every day with lunchbox in hand and a can-do spirit in their heart and do what is needed to keep our modern world seamlessly running.

Building buildings, lighting up the cities, keeping cellphones on line, toilets flushing, and trucks and trains and airplanes moving are all part of the countless behind the scenes labors that no one sees but everyone would definitely notice if they did not get done correctly and on time. These are not skills any unmotivated dropout can learn. Workingmen are diverse in their advanced expertise but they have one thing in common: Their shoes do not stay pristine and new for very long.

I don’t know why, but there is something about getting a new pair of work shoes that boosts my mood. For that first few days, before they are fully broken in and start showing obvious signs of wear, I put my work shoes on in the morning and leave the house feeling like it’s going to be a good day. Like a blank sheet of paper they too will collect the story of my daily life and someday will be worn and spent.

That is where the Workingman is different from his shoes: The Workingman is never spent. He may return home tired at the end of each shift and dream of a well earned retirement, but the next morning he will put on the same pair of shoes and go out and make the world happen…again. During the course of his day his shoes will collect a few more scrapes and scuffs, each of which is a testimony to honest hard work. Show me a beat up old pair of work shoes, and I’ll show you a dignified Workingman who never failed to carry the pride of his skill and labor upon them.

work life 2

Work Life Reality Check.

By: Chris Warren

I recently went through a short period at my job where my schedule was juggled and I got stuck working undesirable hours. It was a temporary arrangement and I fought hard to get out of it, but with summer vacations and a coworker on disability, the scheduling holes needed to be filled. It sucked; yet as much as I don’t like having my work life messed with, I came out the other side a better person.

I am a communications electronics technician. We don’t turn the cell towers and the TV and the internet off at 5:00 every afternoon and leave. If you are getting service on your cellphone, or watching the Insomniac Channel, or shopping on Amazon in the middle of the night, that’s not magic. It means real people like me are out there working hard to make it happen. Every moment of every day. We never close.

As I pushed through the first of my series of odd shifts I resented the idea that I was there while everyone else is sleeping in. After a while, I became more tempered and introspective. “There are a lot of other people working crappier hours for a lot less than what you earn,” I thought. “Don’t be a whiney crybaby. You’re not better or more deserving than anyone else.” The work life reality check was well timed.

work life

My employer’s clients demand that we be there for them around the clock. Reading into this a little further, I like to shop and eat out on weekends and holidays, and late at night, much the same as anyone. When I’m wandering through Target at 8:00 on a Sunday night, I am supporting the very thing that I resent being done to me. If it were not for people like me, the Target employees would be at home resting. They are there because that’s what their clients want.

Not too long ago the world did not turn so fast and consumer demands were more modest. Every business was closed on Sunday except the pharmacy and the grocery stores, which were open until 1:00pm to catch the after church crowd. When the supermarket “expanded” its hours to 6:00pm, it was a big deal. Even gas was hard to get on Sunday. Since that halcyon era it’s become an expectation to be able to get anything, any time.

As I rolled home from work late Sunday I drove past the shopping malls and fast food places and movie theaters, all of which had full parking lots. On any other occasion I would probably stop and pick up a few things and not think much about how my shopping habits effect the work life of others. But on that particular night I didn’t want to be complicit in creating a reason for all these places to be open. I know I’m a hypocrite. I freely confess I am a perpetrator of the we-never-close business concept as much as I am a victim of it.

My future work life will probably include more undesirable schedule changes. There is a certain humbling effect in that it gives me more respect for those who work odd shifts as a matter of routine and get paid much less than myself. I’ve gone far in my profession, and in the hierarchy of my workplace I’m near the top. Occasionally pulling the junk shifts no one wants keeps me from getting too full of myself…and that can only result in a better work life when I’m on the clock, and a better, more grateful me the rest of the time.

 

 

working cop

The Cop, The Pastor, And The Working Man.

By: Chris Warren.

Last weekend at a family gathering, I had a very nice talk with an uncle I haven’t seen in a while. After serving in the US Army he began his career as a Chicago police officer and ultimately became a police chaplain. He retired many years ago but never really stopped working. Well into his 70s, he spends most of his days as civilian hospital chaplain. The reasons he gave as to why were surprising, and we comparative youngsters would benefit from (here comes the pun) the arresting wisdom of the way he’s lived his life.

To hear uncle Rex explain it, he does not while his days playing golf or gardening or collecting things. He has no hobbies and most of his leisure time is spent with his wife (my aunt) and their grandchildren. My uncle put on his uniform and reported for duty every day without fail, and the odd hours cops often work never left much time for diversions. When he retired from the police force, the idea of doing things that didn’t need to be done, or doing something solely for enjoyment, was an anomaly to him. He liked working and did not know anything else; why not just keep at it?

He was always very religious and involved with the church, so moving into ministry was not a big jump for him. Uncle Rex is the guy who always leads the family in prayers at celebrations, baptisms, holidays, weddings, funerals. He is the guy who always calls or visits when someone is sick. He is more than anyone else the unofficial family pastor.

Uncle Rex has ministered to police officers, fire fighters, crime victims, accident victims, the terminally ill, medical staff, junkies, drunks, criminals, the rich, the homeless, hookers, anyone and everyone who crossed his path seeking solace in God. Most of these people just had something devastating happen to them or someone they love. He gravitated towards the church not only because of his faith, but also because a sense of duty that strong cannot be contained behind a patrolman’s  badge.working cop badge

I’m glad my uncle found fulfillment in his retirement, although technically it’s not “retirement” if it means still going to a job every day. Very few people would deliberately choose the same path. He’s one of the lucky ones who doesn’t need the money. Everyone else I know still working past retirement age does it because they have to. Due to the bad economy, bad personal decisions, bad luck, whatever, the trend is going to escalate. I have friends & family who are at a point in their careers where it’s mathematically impossible for them to retire on time unless they win the lottery or score a six-figure raise.

Retiring for real is an option fewer and fewer people have anymore. It can be seen in our everyday routines: Next time you’re out, notice how a disproportionate number of fast food and retail employees look like they should be at home entertaining grandchildren. Unfortunately, there isn’t any light at the end of the tunnel for those still trapped working into their sixties and beyond. To again bring up the absolute truth of arithmetic, anyone who has not built up a meaningful nest egg by age 55-60 will either never truly retire or retire to a poor standard of living.

To uncle Rex, working is an identity, a statement, and a belief all rolled into one. In his world a job is greater than the sum of its parts and isn’t only about money. If all that mattered was the number of zeroes on a paycheck, uncle Rex would have never become a cop, or a chaplain. This man of faith, duty, and honor has already put in his time and has nothing left to prove, yet he is still out there working for what he knows in his heart is good and right. The way the world is going, he may have to start tending to the spiritual needs of hopeless senior citizens for whom working is a practical necessity that defers their well deserved rest from a lifetime of a job well done.

business advice

Business Advice From A Real World Grunt.

By: Chris Warren.

Every year around this time the internet starts buzzing with business advice for job applicants, presumably in response to the annual release of college graduates who now need to turn their degrees into paychecks. Largely out of the mix is wisdom on how to thrive and get along after you are in the workforce.

I think I’ve learned a thing or two in all my years happily plugging away at the same company. I’ve had more bosses than I can remember; some of them were pretty classy, some of them were tasteless jerks. I managed to have a good working relationship with all of them even if I may not have liked them personally (or vice-versa) or agreed with their management decisions. I’ve reduced my success down to a few simple workplace behaviors that you won’t find suggested anywhere in the glut of internet wisdom.

Don’t make the boss’ phone ring. In the over twenty years I’ve been on the job, my boss has received a random call from someone  saying I’m awesome on maybe two or three occasions. But if I screw up there is a nearly 100% chance somebody will squawk loudly about it.  The average supervisor takes dozens of calls every day from people with problems. You do not want to be the reason for any of them. When someone calls your boss to talk about you, it’s almost never to give compliment.

Always give a response. If your boss or a coworker walked up to you in person and asked you a question, you would not silently turn around and walk away, then come back and answer the question a day later. Treat emails/texts/voice mails as a personal interaction. In a era where there are fewer face to face conversations in the workplace, it’s sometimes not clear when or if a message was received. Immediately acknowledge receipt of electronic communications, then commit to keeping all involved parties updated until the issue is concluded. Do not make the boss, or anyone, have to guess what’s going on to the point that they make your phone ring.

When someone calls your boss to talk about you, it’s almost never to give compliment.

Be a Yes Man/Woman. The best thing about this behavior is that it can be incorporated into any of the others. It’s about always finding a way to say yes to all requests. To be clear, I’m not talking about being a doormat or a “management suck up.” Being a Yes person means your default should be to find a way to make things happen, not to squirm out of it. Send everyone away better than they arrived, even if the Yes you give them isn’t exactly the one they wanted: “I’m sorry, I don’t have the information you need but I forwarded your request to another department that I’m sure can help you.” A compromised Yes is always better than a no.

Hand out bonuses. Doing the minimum required is fine and will keep you out of trouble, but no one ever got a promotion or raise by doing the minimum. Bonuses do not need to be big, huge deals. It can be as simple as completing an assignment before being asked or taking extra steps that were not part of the original assignment: “I ordered the toner cartridges you wanted and noticed that we were low on paper too, so I included it with the request.” Bonuses are pleasant surprises and show others that you care and have attention to detail. When done properly, they are a big payoff for little effort.

Do not take advantage of others’ ignorance. I work as an electronics technician on communications equipment. The job requires specialized high level skills and few people outside my field fully understand what I do. It would be easy to get out of difficult tasks by making up technical reasons why they can’t be done, and most people would not initially know I’m hustling them. I don’t use my knowledge as leverage to avoid undesirable assignments because it’s dishonest and wrong. All lies, including small ones, ultimately return to their origins. Taking advantage of others on any level has no lasting benefit and in extreme cases can end careers. Never, ever do it.

It’s easy to overlook that getting the job is only a small part of a much bigger picture. Giving one’s best effort long enough to get through the hiring process is not hard compared to developing attitudes and behaviors that will need to be strong for an entire working career. There is nothing deep or complicated about the Golden Rule of treating others as you would want to be treated yourself.

Career Objective: Make It To Retirement With A Smile On My Face.

By: Chris Warren

I consider myself  to be among the lucky few who has a cool job that is engaging and interesting. A large majority of the time I like what I do, with occasional screw this! moments sprinkled in to remind me that it may be cool but it’s hardly paradise. I think I must have won some cosmic occupational lottery because for my whole life I’ve always seemed to land in nifty jobs as if by accident. Even through high school and college I managed to earn a buck without getting involved with the drudgery of fast food or retail.

51NKZtwI2FL._SY445_Now I’m in that strange zone where I’m certainly not a kid but also not nearly old enough to seriously consider retiring. I’m left wondering what’s next. Or if there even is a “next.”  I would not mind doing something else, but since I’m content where I am I see no point in changing just for the sake of change. I’ve asked the self-analyzing question: If I looked into a crystal ball and saw myself retiring from the job I’m doing now, would the vision be depressing or comforting? Am I ok with this for the rest of my career?

The short answer is yes, I’m ok with it. I still wonder though, is there anything better out there? Is this as good as it gets? I’ve decided not to beat the hell out of myself trying to resolve a question of circular logic. In theory, there is always something better, somewhere. It’s more worthwhile to focus on what’s right and positive about the job I already have.

It’s important to explain that being happy with where I am and being complacent and unmotivated to move forward are not the same thing. There was a period in my distant past where I was in a job that was respectable but well beneath my potential. I stayed there way too long, bullshitting myself that it was good enough. I managed to get out of that trap relatively unharmed and took a lesson with me: Be grateful for what you have but don’t ever assume it’s the end of the line.

Being surrounded by family and friends who are in jobs that are soulless and devoid of any feeling of a higher purpose, on top of paying barely enough to make it worth showing up every day, gives contrast to my own life and blunts the effects of my screw this! days. The workplace headaches I deal with are mild by comparison, and at least at the end of it all I receive a decent paycheck for my hassles. There may be something better, somewhere, but there is also something worse. Being far from the bottom is more important than being close to the top.

I used to have a coworker who was technically competent but by a very large margin had absolutely the worst attitude of anyone I’ve ever worked with. He could not go five minutes without prattling about how unfairly he was treated, had a lame excuse for everything, constantly argued with the boss, thought the whole company was plotting against him, blah, blah, blah. I spent a year trying to be his buddy: Reaching out, having man-to-man talks, pushing him towards a better path. It was a complete waste of my effort. He was officially fired for absenteeism, but the real deal was that management and pretty much everyone else, including me, was far beyond fed up with the pouting crybaby. Your approach to your job has more influence over your career path than everything else combined. Skills can be learned but attitude can only come from within.

No one should allow their career success to be defined solely by how many promotions and raises they can collect before they retire. It’s more meaningful and less stressful to show up every morning believing that every day is a good day, but some days will not be as good as others. I am, on the whole, a happy employee. I flatly refuse to let myself become the guy who bitches about everything. When I reach a point where I don’t feel I can go any further in the job I have, the time to move on will become self-evident.

Why Your Career Should Be Like A Ford F-150 Truck.

By: Chris Warren

One of the hardest parts of running any business is knowing the sweet spot between leaving a good thing alone and changing to keep up with the times. No company can succeed by completely ignoring one or the other. The danger is that tradition vs. change is a business minefield. History is loaded with both good and bad examples of how this concept was handled. Most of them are bad. A few are remarkable in that they were even proposed at all. That is the position the Ford Motor Company places itself in with the 2015 F-150 pickup truck.

To fully appreciate the magnitude of this grand experiment, one must first understand the importance of the F-150 to Ford. In a word, it’s everything. It’s been not only the best selling truck for over four decades, but also the best selling vehicle of any class for almost as long. You heard that right: The best selling car in the United States, is a truck.

What Ford is planning is a complete changeover for the F-150 to use a lot of aluminum, rivets and high tech glue to hold parts together, and a fleet of brand new engine designs. The end goal is to improve fuel economy while keeping the “Built Ford Tough” image. There is a huge risk that so many changes so quickly will result in a lot of reliability problems and rejection by customers. High gas milage is nice, but trucks must above all be able to work hard, haul heavy things, push snow, and pull trailers. Their owners tend to beat the hell out of them. Light and dainty is for hybrids.

Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company ©2014
Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company ©2014

 

About 40% of the entire North American truck market is claimed by this one single model. There is an old joke in automotive circles that Ford is a truck company that occasionally cranks out a few cars just for kicks. In continuous production since 1948, the Ford F-series pedigree transcends generations. By any measure it’s an American legend. Why mess with a legend?

The problem with legends is that they tend to get complacent. This happens a lot not just with products but also with entertainers, athletes, and people who are very successful in business and feel their place is secure. That is, until someone comes along and one-ups them. They might have become jaded, tired, or lazy. They may have quit trying. The exact reason doesn’t matter. The end result is always the same: They became irrelevant. Irrelevance is what kills a legend. No matter good you are, no matter how great your ideas or depth of your knowledge, none if it matters if no one cares. Hanging one’s hat on past successes and making no effort to build on them will almost assure irrelevance.

Ford was not motivated solely by a daring spirit when they made such a huge leap with their legendary flagship vehicle. New fuel milage standards are coming by 2020, and eventually all trucks will have to go on a diet. What makes Ford’s move so gutsy is they could have come up with a new, limited market truck to test the changes on first, or they could have waited for another manufacturer to do it and copied them. Instead, Ford took the one product that has largest, most loyal following and made all the changes at once. There is a life lesson buried in the next chapter of the Ford F-150 story.

My first full time job was as a call center service rep at the phone company. It paid well, had good benefits, and a stable schedule. My coworkers were pleasant; the boss was reasonable. It was not a mindless task. We had to know billing and order procedures in two separate and complex computer systems and were expected to do what was needed to shepherd every issue through to the end while acting professionally towards difficult and sometimes abusive customers. It required both technical and people skills. I got good at it; I was soon helping train new representatives and was often consulted to solve difficult problems. It felt good to be respected and valuable.

Logo ™ © Ford Motor Company
Logo ™ © Ford Motor Company

Things began incrementally changing. Management took away our autonomy and authority to resolve customer issues; we had to follow an exactly prescribed procedure and there was not much tolerance for drifting off the plan even when the plan was not the best path to resolution for the customer. We went from being a true service-focused group to an inbound sales force that dealt with customer service issues as an afterthought. A lot of the people I started with in the company moved on to other positions. One day it hit me: I had gone from respected team member to cube farm drone. By then I had been doing the same job for seven and half years. I looked around and wondered how dumb could I be not to have seen the place going downhill right in front of me? Why did I put up with it for so long?

Unlike the automotive industry, there is no team of engineers and marketing spin doctors making sure I am the trendy thing everyone wants. I have to be my own legendary product. Had I adopted an “F-150 attitude” I would not have just sat there in my cube bullshitting myself into thinking my past successes were enough to insulate me from the changes that made my job untenable. I should have been positioning myself as the one every else is trying to keep up with. Instead, I went in panic mode, scrambling to escape from an unfulfilling job that was only going to get worse. The whole situation was totally avoidable and totally my fault.

I eventually found my way to another, better job in the company. This time I was not going to let myself become irrelevant. Less than two years into it I was actively looking to move on. I ended up with something far better than what I expected, and it came at a perfect time: Not long after I left, my old workgroup was also transformed from a cheerful crew of thoughtful problem solvers to scatterbrained checklist followers. They were ultimately absorbed back into the very call center I was running from in the first place. The mess had come full circle, but this time I was paying attention and dodged a huge bullet.

Of course you can play it safe, keep doing what you’re doing with no changes, nervously hoping  your sanity stays intact and the boss still wants you five or ten or more years from now. Or you can wait for someone else to take the big leap, wait to see how it goes and then make your move. Or you can be the one who goes first. The connection between the Ford F-150 and how we should be managing our careers is as huge and imposing as the truck itself. Take a hint from the Ford Motor Company: No one will care who did it second.