January 9, 2022

The Value of Remembering The Good and Not So Good.

I have begun a 52-week creative writing course. Every seven days there is a new topic with some probing questions. The goal is for me to take life experiences, attitudes, and brainstorming to enhance both my writing skills and provide me with possible posts for this blog.

One of the first series of questions dealt with work. I was to write a paragraph or two about all the various jobs I have held in my lifetime, both paid, and volunteer positions that were long term.

Then, I was to recall my worst employment memories and the best ones to help me uncover some personality traits and decisions that put me in those positions. Finally, I was to develop a handful of takeaway life lessons. 

I am aware that some of what I wrote, and will now convey, won't be completely relatable to you. They were things that happened to me that you likely don't share. But, there is a chance if you read through my responses to this writing course, it might trigger some memories of your own. Maybe some were suppressed, forgotten about, or maybe bring back a flood of positive remembrances.

A) Jobs and long-term volunteer commitments I remember:

Counselor in training at summer camp, newspaper route, selling collectible stamps, writing and distributing neighborhood newspaper, radio station janitor and then part-time, full-time radio announcer, corporate positions, consultant, researcher, speaker, JA teacher, board member, blogger, author, lay ministry and teacher, prison ministry, library board positions.

My worst job was as a counselor in training. I had to call my parents to take me home after realizing I was completely unsuited. I was much too immature to be in charge of kids just a few years younger than me. I picked favorite campers, became homesick, and found a strong dislike for a cabin/in-the-wood lifestyle. I think I lasted less than a week,

My Grandad wrote me a wonderful letter about understanding what had gone wrong and to learn from it, to not get too down on myself. He turned a personal disaster into a supportive learning moment. I will never forget his grace at that moment.

The second worst job was taking a new company startup position in Tucson and having my righthand man quit to go into competition. I had no idea what I was doing in setting up that company. Once another part of the company's business fell through, my job quickly vanished.

Of course, that firing set up a very successful self-employment ride. But, initially, it was scary. In thinking back, I don't remember ever being in a real panic. I was pretty confident from the beginning that I could land on my feet and support the family. But, mac and cheese for the better part of a year leave some scars.

One of my radio on-air jobs was really a step down from the previous one. Both in terms of the people and learning, it was a placeholder for whatever was next. I was beginning to understand that being a disc jockey wasn't to be my long-term future.

I knew being a program director had to in the very near future. I would probably have been better served to stay at the first station until that happened. I think I got kind of bored and started to feel unfulfilled with the sameness of the job each day, even though the air work was quite a kick.

So, I took a position closer to my hometown. But, it didn't help me grow my skills at all. There was no one to teach me or prod me into improving. This was a 12-month long mistake.

Best jobs? Probably the first part-time work at a small local station near my hometown. At 16 I felt grown up and found it very fulfilling. I was like a sponge, soaking up everything from people who, in hindsight, weren't the best teachers. But, they motivated me up to commit to this as my life's work.

Doing live broadcasts at the county fair and car dealerships was a rush. Thinking back, I have often wondered how the Ford dealer felt paying for a radio station live appearance and having a 16-year-old kid running it. Probably disappointed!

Most important to my future was being hired by a consulting company based in Cedar Rapids. That was a strong vote of confidence in my skills in radio and set me on a path that would result in a national reputation and solid future. The people I worked with were stimulating and generally supportive. I learned to spend much of my time on airplanes and in hotels.

I did learn one very important lesson: a large corporate position wasn't my best fit. I had a hard time agreeing with what I saw as bad decisions, trying to fit into a particular mold, and having to temper my speech and communication to not rock the wrong boat.

At one point I was working for the broadcasting arm of the Mormon church. Being a non-Mormon created a constant undercurrent of being an outsider. I wasn't particularly religious or opposed to their primary beliefs...I didn't give them much thought. Bonneville was a meal ticket and an excellent listing on my resume. However, I probably couldn't have bought into their philosophy of life and family, and beliefs for too long without things becoming uncomfortable.

After the corporate exposures and being fired in Tucson, I was forced into self-employment. The sales part and the marketing didn't come naturally to me, but word of mouth, well-known clients, and a string of successes led to a comfortable life.

The downfall came from not growing. I simply repeated what I already had learned while the industry changed around me. I dedicated absolutely no time in analyzing what I and others were doing and how my product could have been improved.

I also became a little too full of myself, refusing to wear appropriate "consultant clothes,"  at times, under the attitude if they couldn't take me the way I looked, then who needed them? Bottom line? I did.

I remember one particular time when I showed up at a new client in a casual shirt and pants instead of the normal suit or sports coat and tie. I still recall a rather shocked look from the woman who met me at the airport. She was expecting a management-looking person, not someone dressed like one of her on-air jocks.

Pride before the fall. Taking too many clients. Not investing in myself in terms of learning and growing. And, having the industry change so dramatically that how I worked was doomed.

I was offered a chance or two to join a company as an in-house consultant or programmer. But those opportunities would have involved a move, put me back in the corporate world that I knew was a bad fit. I decided my freedom and possible income would be too restricted.

End result: out of business about 10 years earlier than I expected to be. Commitment to a spend-less-then-you-earn lifestyle for the previous 30 years meant we did not have to fight to remain in what had become a grind for me. 

For the last 5-7 years of my self-employment, I think I was just going through the motions. That was completely unfair to the clients paying me, and to myself for doing something I was no longer passionate about.

Lessons Learned:

1) Know yourself and change your situation to allow you to flourish

2) Invest in yourself continuously

3) Stop doing whatever you are doing when it is no longer fun and fulfilling

4) Plan for the end of your employment life even if you have no idea when it will occur.

I hope this "behind the curtain" look was interesting or at least caused you to think a bit about what major factors brought you to where you are in life now.

I get a fresh set of probing questions from the writing course every Monday. What lies ahead?


  1. this was great!! The prompt and your reflections motivated me to begin writing on this same topic for myself--much food for thought there!! If you can, please share the writing prompt you get each week--I suspect they may be very interesting for the rest of us to use in our own self-reflection. Thank you!

    1. The other writing prompts re3leased so far are what is missing from your life that you once had, contributions of others, loved ones you have lost, and times in your life when you had a fresh start...could be a job a hobby, or a lifestyle change.

      Have fun!

  2. Hi Bob! How interesting. I think anything that helps us gain great awareness and understanding of ourselves is beneficial...and I for one found your post to be an interesting view into "Bob" then and now. Having read your blog for a long time now I knew some of it...but NEVER knew others. And I admire and appreciate your willingness to share some of your strengths and weaknesses with us.

    As for me, the WORST job I ever took was working as a medical "secretary" in Colorado Springs for about six months. I wasn't even a full-fledged secretary, more like a runner for the existing secretaries. I earned $2.60 and hour and no it was not enough to live on. And although I liked the movement of the job, it was far more technical that I like and I would never have been able to transcribe the audio notes of the doctors that we served without making millions of mistakes. Thankfully the HR women guessed as much and gave me a not-so-glowing 3-month review. By then I also knew I wasn't cut out for such a job and shortly thereafter I quite. I learned from that job that detail work and perfectionism was not my strong suit. I vastly prefer being my own boss and working in creativity. So thanks Bob for reminding me that even thought I was very shocked to get such a poor review (my first!) it was an important learning for me.


    1. The old saying that we often learn from the most from adversity is really true. Isn't life a never-ending training course? We are constantly refining what we know, what we like, and what we need to learn. The unfortunate ones are those who stop this process too soon.

      BTW, I would have failed miserably as a medical transcriber!

  3. Wow, quite the work history Bob. I thought I had a lot of changes but I think you've had more than me.

    I have had a lot of jobs but I'll summarize my best and worst:

    My best job was at a major pharmaceutical company as an international I.T. director setting up a new corporate I.T. service. My manager was in London as that was where HQ is located but they allowed me to stay and work from Canada though there was frequent travel worldwide, which is not as glamourous as it sounds but I did like experiencing new and different cultures. What made this job so interesting is that we were doing things that had never really been done before. It was great to be involved with great people developing something completely new from scratch.

    My worst job was at this same company and after 20 years with them was my last job. I.T. functions were being consolidated and outsourced worldwide. My "best job" was wrapped up and outsourced (as were the jobs of those on my team) and we were put on notice--our employment would end in 6 months unless we could find another open position in the company. As it was everyone on the team did find other jobs but it was close and I was the last offered a job at a smaller division of the Canadian arm of the company only 2 days before my employment would have ended. In this job I was the head of I.T. there and though I worked for the Canadian division, I reported "above country" as they called it and not local management.

    The reason this was my worst job is that the role was to downsize the Canada I.T. department eventually outsourcing the whole thing to either the corporate office in the UK or offshore. Local management in Canada loved the cost savings which dropped right to their bottom line, but they were used to having their own I.T. department that would jump at their every request and in the new corporate outsourced world they were small fish in a very big pond. My role became taking flack from corporate for not moving fast enough on getting rid of people and transitioning local support while at the same time local management were giving flack about how they had to "call the support line" for every problem instead of just banging on my door. As my manager said, "This is a job where you get punched on both sides of your face" and I think my face still hurts. I discovered that some jobs, no matter how good the company, are in fact lousy jobs. I did that job for 5 years and then retired.

    My retirement decision came when there was a merger with another company. I had done mergers before so I understood what needed to be done on the I.T. side but then the corporate head office decided that Canada should also implement an entirely new back-office I.T. system at the same time as the merger. I knew from experience that no one is happy when there is a merger. Co-worker jobs or even your job disappears, new people arrive that “don’t know how things are done here” and so on—it’s a culture shock. I had also put in enough new systems to know that absolutely no one likes a new I.T. system when it first goes in. No matter how improved it might be it’s unfamiliar and disruptive to work processes. I decided enough was enough and I’ve never looked back.

    In retirement I’ve discovered that I can be my true self. There’s no manager or corporation to satisfy, no yearly review or bottom line to meet. My wife, family, and now my grandchildren. love me for exactly who I am. There is nothing in life that is better than that.

    1. I like the "punched on both sides of my face" way of summarizing one of your positions. That was a no-win for everyone.

      My travel was all domestic, but still managed to approach 100,000 miles a year. That is a lot of airport and hotel time. It wears thin.

  4. For me the best time of my career was during my first few years, when I was learning everything, and then the last few years when I was finally able to do all the things I had trained for. In between, it was usually interesting but often frustrating to have to do things "their" way instead of "my way. Maybe I shoulda been self-employed like you, but I never had the guts.

    1. I never planned on self-employment. But my aversion to corporate life really made that path almost inevitable.

      Once I started to get a base of clients, the pressure lessened considerably. Still, there were a fair number of sleepless nights.

  5. This was a frank and thoughtful post, Bob, and I did look back on my employment and volunteer history because of it.

    The good . . . I realized that I was in the unusual position of never having to seek employment; it always found me. In high school, I was offered a retail position in a pharmacy owned by the family of a good friend. After college, I was approached by the parent of another friend as the bank he worked for was looking for someone to sort and file paid checks. This, of course, was way before technology made that job obsolete. After the interview, I was offered a better job in the accounting department instead. I grew up in banking and loved it. My best job ever, though, was that of leaving the workforce to raise our two kids. I will always treasure those years I spent with them and that "job" eventually led to an 18 year volunteer run with their elementary, middle school and high school PTAs. When our younger child entered school, the staff encouraged me to become a substitute in the school offices. That and my stint as the PTA treasurer led to the district's business official approaching me about the position of school tax collector. That may not sound like fun to most people but, for a former accounting supervisor and numbers nerd, it was right up my alley. I stayed in that position for several years until the same business official asked me to fill a Human Resources position in her office. (I had worked in the HR department in the second half of my banking career. Long story). I eventually left that HR position in the district when I completely retired from the workforce. I had a good long run of employment with many blessings along the way.

    The not so good . . . Like David, I found myself in a miserable position at the end of my banking career. My small savings and loan merged with a large federal savings bank which eventually went belly up and was acquired by a commercial bank. I was in HR at the time and spent a lot of time compiling separation packages for staff members. That was tough. At the bitter end, my administrative assistant and I put together our own separation packages and my boss, a divisional VP in another location signed off on them. Her job lasted a month longer than ours, but our entire HR team ended up losing their jobs. That was the most difficult employment situation I've ever had to work through. The good news is that I've stayed in touch with my banking buddies over the years and my former boss and I still meet for hiking excursions at points approximately midway between our homes.

    While I was happy with all of my jobs over the years, I have to say that, having escaped from the workforce almost six years ago, I've never looked back. This retirement business is a pretty good gig!

    1. Your early history brought up an interesting difference between your youth and mine. We moved 12 times while I growing up, 18 if you include different houses in the same town. The net result was never establishing long-lasting friendships, either with other kids or their parents. The type of job offers you received were triggered because your family stayed put!

      I don't envy anyone who was in your position of having to oversee the firing of your peers. I would guess that could leave some "survivor" guilt: why them and not me?

      No argument with your final sentence. It is nice knowing you can't get fired from your retirement gig.

  6. What an interesting post. I'm loving reading the comments, too. My favorite job was within a furniture company as product manager, as it also included the annual trade show in Chicago and traveling to train our reps around the country. That segued into joining an independent rep group in the Bay Area which truly was a joy for four years in the late '90's.

    My worst job was my last. Based on my long background in the industry, I was hired to build the contract furniture division of a company that had a toe in the door with the major manufacturers in my industry and swore they would do whatever it took to build that business. Having seen other residential companies attempt this, I warned them that it would take time and money to succeed, and they claimed to be committed for as long as it took. I had the contacts to get us into many doors, but unfortunately, the technical support inside was embroiled in old politics, and when resources were tight, the old company business always won leaving us with late samples, poor delivery, etc. Long story short, they were never willing to do what had to be done to succeed in a very exacting industry despite the lip service. When private equity got involved, they decided I should answer to a regional manager for residential furniture who knew nothing about my side of the industry. That was my third experince with private equity buying a company I worked for and I quickly decided it was my last.

    All that said, I have had many good jobs and volunteer positions over the years, and I love the idea of doing a more extensive version of your writing exercise. Thanks!

    1. Traveling by train to visit reps...I would have loved that. Funny aside: I was so sick of flying that I did take the train once from Salt Lake to Seattle for a business conference.

      That was the day Mount St. Helen exploded. The train was just outside Kelso, WA at the time. We had to sit for five hours to make sure the mud flow down the Toutle River from the volcano didn't wipe out the railroad bridge.

      This was before cell phones so I couldn't tell anyone I was safe nor could I tell the people waiting for me in Seattle that I was stuck at Mount St. Helens! A memorable day and a great story.

      Private equity companies have probably done good things. But, every time I read about them it is in a negative context. They take over a company and bleed it dry, or cut all the expenses and people they can and then merge it into something else. With their only motive being short-term profits, such companies have done terrible damage to people's lives.

  7. Although I haven't had nearly as many jobs as you've had, I've had more than a few (as opposed to my husband who worked for the same company - although in different capacities all his working life). My favorite was as a marketing manager for a Mexican restaurant chain. It was so much fun that I often said that I couldn't believe they paid me to do it. I worked hard but everything was so interesting and my boss was outstanding.

    1. Your marketing manager story is a feel good example of someone who found a position that made going to work a joy. Not many can say that.

      I felt that way about being on the radio until I realized that wasn't as fulfilling as I needed, nor would it pay enough to support a growing family. But, for several years, I couldn't wait to walk in the front door of the station.

  8. How interesting. What is most interesting is that you signed up for this writing commitment. I swear, you never cease to amaze.

    1. Well, it is free and self-critiqued, so if I run out of steam......

      But, thanks for the very nice compliment.

  9. I went through college assuming that I was going to be a social worker and chose my major, courses, and a summer internship accordingly. Then, a few months after graduation, I landed a job as a welfare department social worker in California -- and discovered that I was terrible at it! At 21, I was too young to handle the kinds of moral dilemmas built into the job. When I left it a year and a half later, my supervisor wrote on my final evaluation that I was "a potentially competent social worker" -- ouch! Many years later, after I found my way into a career that I both loved and was good at -- college teaching -- I would tell this story to my students to help them understand that making mistakes is part of learning who you are and finding your way in life.

    1. The pressure that is from both parents and ourselves to pick a career path is intense. Your social worker experience is not atypical, but too many people are afraid to switch once their work life starts.

      As you note, mistakes and going down a wrong path is very human and very much a learning experience.

      Thanks, Jean