Tag Archives: work

intangibles


intangibles noun , cliche used by sports media to describe aspects of a player’s game or personality which cannot be tracked by statistics

Graham

This summer has been the year of the big boy summer camp for my seven year old son. Up until this summer, it was all popsicle sticks, Elmer’s Glue, sprinkler running fun. His past summers were nothing but a haze of happiness. As with all things associated with the passing of age, he was in for a rude but important awakening this summer and now that we’re winding down our August and the boxes full of new navy uniform pants and pique polo shirts collect on my porch in preparation for the upcoming school year, I am reflecting on some of the things we both learned this summer.

A true highlight for everyone this year was Graham’s attendance at the Ed Cooley Providence College Basketball Camp for a week. I remember when he decided that he wanted to go. It was in the midst of a blustery, gray Rhode Island typical winter weekend when we braved the gusts of chilly downtown to make our way to the Dunk to watch the Friars play. My college years were good but hard working years for me so it makes me proud to be able to take my son to these games, a bit of a rewarding light at the end of that tunnel I was in so long ago. At this particular game, they were giving out slips of paper advertising for the camp and Graham instantly told me that he wanted to go. The idea of having access to his basketball idols who were playing that day was something I could tell excited him just as much as Pokemon cards…maybe even a little more. So the next day I enrolled him first thing in the morning.

With much anticipation, the week of Ed Cooley camp arrived and I honestly did not know what to expect. Dan usually handles the sports related things in Graham’s life. I don’t get very much involved. I don’t know enough statistics or follow teams. I’m the mom in the stands type. I don’t need to get involved the way some moms do. The week went well as far as we could tell. Seven year olds don’t tend to be good communicators about details. We knew that no one was passing him the ball (what kid hasn’t had that happen) but he wasn’t a mess and had a relatively good time. Dan was away for work on the last day of camp for the awards ceremony, so I went back to school that day to pick up Graham.

The ceremony was pretty much procedure. Parents standing around awkwardly watching their kids running drills in the gym – the same gym I had spent at least one Midnight Madness inebriated at and several stags watching my roommates cry or fawn after boys for one reason or another. It was a surreal experience for me to say the least…but then it was time for trophies and awards and the interesting thing was that not every kid received one. In fact, some kids received 3 and others none at all. My son was a “none at all” kid and as I watched I wondered to myself how the little dude was going to handle this. This hadn’t happened to him before. A few months before he had been a finalist in the Pinewood Derby and got a much prized trophy at the regionals for Most Spirit while he watched several of his friends cry because they didn’t get one. To my surprise, he didn’t cry…at least not then. He kept a brave face, got his coaches’ assessment sheet, said good bye and we headed to the car. It was right before we exited the glass doors to leave that I could tell all was not right. He hadn’t talked or gushed the way he usually does. So we sat down and I looked at him…and he lost it. I think it was the first time I have seen my son realize that not everything is going to come easy and sometimes, often perhaps, you’re not going to be the best at something.

He recovered quickly after some munchkins and a gift from the PC Bookstore. It really only lasted 5 minutes. And since that breakdown, he plays basketball nearly everyday in our driveway – because he wants to go back to camp next summer and bring home a trophy. But later that evening, when the whole event was done, I went back to look at the assessment that his coach had written about him. Graham’s actual skills weren’t that bad – all told he was probably a B level player, but where he excelled were his “intangibles.” His coach-ability, leadership, effort, teamwork, etc…etc… And this meant a lot more to me than his ability to make a basket – mostly because I am a mom and yes, it would be great if he were some amazing athlete, but I want him to be a good person – the best person. That would make me proudest. As a parent, Dan can teach him the physical stuff and he can practice to get better, but the intangibles are harder to teach – and what will make him successful at whatever he chooses to do in his life.

As someone who has worked in NYC and in crazy, demanding environments, I can tell you this is much is true. I think I was well into my thirties before I understood how important “intangibles” are at work and in life. I’ve had to learn them and am still learning. But there are some people in the world who are born with them – like I suspect my son is. I’ve watched him these 7 years and seen the variety of children he is friends with. He manages completely different personalities on a daily basis and they all claim to be his BFF. He has his moments (he IS 7 years old after all) but in general, it’s all no sweat off his back. And I strive for that pretty much everyday. It’s a hard thing to learn and he has it mastered.

2 weeks ago Graham failed his deep water swim test at Boy Scout Camp. He cried that night and said it was the worst day of his life. 2 days later he went to camp and begged the counselor to take the test again. He passed and played Marco Polo in the 5 foot pool for the rest of the week. Everyday I learn something from my children. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, your children naturally possess abilities and traits that you’ve been trying to learn your whole life and serve as a living example and your best teacher.

There are plenty of trophies I don’t win at work and many of the things I have to accomplish are equivalent to that deep water swim test that my son failed. But next week I’ll show up, without a trophy, splashing in the kiddie pool trying my damned hardest to win them both. And someday, I will.

Thanks Graham. Love Mom.

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calling


calling noun, a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation.

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Several weeks ago after a tough few days at work, I started reading The Art of Happiness at Work, by the Dalai Lama. I purchased this book probably close to a decade ago at the Ruben Museum of Art in Manhattan – a regular visit of mine while we lived in Brooklyn. I never read it. It traveled with us from Brooklyn, to Maplewood, and now here, to Cranston – never having been read. The pages yellow but the spine not broken or creased. I started reading without intention or expectation, not much expecting to finish it like so many other books I pick up and leave half read and discarded. However, I did finish it. I read it with a voracity I haven’t felt for reading since I finished the Elena Ferrante series…and I emerged profoundly changed from what I learned.

One of the concepts that the book discusses is calling and how it is important to happiness at work. The book delves into the problem of calling as relates to assembly line workers or people whose work is mainly to earn a pay check – not so much what someone loves or feels an attraction to doing. I am lucky that my job is my professional calling and that I have found it…and ultimately, I really shouldn’t complain or be unhappy. It also forced me to remember the path I took to where I am and the many years I worked at jobs that had no calling.

My very first really job – outside of camp counselor, lifeguard or waitress while in high school – was in a factory soldering circuit boards for 8 hours a day. My father was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma and underwent brain surgery at Columbia Presbyterian hospital in Manhattan on the day I was supposed to arrive for freshman orientation at Providence College. Neither of my parents attended college. My father enlisted in the navy after graduating from high school and my mother didn’t finish high school. Needless to say, I was stunned, depressed, confused and in need of a job. My father was the sole breadwinner of the household and being somewhat intelligent and 18 years old, it was the only choice.  My aunt was the floor manager at a factory that made Harmonizers – these black boxes that musicians use to distort their guitars to make them sound like Jimmy Hendrix. We went to work every morning together where I reported to my bench and was handed a pile of green Harmonizer motherboards and tiny bags of circuits to solder in the same pattern, over and over again.

Sometimes I would get a different type of board to solder and an engineer would show me the new pattern and the new circuits, but it was mostly the same thing, over and over again. As one can imagine, I quickly grew bored – although a very proficient solderer. I became fast enough that I could get all of my boards soldered in a few hours and would have to go take labels off of RAM chips that came back from aeronautic navigation devices that the company also made. It was in this boredom that I started to appreciate the circuits themselves – their different colors and minuteness. They came in all sorts of attractive striped patterns, almost like glass beads, and I started secretly soldering them together to make bracelets and rings. I will be truthful here. I had no conscious interest in jewelry back then. Even in high school, I had no interest in jewelry, make up or clothes. And I had no passion for jewelry when I was making these odd circuit soldered bracelets. They just sort of happened and I liked making them. Maybe there was something going on subconsciously back then, but I highly doubt it.

I went on to go to college, graduated and worked in finance for years thinking that I was going to take my series classes and become a trader, fulfilling my Melanie Griffith dreams as a Working Girl…but I always knew that wasn’t a calling either. I just wanted to make money and was probably influenced by the thought of a young Harrison Ford in a business suit.

The day I realized my calling was on my first day of work at a small watchband company in Rhode Island. I interviewed for a job as an assistant product manager – not really fully understanding what that was – and got it because I had passed a v lookup and pivot table test when no one else they interviewed could. I spent my entire first day making 80/20 reports for the Director of Marketing and was as happy as a clam. I was surrounded by watches, watchbands and jewelry – and the entire supply chain making it available to customers existed right around my little, fabric paneled cube. It was fascinating and new…and I fell in love with it. I had sent an email to China…CHINA! I was amazed. I went straight home and told my husband that someday this job was going to help me get a job at Tiffany’s (This is not a lie. You can ask him.) …and it ultimately did.

So when it comes to the idea of calling I tend to believe that it’s not such a simple thing. It’s almost a bit like fate or falling in love. You don’t really know when or how it will strike or what the actual calling will be. Now that I think of it, it really is a lot like love. A lot of waiting and searching, patience and perseverance – always with the possibility of ultimate failure. I am very lucky in that I have this career and job that I truly love and have a calling for, but the job itself is not the calling. The calling is that if I lost my job tomorrow, I would still work in jewelry – whether making it myself, reading about it or buying it. It brings me joy – a joy that would not have been found without some tough times, confusion and sorrow along the way. When I remember this, being happy at work is no longer a difficult thing. It is the most natural way to feel that there is.

 

 

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daughterboard


daughterboard n. a small printed circuit board that attaches to a larger one

It is a little known fact that I once worked in a factory soldering mother and daughterboards all day. It was for 6 months after my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor and I did not go away to college as planned. Since we didn’t know if he would live much longer, it was important for me to stay home. My father was the provider in our family before he became ill. My mother had worked here and there when I was a kid, but her jobs hardly paid the bills. It was necessary for me to work and bring in money right after my father had brain surgery and so I worked with my aunt who was the manager of a factory in Little Ferry, New Jersey.

Those 6 months of soldering boards were the hardest yet most valuable months of my life. I had spent most of the summer preceding it anticipating college life. To say the least I did not expect my father to have brain surgery and given a death sentence. As much as I was disappointed that I had to work, the soldering and assembly that I worked on at the factory brought a sense of order to my days. I remember sitting at my bench listening to the radio and soldering each tiny circuit one by one onto the boards. I was actually very skilled and perfected just the right amount of solder that I needed to get the perfect weld. I used to solder dozens of boards a day. There was such a sense of satisfaction when the bell rang at 4 pm seeing the pile of work I had completed. It’s a satisfaction I rarely attain from work to this day.

Eventually, I was put on the telephones – which I didn’t like as much. I frequently hung up on people by accident and I didn’t like acting cheerful and chipper to strangers constantly. My boss wouldn’t let me read when the phones were dead so I collated instruction manuals.

During my 6 months as a factory worker, my father’s health improved. He had lost most of his eye sight since the tumor was in his occipital lobe, but the rest of his brain functioned well and his body was strong. He knew I needed to go away to school…that if I didn’t I would likely be stuck working in a factory in New Jersey. So when January came we rented a mini van with my aunt, my mother, brother and my father and drove to Providence to move into my dorm room – a semester behind everyone else.  It was a proud day for me – much different from my previous trips to visit the school. My father and I had driven to Providence my senior year in high school several times for orientation and my interview. We always rented a car and I would nap in the back seat so I would be in good shape for my interview. I still remember the peach air freshener and NPR playing on the radio. Whenever I smell those little peach tree air fresheners, I think of dad.

I suppose the reason I digress is because I never thought that working in a factory for 6 months would serve me well in life, but I often find myself thinking about those days – especially when I was working before Graham was born. I find it so strange that often times the events in life we are most embarrassed and ashamed of are the most important and formative. They are the most honest accounts of our lives and represent our most intrinsic qualities.

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