“In the midst of challenges, find a little room for humor”

By Bob Call, CMRP of Life Cycle Engineering

So, this maintenance manager walks into a bar and . . . it is right about this point that our inhouse editor (bless her little pea-pickin’ heart!) starts bleeding all over my proposed articles for publication. She says that magazine and other articles for publication are serious stuff, and there is no place for humor. I agree whole-heartedly with her that anyone who takes the time to develop a paper for publication wants the reader to clearly comprehend and respond to the ideas and principles behind the article.

On the other hand, I will freely admit that I can recall many more articles or papers that contained a little humor that was relative to the subject at hand. I suspect that there are more than a few of you out there who are the same as me.

“If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right!” I trace this little saying back to Jack Johnston, my Commanding Officer on USS Simon Bolivar, back in 1981. Having just completed an arduous shipyard overhaul, and working 26-hour days in shakedown and boat trials (submarines are “boats”, surface craft are “targets”), morale was at an all time low. Every person on the boat was tired and sick, and sick and tired, of the schedule that was demanded of us, and we just wanted a short break to catch our breath.

As the boat’s First Lieutenant, it was my responsibility to ensure that the structure of the boat was sound after the shipyard period, and that preservation of the ship’s surfaces was maintained at a high level, a tedious (and in my mind at the time, thankless) job that required long hours crawling through the superstructure of the boat whenever we were in port.

Captain Jack obviously noted my poor demeanor and pulled me aside for a little “father-son” chat about the Navy, submarines, and life. The short version of the story is that, in just a few minutes of focused conversation, he convinced me that I was being a little short-sighted and I was not focusing on the big picture, but rather my own very small part of it. Once I was able to put everything in perspective, my life got a lot better.

For instance, the special preservation techniques on a submarine have one very important effect - it makes the submarine harder to detect by a “target”. That’s a good thing when you are making holes in the ocean on an extended deployment, and there is certainly no way (at least no costeffective way) to paint a submarine when it is submerged.

As I travel around the country visiting different sites, I meet a lot of very unhappy people, people who just don’t understand why they work so hard and get so little in return. Sometimes all they want is the score, how they are doing compared to their peers and their competition. Most of the time, however, they really don’t understand the “business” that they are working in. Oh, they might know that the plant makes chromed widgets that fit on a bigger widget that eventually makes a giant widget that will save all of us 10% of our household costs over 20 years. However, this does not answer the questions “Why am I here?” or “What’s in it for me?” Demming said that “People are entitled to joy in their work and a sense of ownership”. So, where’s the joy? Where’s the ownership? How sad is it that the vast majority of employees in this country hate going to “that place” every day for eight hours?

There are many theories and stories about how to fix this phenomenon. Nearly all of them focus on how to make the job place more enjoyable for the employee, and what management needs to do to make people more content in an environment that they really don’t want to be in. The focus is always on the “process”, not on the “people”.

I have a different thought. “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right!”

Our lives are made tolerable and enjoyable by the small things. Of course, if I were to win the Lottery Jackpot, I would be a very happy camper. But it is the small things, over the long haul, that really make life worth living. It may be your baby’s first steps or the first time he or she says “Dada”, or maybe when your new dog finally learns to do its business outside, or it could be the look and smell of a fresh-cut lawn. Whatever it happens to be, it is these things, and the memory of these things, that continuously brings a little smile and gives that enjoyment to keep us going.

You have to search for that elusive enjoyment in your job. The source of enjoyment could change frequently, but you want it to be something that makes you feel good about being there, and gives you a sense of fulfillment, however slight. It could be the feeling that you get after teaching or coaching one of your crew on a new technique and then watching him successfully apply that learning. It could be developing a new reporting tool to send your boss for the weekly report. It might be watching your team ever-so-slowly grow from simply a group of people into a well-balanced and productive team of professionals with a common goal.

If you have been in a job for more than a year, and you don’t like what you are doing, how much you are being paid, don’t like your boss, don’t like the business or process you are working in, then you should be asking yourself why you are still there. It can’t be the job, pay, boss or business, and it should not come down to benefits because nearly every full time position in business today has a fair benefits package.

Somewhere out there is the right job for every one of us. It is sometimes difficult to find, and you may have to go through several jobs before you find the right one for you. But it is out there; go find it!

You just never know when the right job is going to be there for you. And, keep in mind that the “right” job for you is going to change as you grow older and more mature. I once landed a concession to sell hot dogs and beer at a rodeo. The job lasted six months and I had the time of my life. But, that part of my working life was short-lived and I moved on to something better (I think it was hog farming at the time……).

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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