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  • I well remember how self-important I felt when I was the warehouse manager at a printing company I worked at for a couple years in the late 70’s. This was during a two and a half year period where I had stopped drinking altogether, was periodically going to AA meetings, but had not really gotten into the meat of that program, the 12 Steps. As far as I was concerned, they were kind of like the prayers we used to recite in Mass when I was raised catholic – just a bunch of memorized words that didn’t mean a damn thing to me.

    As far as the drinking was concerned, I had just quit, and simply tried to close the door on that part of my past, and was building a new life on the foundation of the medication the V.A. had put me on to treat my diagnosed manic-depression (lithium). That had helped me to climb out of a suicidal depression, and my brother-in-law helped to hook me up with the job. I’d also taken a few summer classes at Rutgers, on the G.I. Bill, and was getting my civilian life together, after the rocky end of my Navy career.

    I worked my way up from a forklift operator to become the warehouse manager and inventory control specialist at the Printing firm, within my first year, there. The owner’s son, who was a bit of a maverick, had fed my ego and built me up to where I really thought I was something. I truly believed I’d become indispensable to the company. The place had been pretty chaotic before I took it over. I got it well-organized, and developed an inventory control system from scratch. I even helped them to get that system computerized, which was a big deal at the time – computers were not prevalent then, like they are today.

    I didn’t see it at the time, but that was the beginning of my becoming dispensable, there. Once that system was up and running, they didn’t really need me for that part of the job, anymore.
  • As far as managing the warehouse, I had taken a cue from the owner’s son, and had become a bit of a maverick, myself. Only problem with that development was, I was not the owner’s son. I could not get away with some of the behaviors he could get away with. If he pissed company management off, they would just bitch about him, but they weren’t going to mess with the owner’s son. He was the heir apparent of the company – he would eventually be their boss. I was just the guy who kept the warehouse running smoothly. When my behavior became a problem, they had ways of dealing with that.

    I was still smoking weed at the time, and as my tenure there progressed, my behavior began to get a little whackier and more bizarre. Sometimes I got high with the owner’s son, while we took monthly inventory of the warehouse stock, back among the huge stacks of big 400 pound rolls of paper. Our relationship grew very casual, and I firmly believed he would have my back if company management ever got tired of my act.

    Then, I saw the light, and decided to clean up my act. I quit getting high altogether, and started back to AA with an earnestness, and wound up in N.A. They helped me to realize I was an addict, not just an alcoholic. As such, I learned that I couldn’t really afford to even get high on weed. That needed to go, too, or I would never get well. I noticed the 12 steps for the first time, as something more than what they read at the beginning of meetings.

    Unfortunately, this all came as too little, too late, for me to salvage my job. My bizarre behavior continued to be bizarre even after I got back into the program and stopped getting high – maybe even worse, because I’d been self-medicating with the pot. Without it’s calming affect, I was all over the place. I was flying off the handle a lot, and really pissing company management off on a regular basis. I was fast becoming a liability to the company.
  • Finally, after injuring my knee in a company softball game, I came into work in a lot of pain. I had my knee propped up, where I had set up a comfortable spot back in the stacks, and fell asleep. They caught me sleeping on the job, took pictures of my set-up, and immediately fired me for sleeping on the job. They also fought and won my claim for unemployment, so I went from earning decent bread to having nothing coming in, at all. The owner’s son – nowhere to be found. My back was completely unprotected when they put the knife in it.

    I quickly learned just how dispensable I really was. This began my run of 17 jobs over the next 4 years. I took whatever jobs I could find, but just couldn’t seem to hang onto them for very long. It took 7 or 8 years before my annual earnings got back to where they had been my last year at the printing company.

    My lesson in dispensability was a really hard one, but one that I have never forgotten. I have learned to do my best to make myself indispensable wherever I work, but to always recognize that at any given moment, the place could go on without me. I might bring a lot to it – but, I am far from indispensable.
  • Today, even though I have a job that took me 31 years to achieve, working my way up through the agency from a GS-4 Clerk Typist to a senior executive position, I do not take it for granted. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be in the position I am in, and I try, each day, to be a little better at what I do. I often feel like Chauncy Gardner (aka, Chance the Gardener), from “Being There”. I really don’t know what they think I know – I just do my best to answer the challenges put before me with what I’ve learned, and always try to think outside the box.

    I’ve learned a lot about being visionary in my thinking, and so I try to always be thinking about what will improve how we do business, and what will ultimately help in our efforts to modernize our approach to public health.

    But if I’m found to be lacking in what they’re looking for from this position, there’s about thirty people lined up, ready to come in behind me, here. I’d venture to say that at least a few of them could probably do the job much better than I do. I’m just the lucky one who gets to sit here, now, and make the most of the opportunity that I have.

    Remembering this keeps me humble, and on my toes.
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