Thursday, December 24, 2015

My Christmas Story

Later this afternoon on the Christmas Eve, 2015, on of the cable networks will be a marathon showing of the movie "The Christmas Story". You know the one where Ralphie gets the Red Ryder rifle for Christmas  and where the schoolyard bully gets his tongue stuck on the icy pole after being double-dog dared to do it. 

Seems to me everyone has their own Christmas story, some nostalgic and sentimental, while others are sad and painful. I was lucky in that many of my Christmas memories from childhood were filled with the anticipation of waking on Christmas Day to discover that indeed, Santa has paid a visit to our house and left a stash of presents. 

One of my earliest memories is captured in the picture below, the Christmas Eve of 1956 when my sister Katie was born. We don't have many pictures from that time but this one survived and I came across it today. 


I remember my Dad coming home and telling us we had a new sister and that was one of our presents that year. I remember the doctor kit I received as my main gift and am proudly wearing the stethoscope ready to examine whomever was willing, and maybe even those who weren't.

That's Joe to my left, he would have been 1, and he is being held by Shelly, who would be 6  and 
already pushed into a surrogate parent role. Tony is on the end and he would have been 3 and a half.

Eventually there would be 8 children in 11 years which made gift buying a bit more arduous. But we always seemed to find a way to give everyone something even if it just a set of Bic pens or a comb or a box of cheap, dime store chocolate covered cherries.

Our mother was deathly afraid the tree would start on fire and burn the house the to the ground so it got taken down pretty hastily after the 25th. I loved the smell of the evergreen and the C-9 multi-colored bulbs with that silver tinsel we all got to hang rather haphazardly on the tree. It had its own charm as I recall.

Our parents divorced in 1974 and that was the end of family get-togethers at Christmas. The family home was sold shortly after the divorce and we siblings scattered all over the country and took on new families and spent our Christmas apart.


We lost Katie several years ago after a long battle with alcoholism and Tony passed away from cancer in 2014 and our parents are both gone as well. They are all remembered warmly today as part of my Christmas story.

We have 3 grandchildren, ages 6, 3 and 9 months, arriving in a few hours today, ready to write some of their  Christmas stories tonight and tomorrow at their Nana and Papa's house. What a blessing to be able to play a part in creating what I hope will be a joyful Christmas story for each of them.

Wherever you are, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Saying So Long to a Career


I was a hurry to get started and a hurry to have it done. But holy Maynard G Krebs, did I get some work done along the way.


For nearly 41 years, without a lot of pomp and circumstance, I marched off to work every day and with few exceptions, always looked forward to going to work and was good at what I did.

And later this week, that will all come to an end, at least the 8-5, full-time, career-type work and job will be no more. I will begin embarking on a transition into the next stage of life often referred to as retirement.

I actually started working at jobs over 50 years ago-taking out the trash and burning it in the oil barrel behind the house is my first concrete memory of having a job. As the oldest boy in a family of 8 children, being given the responsibility of starting fires in the backyard was a big deal. There were numerous paper routes, lawn mowing and leaf raking jobs,  shoveling snow, even babysitting for the 3 Peterson boys down the street…….. anything for a buck or two.

My first job working at a real job was at McDonalds where I signed on in November of 1968 on the day I turned 16. Who else remembers when McDonalds was a male-only workplace?  After starting on the milkshake machine, I worked my way up the ladder to top-grill chef and was awarded with an Employee-of-the-Month in August of 1969. I was a McDonald’s guy from my sophomore year in high school well  into my sophomore year in college, except for a 9 month stint at Charlie’s Super Value when I thought the grocery store grass looked greener than my “I smell-like a french fry” side of the street.

On the journey to the end, I pumped gas, detassled corn, drove a school bus, painted barns and even worked in the stockroom of the women’s dept. at a Woolco store where I hung bras along with other female garments.

Of course, as a musician, I played in all kinds of bands and musical groups, including a ricky-ticky dance where the trombone player would leap of the bandstand during the stop-time section of “Me and My Shadow” while wearing one of those life-like pig masks and tap danced while the band leader nonchalantly crooned “Harold Strasburg, the dancing pig!” into the microphone.  Harold was a county sheriff’s deputy in his day job, thus the pig mask, I guess. No, you can’t make this stuff up.

In May of 1975, 2 weeks after graduating from music school, I found myself living in a small town (300 people small) in north central Iowa teaching instrumental music as I begun the only career role I ever considered since 7th grade. I spent 10 years teaching in several Iowa school districts where I experienced some of the best and most challenging moments of my work life.

After 10 years of teaching in small town Iowa, I headed back to Des Moines without a plan for what I do next.  I stumbled into a job selling electronics in a Midwest-based department store chain. I loved retail  and was promoted to a store Human Resources manager and worked my way into the corporate office in Omaha, Nebraska, where I discovered a niche as a training and development guy, specializing in the “people side” of the business. But as business goes, this retail company ran into financial troubles and closed in 1991 and I managed to escape just in time to avoid the blood bath of layoffs and store closings.

I went back to school for a Masters in Counseling to work as a licensed mental health counselor which took me down I-80 to  Lincoln, NE to work for an  Employee Assistance Program,  where I met Georgette who worked there. So all that advice about not getting involved with someone you work with....I guess you could say I struck the good fortune “lotto” when I took that career turn. It was also during the 90’s when I found my speaking and storytelling voice and began conducted seminars on everything from supervisory skills, personal development-- even Humor in the Workplace). Hundreds, perhaps thousands of appearances where countless thousands of individuals got to experience my shtick.

In 1999, I went to work for the Gallup Organization, which gave me a bigger stage to perform, from LA to NYC, and even to the Netherlands where Dutch saw the humor in my McDonalds employee of the month photo. My mission was to help managers and leaders bring out the best in their people and build strong workplaces.  I spent time in a plethora of organizations ranging from the Federal Government  agencies (think Bourne Identity) to Toyota, Best Buy, and even the first sub-prime mortgage company to fall in the meltdown of 2008 and worked with and for a bunch of smart, interesting and talented people.  I spent a ton of time in hotels, rental cars and airports and so after 12 years, it was time to stay home. In 2011, I took on a role as a leadership and management consultant for Boys Town, located here in Omaha.

Along the way, I encouraged, taught, listened, laughed and provided perspective. I’m sure I was a pain in the ass at times to several of my managers and am quite sure there were a few folks who did not like working with me. But mostly, I saw myself as one of the good guys.

Through all of that, I never got fired, downsized, laid-off, shown the door, or had my seat moved. I did get a warning once for calling the baby ugly in front of the wrong person in the wrong setting (hey, the baby was ugly!), but I was really lucky. Really, really lucky.

Which brings us to the here and now-I was all set to end my career next July (2016) in the job I had been in for the past 5 years……and it would have been so easy to just bide my time,  taking the easier and softer way. But no, I had to throw caution (and comfort) to the wind and sign-on for one more adventure, this time with a start-up health care clinic that promised  all kinds of great things. Well, it has certainly was an adventure unlike anything I've ever experienced, but long story short, I decided to move my retirement from July 2016 to December 18, 2015, about 6 months earlier than planned.

I’ve been on a bit of an emotional roller coaster the past week or two—feelings of sadness, relief, excitement, mild anxiety, anticipation, acceptance, but mostly pride and contentment. What started at McDonalds, then took me to teaching music lessons in a school lunchroom, to the halls of a building in Washington, DC, is coming to an end.

I think I know myself pretty well by now. I got so much out just being in a workplace every day-I looked forward to meeting new people, connecting with those I already knew, being useful, having a purpose, and being good at what I did. Those needs aren’t going to go away at 4 pm on December 18th. I’ll have to find a new way to fulfill that part of me.

Gone will be the low-level anticipation on Sunday nights with the wondering about what the week will bring. In its place will be uncompressed time-what has been described to me by most retired folks I’ve talked to as a new found freedom to put space and time between the events of the day, the events being only things you choose to do.

I’ll get a part-time job for a while, at least. I’m looking forward to going for “walking times” with Georgette and Grace, the beagle. I’m going to try to start my day a bit later and hit the gym just after the early morning rush hour. Lunch on the patio overlooking the garden on those spring days that Georgette used to text me at work about. Spending more time everyday futzing in the garden. Got a whole bunch of stuff (or shit) in the basement to sort through and dispose of (sell, barter, donate or trash). There are grandchildren in Florida and Kansas City. Time to write more, read more, manage less, maybe even learn how to take a mid-afternoon nap.

I’ve been lucky, I did not get cheated at all in the work part of my life. No regrets at all. Now it is time to take advantage of time and good health to live as well as I can and begin to explore the possibilities that lie ahead.

So think of me on the 18th sometime in the afternoon, quietly walking out the door and across the parking lot to my car. 

Oh, I almost forgot. The Nebraska baseball team opens their season on Feb. 19th in Charleston, SC. Ball game anyone?