Sage Advice

Unlike my generation, our parents generation are the last ones to be able to remain with one employer for an entire career.

Thursday, December 22, 2011 will be another day for my mom.  She’ll head into work, order parts for the 2012 combines, review the plans, and then send them to the engineers for their final sign-off or make changes. 

When 4:00 p.m. comes, she’ll pick up her purse, lunch bag, and a few things, and head out the door…for the final time. 

Since the day I was born, all I have ever known about my mom is that she worked for John Deere.  She’s been there since January 1972, four years before I arrived with small fanfare at on New Years Day 1976.  Nearly 40 years she has been with one employer. 

Think about that last sentence.  She’s one of a rare breed that stayed with one employer most of her working/career life.  Not many people today will have the luxury and the fortunate opportunity to stay at one place. 

My mother and I had a long discussion last year about our futures.  Now that I’m working again, my mother is preparing to leave and is in search of doing something to stay busy, possibly volunteering.

For as much as my generation vent our frustration about trying to find that “perfect job (or career)”, my mother has been through the roller coaster ride of nearly 40 years at one employer.  When she graduated from college, the career that she was aspiring was not available at that time, so she took a job with John Deere and gradually moved up the “career” ladder.

The problem was, as she pointed out, her “job” was never a “career” in her eyes. 

"The Waterloo Boy" was one of John Deere's first well-known line of tractors.

She was growing frustrated with my inclination to be defensive when someone tells me “…you need to be a (fill-in-the-blank).  I think you are perfect in it!”  It was already hard enough being told throughout my 11 years in the workplace that not having a business degree like everyone else was not going to land me a job.  I was growing tired of being told to go into this job and that job because it’s either the “in” thing to do or because it’s easy.

“Have you ever stopped yourself and asked ‘what do you like about yourself?'” my mom asked. 

“I don’t know.  If I don’t figure it out now, I may never land a job.”

“I’m not talking about a job.  The last time you were between jobs, you were looking for a “job” and never took the time to reflect on your life’s goals.  You were scared and wanted to get back on your feet.  Now that you are between jobs again, stop thinking about “a job” and treat this break as a journey to find your calling.  Not your father’s calling, your friends, or someone else’s calling.  Your own.  It may take longer than you expect, but you let your fears and apprehension get in the way of being yourself.” 

She was right.  I have gotten in the way of being open-minded about what new avenues to take, resorting to being told what to do and what industry or career to go to because “everyone else is doing it.”

In this world of experts, self-help books, and surveys dissecting the difference between Generation X and Y, our parents, outside of our friends, might give us the best advice about how to navigate the troubled waters of life.  Old fashioned?  Yes.  Sometimes out of touch?  Of course.

We tend to take our parents’ experience in the workplace for granted.  They have seen the transformation of the workplace from typewriter to computers and from board meetings to videoconferences.  They have also witness or being subjected to the culture of office politics, which can be cruel and unforgiving.

Our parents do know best.  We have to give them time and the space to convey it to us. 

This Christmas will be different.  For the both of us. 

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