Company Man

My dad was an early computer programmer with Celanese...early like mid-fifties.  (I thought there was only one computer back then and it was as big as the Mall of the Americas and could just do simple addition.)  After my mom rejected the company's move to North Carolina, he opened his own data processing shop back in Texas.  He regretted that decision almost immediately and carried that sentiment to his grave. His predominant pieces of career advice as I entered the working world were:

  • find a good company
  • put your head down and work hard
  • stay with them the rest of your life

Out of his experience it made a lot of sense and I know it was of the best of intentions, but I wore that expectation like a shroud.  More curse than blessing, it haunted me when a job change was required and imprisoned me to another after I had settled in a little too long.

The last year of departing that nest has felt more like a class IV raft ride on the Arkansas.  I've often felt like I couldn't stay in the boat for the entire ride, more than once we have lost the things we need to safely navigate the river, and I have been neck deep in the foamy white fending for my very life.  Just like a whitewater rafting ride however, I have had the time of my professional life...I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Ran into an old work acquaintance at a restaurant Sunday night.  She said there was a peace, joy, and relaxation she saw in me that she hadn't noticed in my 13 years as a "company man" with her at a bank.  Thinking of the wild ride and the releasing of control of my life that had produced that countenance change, I was reminded of Beanie (Vince Vaughn) talking about his friend Frank-the-Tank (Will Ferrell) in "Old School"...

"Frank here was staring at a white picket fence. Now he's single, he's broke, and has second-degree burns all over his body. And I see a spark in his eye that I haven't seen in fifteen years."

There is something about the struggle, the trial, the adventure of it all, that makes your heart come alive.  We work to protect our lives from the disruption and risk, but that is where life is found.  The former coworker I bumped into was acknowledging a glimmer in my eye that was completely unfamiliar to her despite working a couple of stalls down in the company barn for over a decade.

My wife and kids are down at the coast visiting her family for a few days.  That is my time to catch up on movies that my wife wouldn't really appreciate.  Last night was "Company Men" night.  In it you find the profiles of 4 men:

  • James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) - guy who always lands on top and justifies the complete loss of values, the firing of thousands, and the abandoning of friends, by the success of the stock price and his payoff of hundreds of millions.
  • Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) - repurposes his life and takes the bounty of his ended career to sacrifice for many others without jobs and rebuild the company they originally intended.
  • Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) - rises from welder to corporate executive and can't accept the loss of his only identity in his unemployment (spoiler alert!) and kills himself.
  • Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) - the financial success he finds early in his life creates a man that no one, including himself, likes any more.  His firing drives him on the journey from humiliated...and finally thoughtful.  He finds a new life and an identity that not only his family, but many others will follow in his new job.

While none of these guys are an exact parallel to my life, I can certainly find pieces of my life and journey in all of them.  The reality is that the journey is fraught with trial, calamity, and disaster...nobody gets out unscathed.  Life is determined by the response to the inevitable disruption, not the disruption.  May we all experience a "Bobby Walker" and find a some "Gene McClary" for our lives.