After a lot of thought and consideration -- I have decided to retire One Foot in Reality and leave it as an Archive. I will still monitor it to keep the trolls at bay, but will not be posting here any longer.

If you are looking for my new posts, please go to www.haroldlshaw.com .

Thank you for all they years of following One Foot In Reality.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Things I Learned Since Returning to Work

This post originally appeared on One Foot In Reality.

Back in July I returned to the world of work after being retired for over four years.

Coming back into the work force after 4 years out of it was a bit of a system shock. My time was no longer my own, I had to be someplace at a certain time and what I was doing...well it was a big change for me.

In the past five months I have learned a lot about how I fit in, feel about working again and have purposely chosen to do things differently than I did in the past while at work.

In other words...Everything changed, then again nothing changed.

You can figure that one out.

What have I figured out?

Be willing to do the job you were hired for.

Sounds simple doesn’t it, it ain't especially when...

I purposely chose to return to a position that does not have the same level of status or responsibilities that I previously had.

Which initially was a bit tough on the ego.

You know having to do the “grunt” work, the shitty little jobs that get "passed down the line" or having to do the things that in the past “someone else” did…yaday, yada…let it go.

Harold you no longer have those positions and need to take pride in the work you do, you know the work you agreed to do when you took the job and do it well.

Who you used to be and what you used to do are now a part of your history and unless what you did directly relates to what you are doing now, don’t keep bringing it up or thinking about it. Otherwise you will fall into the "I used to be more important trap", you know one of those people you hated to work with so much and feeling that way never fully allow yourself to fully embrace the job you do have. 

I have learned that "they" really don't care who you were or what you did, "they" only care about how well you do what you were hired to do.

Be willing to learn

You will not know everything about your job when you walk through the door, no matter how much experience you have. More than likely there will be a learning curve, sometimes a pretty damn steep one.

Learning the theories of what you need to do sometimes is the easy part, the hard part can be figuring out how to incorporate what you already know, with what you learned, the different tools, apps, projects and what you need to get done daily, into something that works.

You never stop learning.

Be willing to do more than asked or expected

Yeah, I know all about job descriptions (I've written my share), union rules and getting along with co-workers. I am lucky that where I work has a great team and we are working pretty damn well together to get things done.

The job description you have, is not always the job you actually need to do. Be flexible enough to get things done that need to get done, there are always ways to deal with the naysayers, by-the-book people and other obstacles that are sometimes artificially put in the way.

To use Tim Gunn’s saying “Make it work.”

Be an asset, not an ass at work, but ensure that your personal life remains a priority - you will still have that long after you leave your present job.

Be willing to be flexible with your hours

Luckily, I pretty much understand that at times everyone needs to use some of their off-the-clock time to: read, research something, try to figure out a process or procedure, organize yourself, write up questions to ask or even take a class to improve their on-the-job abilities. Just the way it is and if you do not do it, you will fall behind.

Also, be willing to work extra extra hours or be flexible about your hours during surge times when you know you are really needed, even if it is a personal inconvenience at the time. Although you do have to be selective and consciously strike a balance that doesn’t interfere with important things in your personal life.

No job is completely done between normal work hours, no matter what the rules say.

Be yourself

We are all unique individuals with strengths and weaknesses, the job you have or the work you do is not who you are, will be or were.

However, unless you are working in a position that is all about a cause that you strongly believe in and others who are there believe the same way, leave politics, religion, sex and other strongly held beliefs to yourself and outside of the work environment.

Your co-workers probably do not care about your beliefs and causes as ardently as you do. So keeping your conversations generic, mostly light fare or work related is not a bad thing and probably will be appreciated by most co-workers. Otherwise, I could bore the hell out of them with all my running exploits and some of my other opinions that they really do not give a rat's ass about.

Talking about running to non-running co-workers is pretty damned exciting to them - not. :-)

Be organized

I attempt to use the touch it once system as much as possible. Do whatever "it" is according to your workflow and priorities, then either file it, pass it on or trash it. 

For me a messy desk with files and papers everywhere, all the time is not usually good thing. In my experience, it is more often the sign that I am struggling to keep things under control.

Two books that made a big difference in how I go about organizing myself are the The Power of Less by Leo Babauta and Getting Things Done by David Allen. I highly recommend both and some of the more recent work by David Allen.

We use Google Apps 80% of the time and the other 20% are Microsoft or Adobe products. Unfortunately, with a personal Gmail account, Primary Work Gmail account and two Team Gmail accounts, plus trying to get Microsoft, Adobe and Google products, getting everything to work seamlessly together has been...well interesting in some cases.

Then you add in all the programs and apps designed to improve my productivity, note-taking or ability to remember things - that I tried, used or worked-on, while I learned a lot about new productivity methods and tools. However, nothing quite fit my idiosyncrasies or actual job requirements. They all felt like work-arounds or didn't feel intuitive to how or what I wanted accomplish.

At the start of December, I went back to a modified for my needs GTD pen & paper notebook system (I am still tweaking it, to meet the needs of this position), that I use in conjunction with gMail and Google Calendar. This type of productivity/organizational system worked in the past and it is staring to work well for me at this job.

Getting organized means, you have to use what works for you, even if it doesn't always include the latest technology or what everyone else is using.

Be nice 

As Patrick Swayze said in the movie Roadhouse - "Be Nice".  The below video clip is not PG-13 so if you are offended easily by coarse language do not watch it.

In my opinion being nice or at least polite to everyone you meet either at work or out of work -- is simply the right thing to do. However, in the workplace you definitely need to be nice to your co-workers, be nice to the people who come into the office and be nice to everyone you meet in an official capacity.

Being nice -- does not mean that you allow people to walk all over you. There is a line.

However, as I get older, I find that that I have less patience for stoopid, elitism (those who look down at you because of what you do for work) or those who feel an unearned sense of entitlement based on whatever...this is an area where I have had my eyes opened a lot and sometime have to bite my tongue, at some of the stuff that has been said to me or that I have heard said to my co-workers.

It doesn't cost you very much to be polite and yes, even be nice but there are...days you want rip some people's heads off and piss down whats left of their neck.

Harold, be nice.

Well, at least until you know it is not time to be nice - you will know when that is. Even then unless there is a safety issue to you or others, it is often better to end/diffuse the situation as quietly and quickly as possible. If not attempt to politely excuse yourself from the situation and refuse to escalate the issue to a point where nobody wins.

I have learned the hard way that we get along with others much more easily by being nice than being a rude and inconsiderate asshat. And yes, I have been on both sides of that fence.

The reality is

When I first went back to work I was a little worried if my skillset and attitudes would be viewed as antiquated, especially in a small, fairly liberal state college environment.

I discovered that they are fine.

However, I have found that while how some things are done and a few perspectives have changed, things like a good work ethic, willingness to learn, flexibility, being organized and being nice are things that are timeless in any work environment.

Yeah, the technologies have gotten a little different, but not all that different. Software programs are now call apps, Google Apps is what is what we primarily use versus Microsoft Office, we do more in the cloud, digitizing paper is more of an accepted norm and yeah paper is still used more than people realize or want to admit.

Some of the attitudes, causes and perspectives...well I will be honest I don't always agree with everything I see and hear, but it is what it is. I guess I am a bit old-fashioned and always will be, but at the same time I have a "live and let live" attitude about most things. So it works.

The worst part of all this is that if I am completely honest with myself...is that for most of work-life I was probably more than a bit of an asshat at times and not nearly as good at what I did, as I thought that I was. Sometimes the truth hurts, especially with 20/20 hindsight. I can't change the past, but I sure as hell can work on the future.

I am enjoying (for the most part) being back to work and know that it was a good choice. I plan to keep looking forward, focusing on what I need to do now, be honest with myself on what I want from work - now and continue to use the mantras "be an asset, not an ass" and "make it work".

Oh well, there is scanning to do, phones to answer, live chats to monitor and tables to wipe down, along with a host of other things to keep me busy and on my toes. :-)

What do you think I meant when I said - Everything changed, then again nothing changed.

What do you consider to be the most important thing about going back to work or getting new job, where your status, duties and responsibilities are not what they once were?


  1. Love all of this ... and it is so true. I am generally a mild-mannered person, very agreeable ... but I have a line, and a BS limit. And a couple of people have hit that line in the last few months, and we've had chats about it. Ask me to do an analysis? Sure ... but ask me to redo it in MS Word rather than Powerpoint because 'that's what you're used to'. Um, no. Learning process for all :)

    But as I approach 50 I am finding I like mentoring quite a bit ... I am good at what I do, and get recognized, but the more I can push the spotlight and recognition onto younger engineers, the better. It brings me back to my own younger days and those who helped me - I didn't always succeed in that spotlight, no one does - but you learn a lot :)

    Glad it is working out for you!

    It makes me think - Lisa and I are always talking about how in a few years after the boys are out of college since we don't really have any ties to this area and the boys are not likely to want to live in this area, we will be able to relocate and downsize. Then I will be in a position where I'll still have to work, but won't have the same pressure of earnings I do now, so I could take a pay cut and lower level job. Or not. Who knows ... :)

  2. Thanks Mike, I think you hit on something that I forgot to include - mentoring younger folk and not needing the light to shine on us as much. Doing that as well and I am enjoying that part of being back to work immensely. After a certain point in life, the money, prestige, status or what you do for work, does become less important and what becomes more important is how you choose to spend your time and who you choose to spend it with that really becomes the focus. I chose to spend more time at home with my wife and not focus as much on money. Once the boys get out of college and get semi-settled in the beginnings of their adult life, I have a feeling you and Lisa will have opportunities and choices which you will have fun with.


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