Sunday, February 13, 2005
LETTING GO THE TREE
[Following is my entry in the Blogging for Books contest #8, hosted by The Zero Boss. This month, entrants must write a blog entry about a time when they took a risk in their lives. Was it a resounding success or a crashing failure...or something in between?]
You sit in the optometrist’s chair for your annual eye exam, head clamped to that Optical Monster Machine. You look at the chart projected on the wall, trying to decipher those tiny letters while the good doctor flips and rotates lenses...
“This way...or that way?
“First one...or second one?
And on, and on.
But no matter how many lenses you look through, no matter how clear those tiny letters appear, you can’t see the future. And that’s what I need right now. I need the glasses that will let me see the future.
The phone sits in front of me, dark green handset on a warm cherry table. On the other end of that phone is a man with a job for me, a job that may be the first step in a lucrative new career.
I’ve been toiling away in the Great Corporate Salt Mine for, what is it, fourteen years now? I have had several assignments, starting in technology, moving through international operations management, most recently in field sales. Sales – who would have imagined? I, whose previous experience in selling had been peddling ice cream to neighborhood kids as one sweltering summer’s Good Humor man, am now selling 165 million pounds of plastic resin a year to industrial customers. Trainloads!
Those several assignments have come with a price. We’re now on our fourth house, and the prospect of moving back to Houston – Sweat City – fills us with dread. But that’s the inevitable, inexorable next step. A job in marketing, then some sort of management assignment, then…who knows? But all with a certain grim predictability...if I hold fast to the tree.
I look at the phone. How many days has it been since I spoke to the man? How long has it been since we sat in that restaurant and talked about business plans, of salary, of bonuses, of health plans? Just how much do I want this new job as an international chemicals trader? Trading is risky. You make ten deals, maybe seven of them are good ones - if you’re good. Disaster always lurks behind every twitch in the global market, every news bulletin. You buy a boatload of plastic pellets. If prices drop, you hemorrhage green money – for every thousand metric tons, a penny lower means you’re out $22 thousand. A dime, $220 thousand. You don’t get many chances to screw the pooch before you get the Bum’s Rush, but you can really stick it to the investors if you do. Those are the risks the shareholders take.
But what risk am I taking? I’ve got my track well mapped out at the Great Corporate Salt Mine. I have a good idea of where I’ll be ten, fifteen years from now. I have a good idea of how much I’ll be making.
And I’m bored.
Hugging the tree, ah, it has its comforts and rewards. It’s security, that tree. I feel safe under its branches, its sheltering leaves. The cold wind does not touch me and I do not hear the wolf’s howl.
But I’m thirty-five years old, almost thirty-six – and I am bored.
And maybe just a little scared.
Because I don’t have those glasses that will let me see the future.
“This way...or that way?” – Do we stay here or do we buy yet another house? How are the kids going to deal with yet another move?
“A...or B?” – Will this new company survive?
“First one...or second one?” – Will I succeed?
“One...or two?” – Will the investors hang tough, or bail if a few deals go south?
I can’t see without those glasses. But I know that I’m not yet forty, and if I don’t let go the tree today, I never will. I’m young enough to grab another tree if I have to, but in five or ten years, it’ll be hell to hook my fingers to strange bark.
The phone sits in front of me, dark green handset on a warm cherry table. I pick up the handset and punch the number. The number of the man.