Fighting writer’s block

The words and ideas come fast and furious. I can’t get them down on the laptop screen fast enough. They spill out of me bucket after bucket, more defined than the one before. I string two phrases together and two more replace them around the bend. I finish with one blog and before I know it I’m stockpiled with two more.

When this happens, life is good. I can’t help but smile. I mean really smile from the inside out. When I’m in this zone, little can get me off the track. A horrendously long commute home in the snow, no problem. A higher-than-normal heating bill, “hey that’s the way it goes sometimes.” I’m laid back and I feel good about life.


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Help me Magic 8-Ball!

I got the miniature Magic 8-Ball when my daughter gave it to me after she attended a friend’s birthday party. She handed me the 8-Ball happily and told me that it was for me since her friend didn’t give out any parting presents for the parents.

img_7338.jpg“You came too. They should give party favors to the mommies and daddies too.” She was so earnest and concerned about me, I couldn’t dare to say no. I took the cheap plastic Magic 8-Ball into my office and sat it next to computer monitor. In the many years since, when I’ve been twitchy with nervous excitement or simply looking for a moment of inspiration, I’ve picked up the 8-Ball and shaken it. I can’t say it’s brought on any divine inspiration or gotten me out of any jams, but it’s still been a fun break.

Should I go to lunch with my friend Steve? Ask again later. Will the technical review and client acceptance testing process be completed on time? It is certain. The water has leaked out of the ball, making the advice hard to make out now, and it’s been pushed aside to a far corner of my desk, but there it still sat today until I decided that it’s usefulness had come and gone.

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Thinking like a millennial

I’m jealous of the millennial generation.

I’m not jealous of their thirst for technology, freedom, or age. Oh it would be fun to be 21, 25 or 30 for a day, to take another spin or two around the clock, but I’m comfortable in my own skin, approaching middle age.


With more than 92 million of them, millennials rank as the largest in U.S. history and have come of age during a time of extreme global, technological, and economic change. Thanks to that change, they have a unique set of experiences and expectations different than any other generation.

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Searching for opportunities

I’m quitting my job.

Yup, it’s official, I’m quitting. You’re the first to know. I haven’t told anyone else, not my wife, my boss, coworkers, no one. I’m sure my wife will be shocked, maybe even a little worried, but when she hears my plan, she’ll love it.  

I’m quitting and moving to Florida. I’ve got everything covered. I’m quitting so that I can get a job at the Happiest Place on Earth. Yes, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.

I’ll take any job, but I have my heart set on one job in particular: driving the Disney Monorail. (The park’s monorail system built in 1971 is one of the most heavily used monorail systems in the world with more than 150,000 daily riders, surpassed only by the Tokyo Monorail in Tokyo, Japan, with 300,000 daily riders and the Chongqing Rail Transit in China, which has over 900,000 daily riders.)


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Fatherly advice and the end of an era: Sears and Craftsman

Fathers love to give advice.

Any of these sound familiar? Hard work never killed anyone; look both ways before you cross the street; measure twice, cut once; righty tighty, lefty loosey; do every job like it’s your last, and a million other lessons.

I’ve heard a million lines like that over the years and I find myself repeating the same words to my kids. I open my mouth and they come rushing out without thought or plan. It’s a genetic thing, it’s in our bones.

Choose wisely

I remember my father telling me another bit of advice. One Saturday afternoon my father was working on his car and he asked for an wrench from his toolbox. I ran as quickly as I could to our basement, grabbed the right-sized wrench from the toolbox and went running back outside. He took one look at it and told me to run back and grab another one just like it.

When I returned, out of breath from the errand, he said, “Nothing beats a Craftsman.” I looked down and saw the big silver Craftsman letters on the wrench handle. The two wrenches looked the same. I saw very little difference in the two, but the Craftsman obviously meant something to my father.


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Making a fool of myself!

I walked out of my meeting with a huge grin. I had been worried about the meeting for weeks. I had practiced my sales pitch on my commute home and spent hours fine-tuning the presentation.

In the end, the meeting had been a major success. I won approval from a key senior leader in my company and we came out of the meeting with an agreed-upon roadmap for the future.


As I walked out of the conference room and through the building lobby, I considered raising my arms in victory. A victory lap of sorts. I thought better of it when I looked up to see a uniformed security guard at his desk and a fellow coworker waiting by the revolving door for his ride home. I didn’t raise my arms, I kept them close to my side, but I still must have had a funny look on my face, because they both looked at me strangely, like I had two heads or at the very least like I had spinach sticking out of my teeth.

I didn’t care. Let them stare. In my mind at least, I swear I could hear the famous University of Michigan fight song, “hail to the victors valiant! Hail to the conquering heroes!” ringing through the lobby. And I hate Michigan.

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Reminders of an Amish road not taken

A short Amish woman, wearing a brownish-gray dress and white prayer cap or covering, was camped outside of my busy work cafeteria in the Philadelphia suburbs on Wednesday selling various jams; large oversized oatmeal cookies; raisin bread smothered in white icing; thick, gooey cinnamon rolls, and, of course, whoopee pies. As soon as the woman had all of her baked goods laid out in the proper order, a large group of my coworkers started lining up at her table to see what she had for sale. More than a few had their wallets already out and ready for action.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the strange site of the plain-dressed, simple-talking Amish woman smack dab in the middle of blue oxford shirt, tan pant, and brown loafer-wearing Corporate America. I’m used to seeing my coworkers rush into the cafeteria to grab a quick coffee or muffin before the next meeting, not running in to buy baked goods, made from scratch, from a Lancaster area Amish woman.


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The job I loved to hate

I was a mess. The dust from the tar roof that we were ripping off naturally settled on whatever skin of mine that was exposed — mainly my arms and face —and when mixed with my sweat burned like I had put them in the middle of a raging bonfire.

workers-951114_640The sun, with the temperature hitting the 95 degree mark, bore down on us without mercy. The high temperature and the lack of any substantial shade bothered me, but that wasn’t everything. My back ached from getting up-and-down so many times throughout the day. I had a bloody cut that ran up the side of my left leg, where my workpants got tangled with some sheet metal, and my whole body felt like I had run a marathon.

And it was just Tuesday. I had three more, twelve-hour plus days left in my work week. Continue reading “The job I loved to hate”

My own version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The over-achiever in me was upset. The hard worker, who has long prided himself on his work ethic and productive time management skills, had wasted an entire day.

I had a day off from work and family obligations, the first in months, and I did nothing. I let the vacation day slip between my fingers and wash away like the tide rushes into the beach and pulls a seashell out to sea.

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Here today, gone tomorrow . . . what’s important stays forever

A number of years and several jobs ago, I worked with a coworker who knew my schedule better than me. Her job was to help keep a number of projects that I led moving and out the door. She’d let me know when design and layout had something for me to review, when the print shop ran into issues, and most important, when we were close to missing a deadline.

I remember her once describing her job as a glorified train engineer. “I keep the tracks clear and the trains running on time.” She did more than that, but I always thought it was a pretty accurate description.


We talked pretty much on a daily basis, so I got to hear stories about her children and her life outside of work. I remember one story she told about bringing home a puppy to her girls and how it would chew on everything that it could get into its mouth. We worked closely for a year or so and then we went our separate roads.

Gone but not forgotten

We’d still chat occasionally when we saw each other. She would ask about my kids. She had extended family members outside of State College, so she’d ask me about growing up in my small town in Mifflin County. In turn, I would ask about her girls. They were a few years older and were busy with sports and dance lessons.

A few years after we last worked together, I heard that she had cancer and was taking a leave of absence. She returned to her job a few months later and it looked like she was on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, she ended up losing that battle.

I haven’t thought about her in ages, but I got to thinking about her the other day. She used to always say that you have to treat people with respect. “They want to do a good job, they want to help, it just doesn’t always come out that way. You need to help them get back on the right track.”

We worked together only a short time, but I’ve never forgotten how she made people feel. In fact, I found myself quoting her recently to a young friend. I told my lunch friend how my coworker got more done with a teaspoon of sugar, than most people get done with a bucket of vinegar

In-and-out of our lives

In our lifetime, we tend to come across hundreds of acquaintances and friends. They’re coworkers, teachers, coaches, mentors, former bosses, a little bit of everything. Some stick around for years, others drift off after only a few months, but I think they all leave something — a lesson, a memory, a virtue, a challenge, — to learn from and remember. The challenge for us is to pick up on, remember, and act on those lessons.

As I thought about what I learned from the woman, I thought too about the lessons I learned from one of my first bosses. As a young college student I worked in Penn State’s Graduate Admissions office, a bustling office full of professional staff and administrators. The job responsibilities were pretty simple — stuff envelopes, type a few addresses, file a few folders — but also very thankless.

The woman I reported to was a relatively young manager and just getting started in her career. I didn’t know her well, but I’ve always thought she epitomized leadership. She was tough, but fair. She would look you directly in the eye and tell you what she needed done that day. She expected work study students like myself to work hard, but she also treated us like adults.

My friends with other jobs used to complain and tell horror stories about being humiliated by poor managers and being forced to perform crappy, meaningless work. My boss never made myself or the other student who worked in the Graduate Admissions office feel that way. Of course, we were doing entry level work, the lowest-man-on-the-totem-pole-type of work, but we never felt that way.


She made us feel that we had the most important job in the university. I remember leaving the office one day and feeling like I had accomplished something, like I had helped bring in a new student to the college. Had I really done that much? No, but she made you feel important. She made you feel special, that you mattered. I find it funny, but all these years later, I’ve never forgotten her message.

In fact, both women came and went in my life in a flash, but left a stamp on my life and a lifelong example to follow.