A long time ago when I was in high school, I worked on a prune farm during the summer breaks. I drove large flatbed trucks, tractors, tree shakers, and field forklifts. I was not above menial tasks. I set up and moved irrigation lines by hand, occasionally chopped weeds away from the tree trunks, and sometimes had to empty out the prune picker’s outhouses. I also helped run an automated harvester. Even though I came from an upper middle class family, I was happy to do the work on the prune farm. It was a great learning experience, and most of the time it was actually fun.
After high school, I spent some extra time on the prune farm, and then went on to attend junior college. I was not really happy in junior college, but didn’t have anything else to do. I liked rock hounding so I settled on Geology as my major. After a couple semesters I had decided that I didn’t want to be a geologist. Rather than change my major, I joined the U.S. Air Force. I figured I needed to shake things up.
This was in 1976, so I would be eligible for the “old” GI Bill when I got out. My training and work in the Air Force was different than what I had expected. I joined “open general,” which meant I would take whatever job they wanted me to take. At the end of basic training, I was told that they wanted me to be a voice processing specialist. One real nice benefit of that was that I spent a year in Monterey, CA, learning a foreign language. I gained the rank of sergeant by the time I got out.
Four years in the Air Force was certainly a growing experience. The military is serious. Things we were doing could impact a lot of people and resources if we messed up.
I went back to college after the military. Having the “old” GI Bill meant that the government would pay roughly $15,500 for me to go to college. I declared my major as Mechanical Engineering, buckled down, and got my BSME degree from UC Santa Barbara in 4 years. I think my military training helped me to realize that college was my job for those 4 years, not to mention that the government was paying me to go to school.
I think I’ve continued building character in my career job. I went on to earn my Master’s degree while working, and have been recognized as an expert in my field, which is the application of passive damping and numerical characterization of damping materials. Some people consider me somewhat of a Renaissance man at work. I create analytical designs of passive dampers and isolators using solid modeling and finite element analysis. I then create engineering drawings and send them off to the machine shop. I perform testing of materials and engineering development units. I also do some rudimentary machining, and welding when needed. I trained our IT person in Linux, and was the facility security officer for many years. I have cleaned stains off the carpets at work, have cleaned up other people’s messes, and have painted office walls. I always try to do whatever is needed, no matter how large or small.
I owe much of my current success to my work on the prune farm and time spent in the Air Force. The prune farm taught me to work hard and do whatever was needed. The Air Force taught me that life can be both serious and fun. It also taught me that I could be successful at anything that I was willing to work hard at. Finally, I think both of these jobs from the past taught me to have a “can do” attitude.
Have you had a job that helped build your character?