The Career Ladder and Learning


Our work life ought to be a journey of self-discovery.

In last week’s article, we took a brief look at my background and the industrial application of science to product development. This week, we’ll pick-up the story and cover something I discovered along the way about myself and my work.

The Joy of Work

To say I loved working in product development would be somewhat of an understatement – seriously. Somehow, I fell into a job that simply resonated with me. I had nowhere near the education of the others with whom I worked (most of the folks had either the Bachelors, or Masters in chemistry, and quite a number had the PhD). Nevertheless, working to apply science, at the bench (i.e., physically doing experiments) was more fun than work.

One of the best supervisors I’ve ever had, Marv Green, gave me plenty of latitude to run experiments. This entailed formulating and mixing samples, spraying the samples on test panels (remember, this is automotive paint, which is sprayed, rather than brushed or rolled) baking the panels and then running tests on them. The whole process, from coming-up with an insight about what might work, to testing whether the insight held true, was the best job in the world. What was truly amazing is that “someone” was paying me to have fun.

After about five years, I wound-up moving on to a different role. In looking back, leaving the paint lab wasn’t the best decision. As someone who’s closer to the end of life, than its beginning, these life altering decisions can’t be taken out of context. In other words, it’s impossible to tell what may have been had I continued to work at what gave me such joy. Nevertheless, the thing I learned from that decision leads to this bit of advice: If you’re doing something you love, there’s a damn good chance that’s the thing you’re supposed to be doing with your time on Earth.

Life and Work

I get it: We’re supposed to find jobs that pay the bills, but this is what the present system is telling us, and it ought to be resisted. There are many among us who are miserable because they’re chasing a buck. These notions are, of course, complex and seemingly contradictory. How does one find work that brings joy? How does one earn a living, when doing what one loves doesn’t pay the bills?

Life is not easy: It’s filled with ambiguity and there is only grey, not black and white. But be rest assured, there is much truth to the idea that an economy based on “from each according to ability, to each according to need” would likely lead to far more human flourishing than the one under which we presently suffer. The point is that life is a mystery, and these subtle things, such as doing work that we truly love doing, are important “signals” about who and what we are as creatures.

After leaving the laboratory, I undertook climbing the ladder of my corporate career. From beginning to end, that segment of my life spanned – to the date – thirty years. In that time, I held a number of varied positions within the chemical process industry. At the end of my corporate life, in 2013, I was working on bringing sustainable business principles to the automotive collision repair industry. This brought me full circle, from a love for applied science to my love for advancing sustainable business principles.

Although I left the laboratory, I remained a “technical guy” and always gravitated toward the technical stuff. During the late-1980’s, after my leaving the laboratory, the US automotive industry was undergoing a transformation. Forced by competition, US auto manufacturers were beginning to adopt elements of what is now broadly known as the Toyota Production System. And herein lies a realm that resonated with me: applying human knowledge, gained through applied science, to things other than a can of paint.
We’ll pick-up the story in our next article.

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