Sunday, July 23, 2006

Garden Update: It's Mid-Summer and All Is Well

Despite my late start, and thanks to the hot weather, my garden is coming along unexpectedly well. You can compare this photo with the first one I published here.

The corn and tomatoes are taking off. The beans, lettuce and carrots were planted in a patch of bad soil, so they are not performing as expected. I did, however, get one good batch of beans. (You can see how yellow the beans are in the foreground of this picture.) There had formerly been a tree in that part of the garden, and when the stump was removed, they filled the hole with wood shavings. Wood, as it decomposes, takes nitrogen from the soil. That's why I planted beans there after dousing the area with ammonium nitrate.

I'll retry carrots and lettuce. I think I have time to get in a crop before the weather turns.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Good Outweigh the Bad and the Ugly

I have an exceptional group of colleagues, and we meet every other week to discuss strategies and give mutual support. We also usually spend time complaining about the bureaucracy and the idiotic ways our leaders try to motivate us. This collection of people is--after my family--the single biggest reason I am now sane and not actively looking for another career.

While so many of my peers and supervisors are motivated by success, power and career advancement, I have, by a sweet gift of Fortune, been dropped into an area where I am surrounded by exemplary models of service and excellence. They have become my friends and mentors. I see them in action and listen to them, and I am suddenly charged up about my work, ready to attack the job with an enthusiasm I thought I had lost forever.

I play basketball regularly with some of them. We occasionally have lunch or dinner. We drink beer together, talk about baseball and the struggles of parenthood. One member of the group even moved in to a new home only a half mile away from where I live. Another just retired, and we celebrated that event with her. Fortunately, she will remain in the area, so we can stay in touch.

Damn, it’s good to have colleagues like that. This is the first time in my career I have been so closely surrounded by so many good ones. I should really learn to be more appreciative of that.
The downside is that each of us, sooner or later, will eventually be transferred to another location. One day, perhaps as soon as next year, or maybe not for another five or ten years, the group will dissolve. I dread that.

For now, I’ll just enjoy each one of them and be thankful for our friendships.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Am I a Giver or a Taker?

A frightening question that has crossed my mind lately is this: is my lifetime more than half-finished? I am getting close to 40, and that means the answer to that question very well could be “yes.” The related--and even scarier--issue is whether my life to this point has had any real meaning. Has my existence on this rock made any positive difference to the Universe or not?

Yes, yes, my friends and loved ones are glad I’ve been around. I have spread my seed and done my part to see that the human race continues. I have performed some minor acts of kindness now and again. Blah, blah, blah. But have I lived a life, according to my most deeply held standards of “good,” that contributes to the world?

My chosen profession rests near the core of that discussion. I live--and quite well at that--because I receive a salary and benefits for doing a job. I also chose the career I have pursued for nearly 15 years, and in which I may remain for another 25 years or so. Am I giving to the world at least as much as I am receiving in monetary and other benefits? In my system of morality, it is a human being’s responsibility to give as much as possible and take as little as possible, especially for those who have received so much by the accident of birth. And I had more than I could ever have needed to start me off in the right direction.

Unfortunately, I often think I may be taking much more than I am giving. It feels as if my professional life has been running on autopilot. I do just what needs to be done, and not much more. Since I have some experience in this job, I can exert even less effort than I did when I first started. Also, there are relatively light expectations put on me by others, so that means I can cruise even easier.

Additionally, I wonder if my chosen profession is all it’s cracked up to be. I work in a helping profession for a large, national corporation. I came into my career with stereotypical optimism and ambition. Now, I curse every bit of bureaucratic crap that crosses my desk. I feel as if the hierarchy is a joke and many of my co-laborers are incompetent crackpots. (Of course, I am an angel with no need for reform.) My whole profession sometimes seems like a waste of everybody’s time.

Is anything I do worth anything at all?

All that is the bad news. The good news, which I’ll write about later, is that there are occasional glimpses of true meaning in what I do. I do have some spectacular colleagues who show me by their example that there can still be real integrity and excellence in this job. And, perhaps most important of all, I have more power to change myself and my work than I realize. Or perhaps I just never wanted to admit I have that power. Autopilot is easier than actually putting some effort into flying the damn plane.

Despite the negative tone of this blog entry, I am actually more positive now than when I began this blog. Then, I was sure I’d someday choose a new career path. Today, I think it is possible I’ll retire doing what I do now.