Photo by Nate Neelson on Unsplash
I’m the youngest of four siblings. Going last has its advantages. Others have shown the way. But that didn’t help me. Somehow, I just couldn’t do the things other people could do.
As a young person, I couldn’t swim. I couldn’t drive a car. In school, I started out pretty good with languages, taking Latin. But I got sick and missed a few weeks and since then couldn’t learn another language. I was never stupid. But I was unsure and intimidated.
I was an introvert. Eventually, I began doing community theatre and I was unafraid to act before an audience because I was always prepared. But in groups of theatre friends, for many years I was quiet, standing in the back. Mostly observing.
I lived in a world where a path (of sorts) was set up for me. There were expectations to meet. My fate would be to go to college, get a job, marry, have 1.5 children, work until I retire and then die. But I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do those things.
I didn’t even like to drink beer. I was an odd duck who didn’t quite fit in anywhere.
Somewhere along the way I got the idea that I wanted to do the impossible. Not just the things expected of me (those were boring anyway), but things nobody expected from me.
In my checkered career, as much as I tried to fit in—and my work was good, sometimes recognized, and I got occasional promotions—I never felt at home in an office. I was a diligent obedient employee, but I had ideas and nobody liked ideas. So, eventually, I essentially rejected the whole idea of a path.
I wouldn’t even try to consistently advance—whatever that meant. I would zig zag in any direction that attracted me, explore and follow ideas.
I tried stuff. Many things I tried, I’ve since forgotten. But some things never left me.
In grad school, before anyone heard of Total Quality Management, I accidentally met W. Edwards Deming and studied with two of his star pupils. Deming was the earliest guru of TQM and an evil bastardization of his brilliant thinking came to dominate American management. Deming was the man who taught the Japanese about quality.
I tried to become a consultant using what I’d learned. Nobody wanted me. They wanted the bastardized version of TQM, the one that ended up being a euphemism for firing lots of people, instead of treating people like thinking human beings, and empowering them to study and improve operational processes.
I saw that I couldn’t have the life I wanted in New York City—it was too expensive—so I moved to Philadelphia. My family and just about everyone thought my wife and I were crazy. We didn’t have jobs in Philadelphia and didn’t know anyone there.
We did fine. We started businesses. I co-founded one of the first web development companies in the city. Not because it was a path to riches, but because the web was new and fascinating and something to explore. We bought a home, and then a second house. I became a collector of animation art, and then historic space artifacts. I owned things I couldn’t possibly own. Museum pieces.
I still couldn’t swim and was a lousy driver, but I was game to try anything that caught my interest. Sometimes I’d succeed and sometimes I’d fail, but I’d never fail to try.
Now my attention has been captured by the climate crisis. I want to save the Earth for everyone’s children, for future generations, and even for our adversaries, the powerful fossil fuel profiteers who are foolishly destroying everything out of a short-sighted greed and lust for power.
I don’t know if it can be done, and I’m certainly no more than a small part of what I hope will be a climate revolution. Will I succeed? Will WE succeed? I don’t know. I haven’t yet discovered the limits of the possible. At 65, I’m still exploring.