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Saturday, September 8, 2012

You can't fight the clock

In my twenties I lived a philosophy of work hard and play harder. Sleep was for wimps. There was a lot on the plate, college classes to pass with text books to buy and usually holding two part time jobs to pay for it all, I was so poor I couldn’t even pay attention. I worked as a night clerk at motels, day labor at construction sites, deck hand on shrimper boats, tossed newspapers before dawn; I even sold encyclopedias door to door. Eventually I received my college degrees and got a career in place of the many grunt jobs. Through all this where many rock concerts, all night parties and binges that rewired complete segments of my brain, segments with confused and improbable memories. Another consistent theme was always being late. Late for work, late for parties and late out of bed, tardiness on every performance review. My lateness and excuses for being late became a standing joke among my friends. With one good friend who was never late for work, I asked him for the secret of being early, he told me “going to bed early”. I found this incomprehensible; convinced he was making fun and would not share his secret. I continued to allow 25 minutes for my 30 minute drive to work.
One day I was running late for work and got pulled over for speeding. The policeman took an unnecessarily long amount time to check my credentials and call in the license plates, by the time I reached my work place I was very late. The boss was angry and gave me the standard lecture about responsibility and reliability and the need to be professional, saying things like “you can’t soar with the eagles if you hoot with the owls”. I was already angry with myself and didn’t need some self important boss pumped up on moral righteousness lecturing me about life. I had heard this sermon before. I hung my head in practiced humbleness then mumbled some lame excuses and escaped to the shop. I was a junior engineer and on this day had an assignment to repair and refit some industrial equipment. A group of hourly employees was waiting for me to show up and lay out the plan of action. Most cared little that I was late, they were having coffee and joking about something completely unrelated, easy work for the boys. One worker was not amused, an older maintenance man, the kind of maintenance worker that could use a string and two rocks to fix a space ship. I really respected the man’s talents and skill and had specifically requested him for the crew.
He was clearly disappointed that I was late. He put down his coffee and pushed a finger in my chest saying “Boy, you can’t fight the clock”. Then he shook his head and waited for me to detail the day’s plan. We finished the job after several hard hours and I finally returned to the office. I never forgot that simple sentence; the old maintenance man had more effect on me than all the bosses that ever chewed my rear. I couldn’t stop thinking about fighting the clock. The longer I thought about it the more it made sense; I realized that fighting the clock was like fighting the ocean or fighting the wind. The clock doesn’t care, it doesn’t stop, it is not even aware that I exist. I was fighting the clock and never had a chance of winning.
It took me more years to figure out how not to fight the clock but I did figure it out. Now I am one of those who arrive a half hour early, I can even have a flat tire and still get to my appointment on time. I finally stopped fighting the clock. Eventually I became the crusty old workman and had a honest way to talk with errant young men arriving late.

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