A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer
Segment Fifty-Three— Personal Typing, The Underwood 310 and the IBM Selectric Correcting II
My junior year in high school, I had elective options. I could pick the course I wanted to fill the open slot. My parents knew I had the choice. My father made the demand. You’ll take Personal Typing. This was the 1970’s. Only girls (and my father) knew how to type. In a class of about 20 students, I was the only male. I believed I had figured out my father’s motive. He was trying to get me a date. I was wrong. He wanted me to type.
Dad, a family physician with a thriving practice, could type about 40 words per minute (wpm). His mother had forced him to learn how to type…in the 1930’s. As an executive secretary (she worked for American Standard—the bathroom fixtures company—in New York City), she found it to be one of her most powerful skills. Dad wanted to keep the family tradition alive. As I headed off to college, I could type faster than my father. He had an IBM Selectric. I had an Underwood 315 (the successor to the 310 I now own), and could hammer out about 60 wpm. This was before keyboarding skills were considered of value. It was the 1970’s, and no male of the species really had a need to keyboard.
Lesson Learned: Any skill you learn and learn well will have value. I firmly believe that. As it turned out, my typewriter enabled me to earn money from my fellow dormitory residents who desperately needed to turn in a paper the next day. The added plus was that I could actually serve as their spellcheck, since I knew how to spell. My son, with a Ph.D. in Anatomical Life Sciences was the king of MarioKart back when it was popular on the old NES system. Just last month, he won $100 in a competition that required those skills. Pick your skill. There’s a time and a place when it will come in handy. And figure out what the skills of those around you are, as you never know when tapping their skills will become important.
For college graduation, my father bestowed me with a gift I could have used a few years earlier. I became the proud owner of an IBM Selectric Correcting II. This wasn’t just a typewriter. It was the precursor to word processing. You could actually hit the special backspace button and erase the previous letter or two or three or four… For a fast typist, it was a dream. My speed increased to 75 wpm. Tools matter. When I owned little else, I hung onto my IBM. It was not just a typewriter. It was a revenue generator. When I took on ad hoc jobs with it, I enjoyed asking the clients what “font ball” they wanted me to use (yes, you could change fonts by changing the ball in the middle of the typewriter).
Every skill you have ever learned has value. You learned archery or billiards as a young person? You got a clear understanding of the basics of physics, and learned the perfect analogies, to boot. You mastered crosswords or Hangman? Time to sign up for Wheel of Fortune. You spent time working the front desk in the dorm in college? Your boss later in life drafts you to take over the phones at the front desk for 20 minutes, even though it’s not your job.
Lesson Learned: While working as a writer, trainer and project manager for a premier training firm, my boss, Ed (best boss I ever had), walked in the door and asked that I take over the front desk until our regular staff could get back from a series of other “missions.” I didn’t hesitate. I did the job. It actually worked out to be almost an hour, but my relief arrived and I went back to my regular job. Back in my office, another staff member (we’ll call him Marty) came into my office. “Can you believe this place?” he queried. “Ed actually asked me to staff the reception desk.”
I asked if he had complied. “Are you kidding? That’s NOT what I was hired for. I told him to get someone else to cover.” As the words escaped Marty’s lips, I knew instantly that Ed would be furious about that kind of attitude. Ed believed in team players. He believed in those who understood that the company thrives when everyone is invested in every aspect. Marty was fired the next day. Ed was right. And while Marty was right, too, it didn’t matter. He won a useless battle and lost the war. He never had to sit at reception. He also found himself out of a job. I often cringe when people believe that any activity is below their station. We should all count ourselves fortunate for the simple gift of being able to draw breath. Anything above that is a bonus. (Note that’s one of those things that you realize in major league fashion when you’re in Stage Four).
And not all of your skills came at you early in life. You’ve learned how to get through security with TSA. You’ve figured out the fine art of nudging clients to pay an invoice. You figured out what tools you truly need in your car, and you know how to fry up a scrambled egg. You conquered audio problems on your laptop and got grass to grow where no-one else could. You’re amazing. You know, you could probably work magic on an IBM Selectric Correcting II. (Although I currently only own the Underwood 310).
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