USAF Academy Spirit of ’76

My roommate from the Air Force Academy, K.C. Steinbaugh, died this past February. After his memorial service, I felt compelled to create this tribute to my fellow CS-39 Campus Radicals, and to especially K.C. and Danny Sawyer, who died in 2006. Scroll down for the obituary I wrote for the Association of Graduates quarterly magazine.

Unfortunate update: Another Spirit of ’76 Campus Radical, Randy Richey, died on July 2, 2016, in Arlington, TX after a long battle with glioblastoma.


The film footage from our graduation and hat toss was taken off of YouTube, apparently posted by an anonymous classmate.

The ’76 Campus Radicals were:

  • Mike Belcher
  • Ric Caballero
  • Roger Clements
  • Kevin Heise
  • Al Janiszewski
  • Kurt Klingenberger
  • Craig Mosier
  • Carl Nordgren
  • Don Nylund
  • Andy Pijor
  • Joe Racher
  • Rico Racosky
  • Randy Richey
  • Jim Rooney
  • Danny Sawyer
  • Tom Sefcik
  • George Sherwood
  • Joe Smith
  • K.C. Steinbaugh
  • Steve Stockdale
  • Brian Sutter
  • Pete Trump
  • Greg Vitalis

I submitted the following to Checkpoints, the Association of Graduates quarterly, regarding K.C.

Keith Charles (K.C.) Steinbaugh, Spirit of ’76, died on February 22, 2012, in Allen, Texas. Just months earlier, he began to deteriorate from good health to exhibiting worrisome symptoms. He was eventually diagnosed with the very rare (as in one-in-a-million rare) and fatal neurological disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

K.C. was an accomplished high school athlete and scholar from Pasadena, CA. He ran track during his first two years at the Academy. He was in CS-23 as a doolie, then CS-39 Campus Radicals during his upperclass years. He was the only guy I roomed with more than once at the Academy, so I’ve always considered him “my roommate.”

He was passionate about cars, stereos, and just about everything related to electronics. He talked endlessly during our second class year about the turbocharged Cosworth Vega, but then he bought an old, powder blue, renovation-worthy Mercedes 280SL. He had a pair of Bose 701 directing reflecting speakers which, of course, were (usually) completely wasted in a cadet dorm room.

K.C. kept a stack of automotive and electronics magazines in the room. He was usually researching something. As an electrical engineering major, he wanted to understand how things worked. He was a good athlete. I remember many late afternoon treks from the gym back to the far reaches of 39th squadron after playing tennis with him. I think he was the first person I knew who converted from a wood racket to the Wilson T-2000 aluminum model.

After graduation he attended Undergraduate Navigator Training at Mather AFB, CA. He was assigned to C-130s with the 62nd Tactical Airlift Squadron at Little Rock AFB in 1977. He and his crew won the award for “Best C-130 Airdrop Crew in MAC” at the prestigious air mobility exercise known as Volant Rodeo in 1981.

K.C. completed his Air Force service in 1982. He and his wife Liz, a kindergarten teacher from nearby Benton, AR, moved to Plano, TX. They had three sons — Jordan, Jason, and Jeff. K.C. worked as a quality/reliability engineer and program manager at several companies in the Dallas area including Texas Instruments, Amtech, and Raytheon.

Jordan, his oldest son, spoke simply and eloquently during the memorial service. I was movingly reassured that the traits Jordan referred to in remembering his father were unmistakably the same traits I recalled about my roommate — quiet but selectively passionate with a laser-like and fully absorbing focus, studious, thorough, competent, committed, and genuinely kind. Fortunately for me, however, his interest in reptiles did not manifest itself until sometime after graduation.

It’s fitting that, given his commitment to research and his engineering sense for wanting to understand how things work, he donated his body to medicine so that more could be learned about the rare disease that claimed his life so prematurely.

K.C. Steinbaugh is survived by his wife Liz, sons Jordan, Jason, and Jeff, and siblings Sherrie, Christine, Patti, and Ken.

Here’s a clip from the Charlie Rose Brain Series with Nobel Laureate Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner discussing CJD and its abnormal protein similarities to Parkinsons and Huntingtons diseases. The full episode is located at: www.charlierose.com/view/interview/12408

Annie’s Memoirs

A visual narration of the opening chapter of my novel in-progress about the memoirs of Annie Armstrong and her coming of age during the Manhattan Project. (4:19)  Excerpts from each chapter appear below. The full text is no longer available online, but you can listen to the complete chapters.

Chapter 1, The Cerro Grande Fire

Listen to Chapter 1: Prologue: The Cerro Grande Fire

I had planned to celebrate my 75th birthday with seven of my friends and neighbors on May 11, 2000. We went to the new Chili’s restaurant in Carlsbad. While we waited for our table, we stood outside the bar area. I could see that the 6 o’clock news from one of the Albuquerque stations was on the TV set. It looked like they were showing aerial footage of the big fire up near Los Alamos, which had been about the only news story in New Mexico for the week since it started. I couldn’t make out much from where I was standing, but when I saw the large caption across the bottom of the screen start flashing, I moved a few steps closer so I could read it.

“LOS ALAMOS EVACUATED” it flashed, several times. Then it changed ominously to “WHITE ROCK NEXT?”

I leaned against the nearest bar table for support. I couldn’t believe it. In the beginning, back in “those days,” everyone’s greatest fear was fire. Now all these years later and the growth of the “secret city” into the Los Alamos National Laboratory, this just couldn’t be. Three days earlier there had been warnings that residents should prepare for a possible evacuation, but this … just could not be happening.

In those days, the persistent fire threat that hung over the mesa was from a potential catastrophic accident, committed by a careless man or precocious nature. But this fire, what they’re calling the Cerro Grande Fire, wasn’t caused by a catastrophic accident — it had been intentionally started by man. The “prescribed controlled burn, ” said the experts, was supposed to reduce the risk of a future conflagration, a “fire to end future fires” to borrow a phrase. Instead, what man started under the delusion of control was taken over by a possessive Mother Nature who seemed intent on teaching man a lesson, like a reprimanding school marm sending the act-up to the dunce corner.

I thought back to the two houses that Miss Warner had turned into homes — the old and the new, one on the north side of the old road, the other on the south side of the new road, both west of “where the river makes a noise.” I did the math in my head … it had been 53 years since I helped build the new house. It was, coincidentally, my birthday weekend that work on the new house started. That was my last summer in Santa Fe.

I knew the old house wasn’t there anymore because it had been taken as an unwilling sacrifice for the new bridge and highway from Pojoaque to Los Alamos. Otherwise Miss Warner and Tilano would never have left the place that seemed as natural as the two mesas that guided the Rio Grande into White Rock Canyon — Shumo to the east and To-tavi to the west.

Did this fire threaten the new house? Was the house under To-tavi now at risk of itself becoming an unwilling sacrifice to the god of man’s misplaced confidence? Were its current occupants, surely descendants of the Martinez family or other pueblo relatives, now being punished like innocent children who just happened to be sitting next to the act-up, but were nevertheless sent to the corner?

I suddenly felt sick. I didn’t feel like celebrating or eating. I apologized and begged my puzzled friends’ forgiveness, then drove home while I tried to remember everything I could about the day that Miss Warner’s new house emerged from the earth.

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Chapter 2, The Purpose of the Plaster

Listen to Chapter 2: Purpose of the Plaster

I had driven up to Otowi with Mrs. McKibbin on Saturday, May 10th, 1947, the day before my 22nd birthday. The men from the pueblo, or “village” as Miss Warner referred to San Ildefonso, had gotten a head start by clearing the site of its scruffy vegetation. The place for the new house sat directly below the northern point of To-tavi mesa, snuggled up to its base, just south of the large garden that Tilano’s family had tended for generations. They had also unloaded large piles of sand, clay dirt, and stones nearby. In a few months, these natural materials provided by Mother Earth would be mixed and worked and set with caring hands, by those whose hearts were right, as the pueblo people say. The sand and dirt and stones would be transformed into the foundation and walls that would protect Miss Warner and Tilano from the autumn chill and the winter winds.

We arrived at the old house just as two carloads from the Hill pulled up, led by Mr. and Mrs. Bradbury and their family. Mr. Bradbury had taken over as director of Los Alamos after Oppie left when the war was over.

(I should explain that I never called Robert Oppenheimer that to his face, since I didn’t know him that well. Everyone else did. Mrs. McKibbin would either refer to him as “Oppie” or “the director.” The one time I had dinner with them at her house she called him “Robert” since they were good friends. I don’t remember anyone ever calling him anything other than “Oppie,” except for Tilano.)

Mrs. Bradbury was friends with both Miss Warner and Mrs. McKibbin and I always enjoyed being around her. I babysat their youngest boy a few times during the war and felt comfortable enough now to call her “Lois.”

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Chapter 3, Leaving Plainview

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According to the tradition of the pueblo peoples, a story should be told from its beginning. As I understand it, their stories all begin with the emergence from the underworld of Kokopelli, the humpbacked flute player who led the pueblo peoples to the “middle place,” above Mother Earth and below Father Sky.

KokopelliKokopelli entered the middle place with a purpose as well as a following. He carried a sack of seeds on his back which, as he strode across the expanses of the middle place, he spread upon the ground above Mother Earth. He played a flute that could be heard by all his followers, and more importantly by Father Sky, even in the darkness of night. When the time was right, and when the peoples’ hearts were right, Father Sky would respond to Kokopelli’s flute and cause the rain to fall. Then the seeds that rooted into Mother Earth would sprout into corn, beans, and wheat to feed the pueblo peoples.

And Kokopelli, as the fertile one responsible for all new life, also made sure that new babies were born so the pueblo peoples would grow in number.

That’s how the story of the pueblo peoples began, as it’s been spoken and passed from each generation’s memory to the next. And for centuries, that’s how it was illustrated in the petroglyphs etched into the volcanic rock all along the Rio Grande valleys and canyons in northern New Mexico. The simple silhouetted etchings of Kokopelli make the sack of seeds on his back appear to be a part of the being himself. That’s why Kokopelli is described as the humpbacked flute player.

Of course, when my story began I didn’t know any of this ancient history, or mythology if you’d rather call it that. When my story began, all I knew was that I was a 17-year old pregnant flute player who had to leave Plainview, Texas, because someone spread his seed to me.

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Chapter 4, Family and Flappers

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I don’t know why I would’ve been so aware of taking care of myself that day. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t taken care of myself.

I was an only child until the sixth grade when James Robert, or Jim Bob, came along, unexpectedly. I can’t say that I raised myself because I know Father and Momma were there, but I remember spending an awful lot of time by myself. I don’t mean this in a judgmental way, but I think early on I got a sense that “this is just the way it is” in terms of how Father and Momma were as parents. They were young when I came along and still trying to figure out things for themselves, much less knowing what they were supposed to do with me.

My father, RL Armstrong, was born on November 15, 1907, in Duncan, Oklahoma. Actually, he was born in Oklahoma Territory because the day after he was born is when Oklahoma officially became a state. More than once I heard him complain that if he had just been born one day later he might’ve been named “OK Armstrong” and everything would’ve been different. But instead, his father, my Grandfather Armstrong, named him RL just because he liked the sound of it. The initials were his name. They didn’t stand for anything other than him.

Father’s mother died during childbirth. He never talked about her, although of course he never knew her. He talked about his name, but not his mother.

Grandfather Armstrong had come to the Oklahoma Territory from Indiana, looking for land well after the sooner land runs, hoping to find a bargain. In those days, Oklahoma lands were still occupied by Indians so he felt he should stick close to the military forts. He chose Fort Arbuckle to start his search, but what little land offered for sale there was expensive on account of the land speculators. So when he heard some traders talking about cheap land out to the west near Fort Sill, he hopped on the train and headed out to the west.

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Chapter 5, Gordon and Chief

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It didn’t take me long to fall asleep once the train got moving. I used my coat as a pillow against the window and slept hard for about three hours. I woke up just as the train rocked to the side entering a curve. I opened my eyes and looked out into the darkness. All I could see were the dim figures of the telephone poles passing one after the other, one after the other, one after the other, and then I felt the sickness.

Fortunately the older woman sitting next to me was smaller and, judging by her snores, sound asleep. I managed my way around her to the aisle and then hurried back to the lavatory.

This was the first time in two weeks I’d been sick. Three months earlier when I found out I was pregnant, I got sick just about every day. When I started taking the summer shorthand course at the business college, the teacher gave me some hard looks when I had to excuse myself each morning. I lied and told her it was on account of something I must have picked up from my little brother.

After the first round of heavings, I knew I wasn’t through. I desperately wanted some water to rinse out my mouth. But I didn’t feel strong enough to climb up to my feet and didn’t trust myself to be able to get back down onto the floor and into position when the next heave came. I didn’t want to make a mess I’d have to clean up. So I just sat there, helplessly waiting for the nausea, at the mercy of a body I could not control.

I started to cry. For some reason, it hit me then how much I missed Gordon. Right after his accident, things seemed to happen one after the other and I just didn’t have time to really miss him. On the day of his funeral, I had this eerie sense that it wasn’t real, yet I felt something was missing. I shared thoughts, and feelings, and secrets with Gordon that I hadn’t told anybody else, and I wondered what had happened to those secrets.

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Chapter 6, Salvation

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Until Mrs. Davidson knocked on the front door as I was getting ready for bed, April the second had been one of the happiest days of my life. It was the day after April Fools, a Thursday, and the day we had band contest.

We were shooting to earn a seventh straight “Sweepstakes” award, which meant we had to make 1st Division ratings in all three areas of band competition — marching, concert, and sight-reading. Since Chief Davidson came to Plainview in 1935, his bands had earned Sweepstakes awards every year, and we weren’t going to let him down in 1942.

Chief himself never talked about the awards or let on there was any pressure to make 1st Division ratings. He didn’t talk about competing with other bands, like we had to go out-march or out-play them. What he emphasized over and over again was our challenge as a band to perform the music as the composer or arranger intended. It didn’t matter how good any of us played individually … all that mattered was how we performed together as a band.

Chief set high standards and expected a lot from us. But he made it clear that they were his standards and his expectations. He didn’t give a hoot or a holler what the Band Parents Club or the principal or the superintendent or even the contest judges thought. If we met his standards, we had “done good,” as he put it.

Gordon drove out to pick me up at 6:30 that morning. We lived nine miles west of town towards Olton, and a mile south on the road to Hale Center. The band was supposed to congregate at the city auditorium parking lot at 6:45 and be ready to leave at 7:00 sharp for the hour-long drive to Lubbock High School.

The Band Parents Club had bought an old delivery truck that was used to carry the tubas, drums, and baritones to football games, parades, and other events like contest. The rest of us were responsible for carrying our own instruments, uniforms, and hats. Each of the section leaders was in charge of making sure that everyone in that section was assigned to a car, some of which were driven by band members and others by band parents. When we got to the auditorium, I had to move from Gordon’s car to one of the two cars carrying the flutes.

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Chapter 7, The Swing ‘Bones

Listen to Chapter 7: The Swing ‘Bones

When we got back to Plainview we stopped at the city auditorium and turned in our uniforms so they could be cleaned. We wouldn’t need them again until the Pioneer Round-up Parade in May. Gordon had to wait until all the clarinet players checked in with their uniforms, then we headed off in his car to the city park for our celebration cookout hosted by the Band Parents Club.

The Band Parents Club was one of the best organizations in town. Chief never missed an opportunity to credit them as a big reason for his band’s success. They raised a lot of money to pay for things like uniforms, instruments, and scholarships for kids to take private lessons and attend band camp. Those scholarships were the only reason I was able to take a year of lessons with Chief when I was a freshman, and that’s how I got to go to the Tech band camp in Lubbock the summer before.

When Chief came to Plainview in 1935, the band parents weren’t organized. I was in the fifth grade that year, so I was in his very first beginner band. I remember the night we all sat in the auditorium and selected the instruments we were going to play. He introduced himself and told us he was very happy to be at Plainview. Then he started telling the parents how important they were.

“Listen, parents. I want to make sure you all understand that everybody in this room is part of the band. The kids will play the horns. Well, some of them’ll play the horns and some of them’ll just carry ‘em.”

He gnawed on his cigar and waited, then decided he’d better explain.

“Okay, that’s the first bad joke you’ll hear from me and I can dang near promise it won’t be the last.” He laughed out loud and the parents all turned to each other and laughed, too. It would take us fifth-graders a while longer to understand the joke.

“But what I mean, okay, is that it’s going to take more than just your kids and their instruments to make music. Your kids are going to need your support and your encouragement to become the kind of musicians you want them to be, and the kind I want them to be, and the kind they want to be. They’re going to want to practice — they’d better want to practice — when you’d rather listen to peace and quiet or the Sunday afternoon radio broadcast.

“When they need to practice their scales, you’re going to need to practice your patience. Because for a while, they aren’t going to sound very good. They’re going to squeak and blast and honk like lost Canadian geese. And you’re going to have to nod your heads while you’re holding your ears and say, “Well, Johnny … that sounds … better!

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Chapter 8, Quitaque Plans

Listen to Chapter 8: Quitaque Plans

Gordon was still standing up, looking at the music. “Well, gee!” I mimicked him. “How ‘bout that? Did you see that one coming?” I laughed and patted the ground for him to sit back down.

We finished eating and sat there for another thirty minutes or so, mostly talking about songs we’d like for The Swing ‘Bones to play. They had a very good reputation around Plainview for playing at banquets, like the Lions Club and for dances out at the country club. The year before they even got to go to Lubbock and play for a radio program.

“You know,” I said in my best attempt at playing cute, “what that band really needs — in addition to a handsome clarinet player — is a wonderful vocalist who some people say sounds just like Judy Garland … because I’m nobody’s baby now.”

Of course, I didn’t sound anything at all like Judy Garland. But Gordon jumped to his feet and then pulled me up and spun me around.

“Yes, yes! Gee, that’s a great idea. We need a singer. Why not?”

“Well, for one thing, I’d never sing in front of an audience.”

“Your mother does. And you’ve sung with her before, I’ve heard you. You’re good!”

Gordon was talking about the singing Momma did at the tent revival meetings. Father had taken to preaching at the tent revivals in some of the smaller towns like Edmondson and Hart and Silverton. He wasn’t ever the main preacher, but he had come up with a pretty good 12-minute testimony that usually brought people down for the altar call. What he would do is talk about himself, and what a sinner he had been and still was. And everything he said he had done and all the sins that he described were things that just about everybody did, or had done at least once. So he didn’t have to say that everyone there had sinned like he had, but by the time he had finished with them, that’s what they were thinking.

Then he’d get emotional at the end and explain that even though he had committed all these sins and done all these wrongs, Jesus still accepted him, and loved him, and wanted to forgive him. “Jesus knows me. And He knows what I’ve done. And even knowing all that sin, He’s willing to accept me, and love me, and forgive me … just as I am.”

“Jesus knows me,” was Momma’s cue to start playing the piano, real soft. Then she’d come in and start singing the hymn right as he finished — Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me. They almost always got a full altar with it, sometimes two-deep, which meant that Father got a decent cut of the love offering that night.

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Chapter 9, Mrs. Davidson at the Door

Listen to Chapter 9: Mrs. Davidson at the Door

I had just finished the chapter from Huckleberry Finn that was assigned for my American Literature class when I heard a car door shut. My bedroom was on the west side of the house and stuck out beyond the front wall of the living room. I had a side window that looked out onto the front porch. I walked over and pulled the curtains aside enough to recognize Mrs. Davidson at the door.

Oh, no. I thought. Something must have happened to Chief! But why was Mrs. Davidson here at our house at ten o’clock?

I put on my robe and slippers and walked into the living room as she knocked on the door. I turned on the lamp and could hear Father and Momma stirring in their bedroom. Jim Bob was already asleep.

I opened the door, and the first thing I saw were her tears. Her lower lip was quivering and her left arm was shaking. Her purse hung on that arm, and it was open at the top so that I could see she was carrying a Bible.

Momma was at my shoulder. “Nellie, come in. What is it? Sit down here.” She turned to Father. “RL, get her some water and put some coffee on.”

Mrs. Davidson’s breathing was labored. “No, Mozelle, thanks, just some water would be fine. I don’t how to … I just don’t …” Father brought the water and she took a sip, which seemed to calm her. Father stepped away to give her space. Momma and I sat on the divan.

“Chief got a call about eight-thirty from Dr. Jones at the hospital.”

I started to cry, even though I couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t Chief. It must be Gordon. It had to be.

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Suspended in Stereotypes

Race Gender and Stereotypes in the Media CoverThis essay was my contribution to: A. M. George and T. Thomason (Eds.), Race, gender and other stereotypes: A reader for professional communicators (pp. 7-13). San Diego: Cognella. ISBN 978-1-6092763-0-0. Available mid-2012.

Suspended in Stereotypes

Niels Bohr, an icon of 20th-century physics, was also an astute observer of language and behavior. “Our task is to communicate experience and ideas to others” (Petersen, 1985, p. 301). “It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature” (Petersen, 1985, p. 305). “We are suspended in language in such a way that we cannot say what is up and what is down” (Petersen, 1985, p. 302).

This last statement relates to Bohr’s formulation of what he called complementarity. One of the conundrums of early 20th-century physics concerned the fact that, under certain experimental conditions, light behaved as particles in a “shower of photons” (Einstein & Infeld, 1938, p. 297). Under other conditions using different observational and measurement methods, light exhibited the characteristics of a wave. Prior to Bohr, physicists were captive to the prevailing language of physics, which carved up definitional structures of mutual exclusivity. By definition, waves behaved in ways that particles did not, therefore a wave could not be a particle. So what was light really — a particle or wave?

Bohr resolved the apparent paradox by rising above the definitions to focus on the observed behavior of light, regardless of the definitional label. He demonstrated that the relative perspective of the observer, including how the observer chose to measure and evaluate the phenomenon, directly affected the observer’s perceptions, measurements, and evaluations of the observed behavior.

Bohr’s notion of complementarity (and its eastern Taoist cousin, mutually-dependent yin and yang) provided an alternative point of view to the western philosophical tradition based on dichotomous, either/or, thinking. Bohr showed that the problem wasn’t with light itself, or with how the physicists measured light. The problem was in the limitation of the vocabulary that physicists had at their disposal to classify light. “Is light a particle or a wave?” presumed that light had to be one or the other, either particle or wave. Bohr proposed that the particle/wave debate resulted from an inappropriate application of either/or thinking. From his complementary perspective, the debate dissolved from an either/or labeling stalemate to a both/and understanding that rose above the labels; light exhibited the characteristics of both particles and waves.

In other words, Bohr argued that physicists had to overcome their stereotypical thinking about waves and particles in light of what they were observing about light. Their observations of light caused them to reevaluate their presumed categorical distinctions between particles and waves. Rather than focus on just the similarities between light and particles, and the differences between light and waves, they had to think in terms of both similarities and differences. Rather than think in terms of only two values, physicists had to orient themselves toward “many-valued” thinking (Korzybski, 1994, p. 93).

This type of thinking — complementarity, yin/yang, both/and, many-valued, or whatever label you prefer — is necessary to resist the easy inclination to adhere to rigid and categorical labels that we typically refer to as stereotyping.

Although that term carries a (usually deservedly) negative connotation, we can think of this type of generalizing activity on a continuum. The order and placement can be argued, but notionally such a continuum could be depicted this way.

Stereotype Spectrum

What distinguishes the “More Benign” activity on the left from the “More Consequential” on the right?

At the far left, as human beings with a highly-developed nervous system, we have learned through our life experiences to automatically recognize and categorize many different types of stimuli. We immediately differentiate people from animals from plants, strangers from friends and family, foods from tools, danger from routine, etc. Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee (2005) refer to this process generally as pattern-matching. They explain that this activity occurs at multiple levels in the hierarchy of the nervous system. From sensory stimulation to cognitive awareness, your nervous system makes inferences as it attempts to match current stimulus data with past experience and memory. Even at the most basic levels (distinguishing the edge or color shading of an object), your brain must take incomplete sensory data and “fill in the gaps” with guesses or assumptions in order to create an integrated image of what you believe you see. At this neurological level, “stereotyping is an inherent feature of the brain” (Hawkins & Blakeslee, 2005, p. 204). We are, to paraphrase Bohr, suspended in stereotypes.

To the right, however, lies the more consequential and problematic behaviors that we usually attribute as stereotyping. Such behaviors and underlying attitudes can be considered non-complementary in that they reflect the most simplistic either/or, categorical, and uncritical thinking; some may even say lack of thinking. They presume similarities and disregard differences, and can extend from an individual to a group, or from a group to the individual. They may be labeled as bias, pre-judgment, or prejudice. In every instance, however, such attitudes and behaviors result from a failure of recognizing both differences within similarities, and similarities among differences. “We discriminate against people to the degree we fail to distinguish between them” (Lee, 1952).

An aphorism purports that there is a kernel of truth in every stereotype. That might be worth considering, both in terms of “what if there’s not?” as well as “so what if there is?” I would suggest that the flip side of the aphorism is also worth considering: “every label lies a little.” We should remember that, as verbal constructions, labels and stereotypes do not exist in the material world. They reflect symbolic expressions that, more often than not, arise from arbitrary, superficial, and inconclusive classifications and judgments. Nevertheless, indiscriminate, biased, and prejudicial judgments against individuals and groups can have devastating individual and societal consequences.

“We must consider ourselves as a symbolic, semantic class of life, and those who rule the symbols, rule us” (Korzybski, 1994, p. 76). The first line of defense against potential symbolic subjugation is to become aware of, and practice, a complementary attitude about the verbal environment in which we find ourselves suspended. Within items labeled or categorized as similar, look for and recognize differences; among items that appear to be different, look for similarities. Rather than think in two-valued terms like either/or, right/wrong, or good/bad, consider the fuzzy, middle, gray many-valued areas that lie in between. Look for the lie in every label. Remember that the more time and attention you give to someone else’s verbal categories, classifications, and stereotypes, the less time you have to develop yourself in your own “real world of nature” (Maslow, 1987, p. 129).

And that time is a terrible thing to waste.

Discussion Exercises

  1. You recently heard a new band at your local club that you really liked. You want to encourage your Facebook friends to download a free track from the band’s Facebook page. How might you describe the band’s music so that your friends will check out the band’s page, and have some idea as to what they should expect to hear? Discuss your description with others. Is any stereotypical thinking exhibited?
  2. How might you describe the band’s music if you dislike it and wanted to urge your friends to avoid the band?
  3. Break up into groups of two or three. In three minutes, list as many different criteria as you can that could be used to stereotype an individual or a group?
  4. Assume you are a reporter covering a crime story. If one or more of the stereotyped criteria listed in the previous exercise applied to the victim or the perpetrator, how would you decide if those descriptors are relevant to the story?
  5. Does stereotyping factor into discussions about how to segment a target audience for a new product launch? Or for a press release on behalf of a candidate in a heated political campaign? Are there “kernels of truth” that underlie such targeted decisions?

 

References

Einstein, A., & Infeld, L. (1938). The Evolution of Physics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Hawkins, J., & Blakeslee, S. (2005). On Intelligence: How a new understanding of the brain will lead to the creation of truly intelligent machines. New York: Holt Paperbacks.

Korzybski, A. (1994). Science and Sanity: An introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics (5th ed.). Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

Lee, I.J. (1952). Talking Sense video series. Englewood, NJ: Institute of General Semantics.

Maslow, A.H. (1987). Motivation and Personality (3rd ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Petersen, A. (1985). The Philosophy of Niels Bohr. In A.P. French (Ed.), Niels Bohr: a centenary volume (pp. 299-310). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

Passages for Uncertain Career Journeys

My friend and former career adviser Helen Harkness was asked to edit a special edition of a journal for career development professional in 2010. She invited me to submit an article/essay, which was accepted. The theme of the special edition was Mid Life Career Crisis: How chaos theory and positive psychology can help.

The edition was published and distributed in February 2011, although the cover unfortunately and mistakenly notes “Spring 2010.” I also was displeased with the production formatting of my article, “Passages for Uncertain Career Journeys,” in that the production editor suppressed most of my paragraph breaks. Therefore I’ve converted the text to HTML with my intended formatting, shown below.


I sat back in my chair, content with yet another recitation of my life’s achievements. Looking across the desk and out the window, past the placement specialist who specialized in placing ex-military junior officers at leading corporations, I hoped this would be the last of these interviews. I gazed across the nondescript suburban office complex toward downtown Houston. Was this the landscape of my future?

“So let me get this straight.” Glancing up from his notes, the specialist brought me back to the present.

“You didn’t really know what you wanted to do coming out of high school. You went to the Air Force Academy because it was the best college offer you got, not because you really wanted to go there. You didn’t know what you wanted to study, so you majored in Humanities because you made better grades in those courses. Your eyes were too bad for pilot training, so after graduation you went to navigator training because you were told that was your best opportunity. You gave up a graduate school slot because you decided to get out of the Air Force, and now you’re looking for a civilian job. But you can’t really say what you want to do.”

“Other than,” he glared at me as though I were a defendant under cross-examination, “you’re just looking for ‘the best opportunity available.’ Did I get that right, Mr. Stockdale?”

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I had entered the turbulent waters of my first uncharted career passage. I had left a secure, predictable, but unfulfilling work life where my responsibilities were simply to follow orders. I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I just wanted to find an employer who wanted me. Then I’d prove myself and adjust, just as I had adapted to life at the Air Force Academy and in the Air Force. And that’s what I did, for awhile.

Two months after that interview in 1982, I got a job in program management at a defense electronics company in the Dallas area. After seventeen years (which included a divorce, midlife crisis, and multiple attempts to find another job), the company moved our business unit out of state. Rather than relocate, I accepted a severance package. Six months later, I found a similar job with another defense electronics company. I lasted a year before I remembered how much I didn’t enjoy that kind of work. Then I attempted to begin an Internet venture; three months later I admitted failure. For the next two years I worked part-time for a nonprofit organization while I tried and failed to develop a consulting business. Then I became the full-time chief executive of the nonprofit and felt, finally, that I had found my place, my career home. Four years later I resigned when it became apparent that the trustees did not share my vision for the organization. I taught one course as an adjunct professor at a private university. For a year I produced virtually no income. I moved to Santa Fe to fall back, re-group, and start over. Two years later, I’m still re-grouping while enrolled in an Educational Psychology graduate program. I’m doing what I want to do.

My ‘expertise’ is obviously not in realizing a successful career. I have, however, survived a series of career passages that, of course, are unique to me. But it’s possible that some of my experiences and learned lessons can serve to instruct, motivate and even inspire some of your clients. Therefore I offer these eight passages that have helped me navigate my own career journeys — from my own self-exploration and discoveries, to the potentially paralyzing fears and anxieties of the unknown, to the zigs and zags of good and bad decisions, and through the unexpected and unpredictable circumstances that have brought me to my current, self-selected, present position.

I lived with the terrible knowledge that one day I would be an old man, still waiting for my real life to start.

Pat Conroy (1)

Before your clients come to you, they’ve probably already experienced some kind of triggering event or catalyzing moment, possibly resulting from factors that have been accumulating over time. My moment came when I read this passage from Pat Conroy’s novel, The Prince of Tides. Conroy, through his fictional character, expressed an inner feeling that had resided in me for several years, but I didn’t have the courage, awareness or vocabulary to articulate it myself. For almost twenty years, this statement has served as a touchstone for me to measure my progress against, as well as a consistent source of motivation and encouragement for me to live my real life.

Of course, this specific quote may not mean much to your clients. They may have different quotes, anecdotes or experiences that serve a similar purpose for them. If so, encourage them to keep those memories handy. And if any of your clients have not verbalized that trigger or event, ask them to articulate it in whatever way they’ll find most meaningful. Because at some point during their own explorations into uncertainty, they’ll need to remember why they chose to embark on this journey, and why they don’t want to turn back.

The self explorer, whether he wants to or not, becomes an explorer of everything else.

Elias Canetti (2)

Like me, your clients may have difficulty in answering the question, “What do you want to do?” Of course, if they can admit that to you (and themselves), then they’ve already taken the first step in acknowledging that they need to undertake a process of internal examination, exploration, and discovery.

Psychological assessments and inventories can provide indispensable insights to individuals seeking to better understand themselves. I considered myself to be more self-aware and introspective than most. But I realized how much more of my “self” I needed to explore when I became familiar with instruments such as the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory, the California Psychological Inventory, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the 16PF Development Profile, and the Holland codes indicated by the Self-Directed Search. Integrating the results of these tools with my own life experiences, I gained insight and understanding that I don’t believe would’ve been possible otherwise.

For example, my Myers-Briggs results highlighted two items that I found immediately relevant and helpful. My type (E/INTJ) indicated that I did not exhibit a clear preference on the Extraversion-Introversion scale. This ambiguity can result in internal tensions in terms of whether or not I want to work alone or with other people; how willing I am to assert myself in a leadership role; and how willing I am to socialize, network, develop contacts, etc. I also understood how my type results define the boundaries of my temperament preferences, or “comfort zone.” I realized that my strong preferences toward the iNtuitive, Thinking, and Judging scales revealed potential deficiencies on the other ends of the scales. In other words, to expand my “comfort zone” with a strong iNtuitive preference, I could benefit by paying more attention to the cold hard Sensing facts of a situation; with a strong Judging preference, I needed to exercise more Perceiving spontaneity.

I think it’s important for clients to understand three things regarding their strengths as indicated by assessment instruments. First, clients need to build on their strengths; these are what most differentiate them from others and most likely feed into their interests, motivations, etc. Second, clients should not take their own strengths and natural abilities for granted; just because something comes easy to them, they should not assume that “it’s no big deal, everybody does that — don’t they?” Third, the cautionary adage about “too much of a good thing” holds true in terms of strengths; they can lead to problems, especially with respect to very strong Myers-Briggs preferences.

The results from these types of instruments may strengthen your clients’ sense of self-awareness, motivations, and expectations. These instruments can also, within limits, help clients gain understanding and appreciation for others in terms of similarities shared, or differences evidenced. So as clients utilize these instruments to explore themselves, they may also find them useful in exploring their relationships with others.

By midlife, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.

John Gardner (3)

One of the possible outcomes of self-exploration resulting from career uncertainties is the realization that a sizeable gap may exist between one’s long-held self-perceptions, and what one discovers from these explorations. “Where did the old me go? How did I end up here? Who am I really?” As part of the career development process, your clients will each have to reconcile this gap; what do I want to be true, and what will I have to do to make it so?

This gap between self-perception and reality is lyrically reflected by John, bar friend to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”: Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star, if I could get out of this place. John cannot make his self-perception (movie star) become true because he can’t, or won’t, initiate the prerequisite (to get out of this place). Like Marlon Brando’s Terry in On the Waterfront (“I coulda been a contender”), Joel’s John has made himself a fugitive from his hopes, dreams, and possibly needs.

Sometimes we simply choose to say “no” to opportunities to escape this place. I said “no” twice.

From the day I graduated from the Air Force Academy and entered active duty, I wanted to return to the Academy and teach. I applied for a program in which the Air Force would send me to graduate school in preparation for a faculty position. I was accepted into the program, but I had to wait three years until my graduate school slot opened. Rather than wait, I decided to resign my commission when my duty commitment was over, which led me to that placement specialist’s office in Houston.

While working for a defense contractor in 1987, I was offered my dream job — a position I had lobbied top management to create in then-West Germany. But I turned it down because my wife wouldn’t consider moving. That, on top of other previous issues, resulted in a steady deterioration of my marriage, uncertainty and dissatisfaction with my employer, and a full-blown, no holds barred mid-life crisis. After three years of therapy, I had to accept that the marriage could not be maintained and I initiated a divorce.

Your clients would do well to realize that their occupational conflicts are inseparably interrelated with other realms of their lives such as marriage, family, friends, and social involvements. It’s difficult to compartmentalize career concerns without affecting or being influenced by other aspects of one’s life. If clients aren’t consciously aware of their own attitudes, behaviors, and relationships — across all aspects of their lives — the gap between self-perception and reality may grow; they may find they are fugitives from themselves in more than one respect.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

George Bernard Shaw (4)

Whose sets of expectations are your clients trying to fulfill — theirs, or someone else’s? It’s become a theatrical cliché, and predictable plot conflict, to portray a doting parent trying to re-live past glories or live unrealized dreams through a child. Or the parents who expect to feed their own egos through the accomplishments of “my daughter, the doctor.” For a variety of reasons and circumstances, some children grow up with a desire to please their parents, or accept without question that they should follow in a parent’s footsteps.

A few years ago, I participated in a Career Day activity at a high school near Dallas. My assignment was to conduct mock hiring interviews to give the soon-to-graduate seniors an opportunity to practice their interviewing skills. I remember one young man whose résumé was filled with references to band, drama club, and several service organizations. I was surprised when he informed me of his college plans to major in accounting. Nothing on his résumé mentioned accounting, math, or business — all of his interests and accomplishments related to creative, social, or service activities. I asked him about his interest in accounting and he replied, “Well, my dad’s an accountant so I thought it would be good for me, too.” I asked him about his other interests — music, drama, his volunteering experiences. He explained, matter-of-factly, that he did enjoy all those things, but he didn’t see how he could make a living at them. On the other hand, he expected he could make a living as an accountant.

That’s a responsible, practical attitude for a high school senior. That’s conventional wisdom. That’s playing to the script, dancing to the beat, and coloring within the lines. I wonder, however, how many of these prudent 18-year olds will become career development clients over the next 20-30 years because they willingly, if unwittingly, appropriated someone else’s aspirations as their own.

There is no coming to consciousness without pain.

Carl Jung (5)

The term “growing pains” is not just a metaphor. Real growth can result in real pains and aches. The aphorism that nothing grows in nature without shedding is worth remembering in this context. The changes that one pursues in order to reconcile the differences between self-perceptions and actual life; the changes that result from self-explorations and recognition of personality, temperament, and attitudinal preferences; the changes that will propel one to correct back to “real life” — these changes will not be realized without some degree of anxiety, stress, discomfort, and even pain. Author Barbara Winter asks, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” (6) Every client should confront that question, as well as the implications of their own personal answers.

Rather than expose themselves to these emotional challenges, some clients may deny the need for significant change. They may rationalize that they just need to do a better job of adjusting or adapting to their circumstances. They may try to wish the change away or passively bequeath responsibility to Fate or Destiny: Things aren’t really that bad. I can make it until things get better. They may well become worried and fearful when contemplating what a major change might mean. As Helen Harkness has written, for them change isn’t possible until the pain of their actual present becomes greater than the fear of their imagined future. (7)

Jung also acknowledged the role that emotion, more so than reason, plays in initiating action: “There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.” (8) Your clients were probably motivated to begin their journey of self discovery by their own versions of my waiting for my real life to start moment. As they actually venture out into the uncharted and uncertain waters of taking real action, they need to remember that triggering moment and the emotions that accompanied it. At this critical decision point in their career passage, when they either launch into the unknown or return to the intolerable comfort of living as fugitives from themselves, they will likely need the memory of that initial emotional charge to fuel their advance and deny their retreat.

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

Marcus Aurelius

Emotional courage from a catalytic trigger may get your clients to embark on their journey into the unknown and uncertain, but of course that won’t be the last challenge they’ll have to confront. They can expect disappointment, failure, doubt, anxiety, and perhaps every emotion in their vocabulary. How they navigate around and through the myriad obstacles that can host these potential emotional crises is crucial to their willingness, motivation, and confidence to continue the journey. Events such as an ambivalent interview, a rejection letter from an editor, or a disappointing networking contact can become simple setbacks easily forgotten, or journey-ending crises, depending on how the client responds to them.

The growing field of Positive Psychology has much to say in this regard. As explained in the PBS series “This Emotional Life,” psychologists differentiate between rumination in which individuals tend to obsess or fixate over an event or a situation, vs. re-appraisal, whereby the event or situation can be evaluated from multiple perspectives or contexts. In other words, our emotions do not have to be held captive to emotional triggers, crises, and disappointments; we can control or re-appraise the degree to which those outside events affect our inside responses. Psychologist James Gross at Stanford University offers this finding in simple, unambiguous terms: “There is an important role for thinking in emotions. If you can change the way you think, you can change the way you feel.” Narrator Daniel Gilbert, talking about a class in forgiveness offered by Stanford professor Fred Luskin, explains that Luskin “provides exercises to help the students see that they can’t control what happened to them, but they can control how they think about it.” (9)

Channeling the spirit of Marcus Aurelius, the appropriately nautical aphorism reminds us that, “We cannot command the wind, but we can adjust our sails.”

The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (10)

One of the standard mantras of career counselors and advisors is for clients to set goals and work religiously toward those goals to ensure a successful career. I’ve known people who were able to follow this formula to very successful and fulfilling careers. High school friends knew they wanted to become farmers, veterinarians, doctors, teachers, coaches, business owners, and that’s what they did. Classmates from the Air Force Academy became pilots, test pilots, airline pilots, space shuttle commanders, and even four-star generals. They set a course early and took off, into their own individual wild blue yonders.

This approach becomes problematic, however, for people like me, and perhaps some your clients, who have trouble answering that pesky “what do you want to do” question. That’s not to say that the principle of goal-setting can’t be applied by someone who is uncertain or conflicted — it just requires that the goal be defined a little more broadly and a little more flexibly. This quote from Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” serves as a reminder that point-to-point, direct line courses are great if possible, but during the course of any career there are going to be times when the job-related winds, currents, and other factors beyond the individual’s control preclude a point-to-point course. It takes effort, and confidence, to steer in a direction that you know is off the point-to-point course and will eventually require a compensating correction. But as Emerson points out, careful, deliberate, and accurate tacking will get you to your destination; what’s important isn’t the track of the tacks, but the course of the “average tendency” such that the ship (your career) arrives in its intended port.

Applying the navigation metaphor to careers, even if your clients can’t articulate precisely what they want to do, they can probably determine a general direction where their interests might lie. And they can certainly avoid heading in what they know to be a wrong direction. This or that particular job might not be a for-the-rest-of-my-life job, but it might serve as a “tack” that positions one to gain necessary experience, establish a well-connected contact, or learn lessons that will prove valuable when initiating “course corrections” in the future.

Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college.
But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.
You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.
This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Steve Jobs (11)

This concluding passage comes from the 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. Steve Jobs’ metaphor of looking backwards to “connect the dots” provides a nice bookend to Emerson’s “zigzag tacking” metaphor. Effective navigating includes not just looking forward, but regularly taking a “present position” to assess where you are relative to your intended course. By connecting these present positions, or dots, you establish and visualize your track. If you extend this track, you can project where you will be when the time comes for your next present position update. If that projection (or “dead reckoning position,” in navigational terms) shows you off course, you can initiate a turn (or tack) back to course. In other words, it’s a good idea to regularly stop and determine where you are, where you’ve been, and if you’re “on course” for where you want to go. The longer you delay correcting back to course, the further off track you’ll wander, which means you’ll have to make a more severe correction to reach your destination.

The second part of this quote is about trust. Although Jobs allows this trust to be allocated in “your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever,” for the benefit of your clients I would specify that they need to develop trust in themselves and their own intuitions, decision-making judgments, etc. Throughout this career process — from the earliest dissatisfactions and frustrations to the fears and pains of life-altering decisions to the challenges and struggles inherent in major course corrections — there is no sure-fire, can’t lose, guarantee for success. At various points along the way, your clients will have to make decisions that result in actions. Knowledge, awareness, and understanding are necessary but not sufficient — each one of them will have to act, to do. And every decision made and every action taken will involve some degree of risk. As your clients develop confidence and trust in themselves, that trust will inform their abilities to judge risk and empower their determination to act.

Perhaps I should conclude with a disclaimer: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. I hope that’s not necessary. I doubt anyone will read my story and be so inspired to proclaim: Yeah, that’s how I want to do it! I have zigged and zagged through at least a dozen different jobs with six different employers in five completely different fields. At every decision point I’ve encountered or created, my choices could rightfully be judged as irresponsible, not practical, and against conventional wisdom. They deviated from the script, didn’t conform to the beat, and strayed way outside of the lines. But each choice represented a tack, a career course correction that, in hindsight and with sufficient distance, reveals my authentic “average tendency.” These course corrections document the trail of a former fugitive returning, not to a safe harbor, but to the openness of an uncharted, but navigable, sea of possibilities.

After four decades, I’ve come to understand and internalize the poster I had on my wall through high school: A ship in the harbor is safe; but that is not what ships are built for. (12)

NOTES

  1. Conroy, Pat. (1987). The Prince of Tides, New York, New York, Bantam Books.
  2. Canetti, Elias. (2005). The Secret Heart Of The Clock: Notes, Aphorisms, Fragments 1973-1985. New York, NY. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  3. Gardner, John. (1990). Personal Renewal. Delivered to McKinsey & Company, Phoenix, AZ. http://www.pbs.org/johngardner/sections/writings_speech_1.html
  4. Shaw, George Bernard. (1922). Man and Superman, A Comedy and a Philosophy. New York, NY. Brentano’s.
  5. Jung, Carl. (1928). Contributions to Analytical Psychology. New York, New York. Harcourt Brace.
  6. Winter, Barbara J. (2009). Making a Living Without a Job. New York. Bantam Books.
  7. Harkness, Helen. (2005). Capitalizing on Career Chaos: Bringing Creativity and Purpose to Your Work and Life. Mountain View, CA. Davies-Black Publishing.
  8. Jung, Carl. (1953). Psychological Reflections: An Anthology of the Writings of C. G. Jung. New York. Pantheon Books.
  9. “This Emotional Life.” http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/home
  10. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. (1838, 1974). Essay on Self-Reliance. The American Tradition in Literature. Fourth Edition. New York, NY. Grosset & Dunlap.
  11. Jobs, Steve. (2005) Commencement Address, Stanford, CA. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html
  12. Shedd, John A. (1928). Salt from My Attic. Portland, ME. Mosher Press.

Capitalizing on Career Chaos

I contributed to the book by a mentor, Dr. Helen Harkness, Capitalizing on Career Chaos: Bringing Creativity and Purpose to Your Work and Life, (2005, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, ISBN 0-89106-209-2). Following are the excerpts that document my case study.

Page 41

Success Based on the Authentic Self

Steve graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1976 and served in the air force as an instructor navigator in the KC-135 air refueling aircraft until 1982. Then he left the military and began a career in the defense industry. Although he put his generalist skills to good use with diverse responsibilities in engineering, finance, marketing, and project management, he always felt a bit like a fish out of water.

Steve decided to cut back on his defense industry job so he could create more time for his passion — writing and teaching about the field known as general semantics. He had served since 1996 as a trustee for the Institute of General Semantics in New Jersey and felt this work was worthy of as much of his time as he could allow. He envisioned working as a part-time consultant so that he could devote more time to the Institute.

Steve boldly ventured out onto a very thin limb. He quit his defense industry job to start an Internet-based business to cater to adult singles. He was convinced this demographic group had a unique set of needs and offered a business opportunity, but he couldn’t figure out how to make money with it.

In June 2001, he abandoned that idea, sold his house, traded down cars, put his belongings in storage, and decided he would look for a teaching job. Two months of researching and learning about the Texas public school bureaucracy relieved him of that notion.

Embracing his career uncertainty, Steve loaded his car and traveled around the western United States. He was visiting relatives in Washington on September 11, 2001. He immediately headed back home to Dallas. On the way there, he learned that the Institute of General Semantics in New Jersey needed someone to organize sixty years of archives and library materials.

Given his interest in and knowledge of the organization, and the fact that he wasn’t doing anything else, he volunteered to spend the next three months in New Jersey working in the archives. That led to a part-time job for him with the Institute beginning in 2002, which led to him moving the archives and library to an office in Fort Worth. Steve became the full-time executive director of the organization in January 2004, when the Institute moved to Fort Worth. Steve’s career is now in line with his authentic self.

Page 64

ACTIVITY 1: Finding Clues to Your Meaning Magnets

Obtain a small notebook to carry in your purse or pocket for one month.

  • Each time you identify a factor deeply and unquestionably essential in your personal and professional life, write it down.
  • Jot down any “ah-has!” that occur to you.
  • Think about your daydreams and aspirations and record those you can remember.
  • Think about their relationship to each other and to your current career and past careers. Are there elements that tie daydreams and aspirations together?

Steve’ Meaning Magnets

When Steve, the former air force instructor navigator who wanted to work in the field of semantics, began looking at his Meaning Magnets, he discovered he wanted to:

  • Leave his mark on the people and organizations he became involved with;
  • Improve things, to make people/things work or operate better, and pass on these improvements or lessons learned to others;
  • Make a difference;
  • March to his own drummer.

Page 67

Steve’s Accomplishments

The final accomplishment I related concerned a one-act play I wrote for a creative writing class I took at the Air Force Academy. The play, “The Unveiling of Ourselves,” was written as a morality play to express concerns I had at the time regarding the failure of people to assert their independence and individuality while falling victim to either the influence of peer pressures or the seduction of the ways of the world.

Reflecting back on that theme years later, I’m amazed that, in a sense, my entire adult life has been spent grappling with the same issues that the protagonist faced in trying to unveil his own true self. The play won an award for the best one-act play and was published in the annual collection of creative writing produced by the Department of English and Fine Arts.

Here are some of the talents, skills, and abilities I learned I have:

  • Creativity and intelligence;
  • A sense of responsibility to perform, to accomplish, and to improve on the activities I participate in;
  • Ability to function within a team or organizational environment, while also maintaining an obvious individuality and nonconforming attitude.

I thought about how easy it has been for me to overlook and underappreciate my own talents and skills and about how I tend to erroneously assume that what comes easy to me does so for everybody else.

Steve’s Success Criteria

For my success criteria — my glass balls — I want and need the following:

  • To interact with knowledgeable, competent people;
  • To be free from financial worries on a modest scale: not motivated to make money, just not having to worry about making money;
  • Positive recognition;
  • Flexibility to organize, plan, communicate, synthesize, and so on, according to my own priorities.