• About Me

    I’m an opinionated Grumpy Old Man. I enjoy the intellectual give and take that goes along with that, but have very little patience for stupid people (Note: there is a big difference between “stupid” and “educated”. Some of the stupidest people I’ve ever met have a PhD…). Beside arguing, I like to build things in almost any media. Right now I’m mostly building in wood, Lego, and a bunch of different electronic media. I teach in a number of different venues - from preschool all the way through graduate school. Subjects range from talmud to neuroscience to engineering.

    For fun, I like to bash people with swords (OK, so they’re made of foam. It’s still fun). Although I spend a lot of my time in a wheelchair, I manage to keep pretty active (Like bashing people with swords). I am a libertarian, and have a hard time finding anything good to say about government or politicians. OK, politicians might make good sausage, but that's about as good as it gets.

    Cope

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  • June 2007
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Who are you?

How do you define yourself? If you had to come up with a quick short answer to describe who you are, what would it be?

It turns that many people define themselves and others either by their job (if they are employed), or by their spouse’s job (if they are a stay-at-home parent). This has a number of interesting repercussions when we (or our spouse) changes jobs. I’m not talking about moving from one company to another, but keeping the same job. I’m talking about complete career change. From the office to construction (or the other way around). From industry to academia, from employee to executive. Major changes in what you do, and what your job is called.

I’ve had the good fortune to go through a few major career changes in my life – academia to industry to executive to “retired” (more on that later). In hind site, it was interesting to see the way people’s initial reactions to me changed with my different titles. When I was in academia (Why yes Timmy, I am a brain surgeon) people would ask what I did, then quickly change the subject as their eyes glazed over. The fact that I was a “professor” was worth some instant respect (deserved or not), but there was always that undercurrent of “why academia?”, and of course, once people found out I worked in research biology (I studied the development of sensory systems), I would get all kinds of “My doctor said…….. What do you think?”

My shift to industry – high tech to be exact – resulted in a change in the way people reacted. At the time, high tech was still a braniac field. This was before the web. but after home PCs were getting common, so the conversation almost always moved to “Gee, my computer at home/work is having this problem. What do you think it is?”

Leaving the hands-on aspect of high tech and going into the corner offices catapulted me from “respected Geek” to Someone Who Must Know All About (Fill in your favorite bit of business/market/international trade here). By this time, the high tech bubble was starting to take off, so folks assumed I was super rich (How many companies have you sold?), had the inside track on every IPO or rumor of mergers, and knew about every single emerging tech toy in the world. OK, so maybe the last one – that was my job after all (I was always the CTO or CIO, so keeping up with technology was part of what I was paid to do). Now, the conversations always seemed to drift to “I invested in Acme Widgets. What do you think about them? Should I dump them and invest somewhere else? Got any hot leads on IPOs?”

Then I “retired”, and the bubble burst. First some words on “retiring”. I didn’t “retire” the traditional ways – you know, sticking at a job until you’re 65, or cashing out that major stock option and simply not really having to work any more. My “retirement” was not by choice – I destroyed a significant portion of my spinal column, and work became physically impossible. So, the changes in the way people approach me may have something to do with that – I’m usually in a wheelchair now, and something like that can really change the way strangers think of you. Anyway, the normal reactions I get now – once someone gets over the fact that I’m in a chair – is a desperate attempt to pretend I’m “normal”. Maybe a hint of “what happened to you” or “were you in the war?” (Yes, but a different one a long time ago, and I wasn’t injured in it). Nobody ever asks what I do. I find this truly fascinating, because in a lot of ways, I do a lot more now than I did when I was employed. I teach at 3 different schools, I am putting together a non-profit educational company, I volunteer at all kinds of things – in other words, I keep busy.

So what does all this mean? I don’t know. I do know that people seem to have a lot of pre-determined ideas about who someone is based on their job. What is really amazing to me is that these preconceptions seem to override what the person looks like. I have been a scruffy long-haired bearded freak for most of my life (Not while I was in the army, but pretty much the rest of the time). In academia, this was viewed as an acceptable eccentricity. In high tech, it was almost mandatory for a tech geek to have long hair and be a bit unkempt. In the executive world, people would look the other way because I was really good at what I did, and besides, Geeks are supposed to look like that.

Another interesting observation I can make is that very often a spouse will be more dependent on your employment identity than you can imagine. When I punted out of the executive game, my wife completely lost her sense of who she was. She had a job of her own (she’s a nurse), but was completely hooked on being Mrs. Executive. She spent a long time floundering around trying to figure out who she was going to be – it had to be someone with social status, and a nurse just wasn’t good enough. Anyway, that part of my life is past (we’re divorced), and I’m not sure who she finally decided to be, but it was truly fascinating to witness (and not so fun to live with..)

So, who are you? are you a career, or do you identify yourself some other way?

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