In the midst of challenges, find a little room for humor

So, this maintenance manager walks into a bar and . . . It is right about this point that our in-house editor at Life Cycle (bless her little pea-pickin’ heart!) starts bleeding all over my proposed articles for publication. She says that magazine and other articles for publication are serious stuff, and there is no place for humor.
By Bob Call, CMRP, Life Cycle Engineering May 15, 2007

So, this maintenance manager walks into a bar and . . .

It is right about this point that our in-house editor at Life Cycle (bless her little pea-pickin’ heart!) starts bleeding all over my proposed articles for publication. She says that magazine and other articles for publication are serious stuff, and there is no place for humor.

I agree whole-heartedly with her that anyone who takes the time to develop a paper for publication wants the reader to clearly comprehend and respond to the ideas and principles behind the article.

On the other hand, I will freely admit that I can recall many more articles or papers that contained a little humor that was relative to the subject at hand. I suspect that there are more than a few of you out there who are the same as me.

“If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right!” I trace this little saying back to Jack Johnston, my commanding officer in 1981 on USS Simon Bolivar. Having just completed an arduous shipyard overhaul, and working 26-hour days in shakedown and boat trials (submarines are ‘boats;’ surface craft are ‘targets’), morale was at an all time low. Every person on the boat was tired and sick, and sick and tired of the schedule that was demanded of us. We wanted a short break to catch our breath.

As the boat’s first lieutenant, it was my responsibility to ensure that the structure of the boat was sound after the shipyard period, and that preservation of the ship’s surfaces was maintained at a high level. It is a tedious (and in my mind at the time, thankless) job that required long hours crawling through the superstructure of the boat whenever we were in port.

Captain Jack noted my poor demeanor and pulled me aside for a little ‘father-son’ chat about the Navy, submarines and life. The short version of the story is that, in just a few minutes of focused conversation, he convinced me that I was being a little short-sighted and I was not focusing on the big picture, but rather my own very small part of it. Once I was able to put everything in perspective, my life got a lot better.

For instance, the special preservation techniques on a submarine have one very important effect %%MDASSML%% it makes the submarine harder to detect by a ‘target.’ That’s a good thing when you are making holes in the ocean on an extended deployment, and there is certainly no way (at least no cost-effective way) to paint a submarine when it is submerged.

As I travel around the country visiting different sites, I meet a lot of very unhappy people %%MDASSML%% people who just don’t understand why they work so hard and get so little in return. Sometimes all they want is the score; how they are doing compared to their peers and their competition. Most of the time, however, they really don’t understand the ‘business’ that they are working in. They might know that the plant makes chromed widgets that fit on a bigger widget that eventually makes a giant widget that will save all of us 10% of our household costs over 20 years. However, this does not answer the questions “Why am I here?” or “What’s in it for me?”

Demming said, “People are entitled to joy in their work and a sense of ownership.” So, where’s the joy? Where’s the ownership? How sad is it that the vast majority of employees in this country hate going to ‘that place’ every day for eight hours?

Finding the enjoyment

There are many theories and stories about how to fix this phenomenon. Nearly all of them focus on how to make the job place more enjoyable for the employee, and what management needs to do to make people more content in an environment that they really don’t want to be in. The focus is always on the process, not on the people.

I have a different thought. “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right!”

Our lives are made tolerable and enjoyable by the small things. Of course, if I were to win the Lottery, I would be a very happy camper. But it is the small things, over the long haul, that really make life worth living. It may be your baby’s first steps or the first time he or she says “Dada,” or it could be the look and smell of a fresh-cut lawn. Whatever it happens to be, it is these things, and the memory of these things, that continuously bring a little smile and give that enjoyment to keep us going.

You have to search for that elusive enjoyment in your job. That may change frequently, but you want it to be something that makes you feel good about being there, and gives you a sense of fulfillment.

It could be the feeling that you get after teaching or coaching one of your crew a new technique and then watching him successfully apply that learning. It could be developing a new reporting tool to send your boss for the weekly report. It might be watching your team ever-so-slowly grow from simply a group of people into a well-balanced and productive team of professionals with a common goal.

Finding the ‘right’ job

Somewhere out there is the right job for every one of us. It is sometimes difficult to find, and you may have to go through several jobs before you find the right one for you. But it is out there; go find it!

You just never know when the right job is going to be there for you. And, keep in mind that the ‘right’ job is going to change as you grow older and more mature. I once landed a concession to sell hot dogs and beer at a rodeo. The job lasted six months and I had the time of my life. But, that part of my working life was short-lived and I moved on to something better.

We all must have some enjoyment in our work. Otherwise, we are doomed to a life of despair. Stay with it, keep looking, you will become one of the lucky ones who lands in exactly the job that was created for you. Then you’ll be doing it right and having fun!

Author Information
Bob Call, CMRP, has more than 25 years experience in maintenance and reliability. He has extensive experience in maintenance best practices, materials management processes, craft skill training and supervisor/manager professional development techniques. His work at Life Cycle Engineering has involved implemented reliability work processes, material storeroom reorganization projects, regulatory compliance programs, craft skill training programs and supervisor skills training programs.