When I was a kid–somewhere around nine or ten years old–my dad took me into an auto plant to see how cars were built. The way we build cars has changed drastically in the past forty-plus years.
While I don’t remember a lot about that trip, I do remember the air seemed to hang on me and around me. Noise shook the air and seemed to give it motion, yet the air tried to resist. One had to speak in a loud voice in order to be heard over the rattle and hum of air tools and hammers and the many assorted activities. Although I wasn’t working, it was hot but not unbearable. The workers were sweating.
The cars moved along as though they had found a traffic-jam all their own. Cars moved in line without drivers, in all sorts of unfinished fashion, depending on where we were in the plant. There were unfinished car parts moving along to meet and join with the unfinished cars. Engines and transmissions hung on heavy hooks that moved slowly and steadily onward; something called a bulkhead, which looked like the front of a car but stopped right behind the radiator, crawled along on carriers; fenders moved from worker to worker and from station to station. Everywhere people moved in patterns, repeating short dances that ended when each portion of a car passed them.
My dad pointed to one man who was pushing a button and said, “That’s what he does all day long.” I wondered how the poor guy stayed sane through the boredom. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my dad was trying to get me to pay more attention in school. He wanted me to get a good education so I wouldn’t have to do that kind of work when I grew up. Maybe something in me sensed what he wanted because I said, I never want to work in a place like this. My father seemed pleased to hear me say that and he smiled.
I have heard many people say, “Be careful what you ask for.” I have come to add, “Be careful what you say you will never do.” About ten years later, I abandoned college and hired into that shop to do the work I said I would never do. I did that work for just shy of three decades. It wasn’t fun work. And although I don’t regret it, I know now that I could have done better if I had stayed in college. Today I do my best never to say Never. It seems that when I say I would never do something it goes right to the top of my to-do list. I consider it a part of the process of growth.