Underclocking My Life

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Once upon a time, I was a pretty smart guy. At least, I thought so. And, to be honest, so did most of the people around me. I’ve breeze through school, elementary and high school. And by breeze, I mean that I barely had to show up. I always knew what was going on even when I wasn’t paying attention. No teacher ever caught me flat-footed unable to answer a question in class. I never volunteered to answer the question, but I always knew the answer, unless, of course, I wanted to entertain the people in my class with some smartass response. Even then, I still knew the answer, and would give it a pressed.

I always scored at or near the top my class. The near came in high school when I met other smart people who actually worked for their grades. But I finished high school in four years, when its time regulation was five. Grade 13 no longer exists where I live, but I don’t know that means people are any less prepared. It’s a different game now. Even shaving a year off the typical honours high school diploma, my University acceptances were never in doubt.

But boy did I screw up University. Way too much time spent chasing girls and drinking beer. And even after I caught the girl who would eventually become my wife, there was still plenty of beer to be consumed. I had a lot of fun and University, and learned a little bit here and there, just not enough to do anything with it. High school was a joke, but university required some serious tension. Or at least more than I was willing to give it.

Ultimately, high school taught me I could under clock and still exceed most people’s expectations. University tried unsuccessfully to beat that out of me. In my 20s, starting at the bottom of a retail career ladder, I learned to do just a little bit more than the people around me to stand out as a superior employee. It’s not hard in a minimum wage job where no one really cares. A little more effort let me continue that trend the further I moved up the ladder. From worker the supervisor to manager’s office to office manager. It was an easy game.

At least, it was an easy game until, after a hostile takeover, I had a boss who realized that while I was good at my job, and had earned the respect of the people around me, I wasn’t interested in bending all, and I do mean all, of my talents into making her look good while she put forth minimal effort. I wasn’t playing the corporate game to her satisfaction. And it cost me that career.

I eventually fell into another career, also retail, but this time starting in the office. It went similarly well, for the most part, making some adjustments to a different corporate culture, but I left this one early of my own accord. Mostly because I was working too far from home, missing everything about my children, and really didn’t want to divorce. Well, divorce might be putting things a bit strongly, but my wife’s stress level was just as high as mine, or higher, with me out of the house four nights a week and her home with three small kids.

Starting a completely new career at the bottom, as a part time dealer in a small casino, my stress level was still pretty high in the beginning. I learned to focus again, because I had to. I learned to do new things, expand my skills, and actually have some manual dexterity. I had to. My wife and three small children counted on it.

For most of the first year, I smiled and nodded and gave every impression I enjoyed being a part-time dealer. And when training opportunities came up, I pounced on them. Not just that, but at work, I focused on being a good employee. The guy who never said no, the guy who went wherever he was told, who did whatever needed to be done.

And it worked.

Beginning in mid-February the following year and ending the first week of December, I went from being a part time, blackjack only dealer to a full-time dual rate supervisor (promotions are done in half steps in the gaming industry) who dealt every game our site offered, including the one we had just gotten in. A year after that, I’d given up dealing to supervise full-time. And in another year and a half, I was running the pit part of the time.

If you’re keeping track, that makes it 2009 and I’m 38 years old. Come summer this year, I’ll have been in that same job for five years. The opportunity to apply for the next job up (which would actually have me skipping a level) has come twice, and I’ve ignored it, in spite of a bit of pressure. My children will only be home for so long. Worsening my work life balance is not a good idea, and contrary to what I want.

But I’m still under clocking.

I’ve been doing it for decades, figuring out the minimum relevant effort, and putting that in, or exceeding it enough to stand out for the crowd around me who doesn’t care. I’m lazy. Most of us are, really. And while I may know it, that doesn’t change anything else. I’m lazy, and I don’t like that about myself.

Perhaps this is my version of a midlife crisis. I used to joke about getting that out-of-the-way early, to save time later. But maybe it’s time now.

I don’t need a sports car, and I sure as hell don’t need a mistress, but I do need to start living up to my potential, or trying harder. Maybe we all do, but the only one I can affect directly is me. Maybe my children by example.

There’s a lot of stuff I wish I’d done, a lot of stuff I still want to do. Most of it is only going to happen if I start to get my ass in gear. I’m trying that right now, setting unrealistic goals and working like hell to meet them. You can be lazy and still be good at something, at a whole lot of somethings. But if you want to accomplish stuff, if you want to get really good at something, or great at it, you have to put some effort in.

And I am way past due.

Be well, everyone.

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