A Few Reflections on Reflection

On Monday, I made the long trip up to the Land Transport Office, the Japanese version of your local License Bureau, to return the Town & Country’s license plates and obtain an export certification. Sometime this morning, the shippers are slated to come and take it to the port in Yokohama where it will be loaded into a container and put on a ship headed to the United States. If everything goes right, next week I will make my own journey and, as I tromp down the boarding ramp and take my seat in a 777 in preparation for the long flight home, my most recent Japan experience will be over.

As I sit here this morning, much of the house already torn apart and loaded into boxes, I’m struggling with how I feel about that. I often tell people that, when I am back in the States, I fight and fight for an assignment that will take us back to Japan but that, not two weeks after we arrive, I will wonder why the hell it is we came here. To be honest, Japan can be a tough place to live and, like most experiences, once you get involved in the ebb and flow of daily events, you tend to focus on the moment and forget to be amazed. It’s only when the day to day struggle ends, usually about the your departure becomes imminent, that you begin to realize where you are, what other opportunities there were, and what else you might have done.

It’s the same professionally. On the one hand, I feel like I have done everything I could but, on the other, wonder what I might have accomplished had I, and the people I work with, been able to rise above the day-to-day churn. Should I have set loftier goals? Should I have grabbed people by the ear and forced them to listen? Or was I right to come in slow, learn the system and then try to work within it? Because I took the one direction and not the other, I’ll never know.

I dislike not knowing. The simple fact that there may have been alternatives bothers me and the idea that I might have accomplished more had I only done something else, had I only been able to find that magic bullet, adds a twinge of metallic to what should be sweet taste of smug satisfaction. I wonder, is it the same with everyone?

At this point in my life, I’ve made these sorts of transitions maybe a dozen times and I can say that the feeling is always the same. It’s a little like suffering the death of someone you love. You wind up sad and wistful because of all the lost opportunities while, at the same time, you are simply overwhelmed by the swirl of day-to-day activity that surrounds you. There is simply so much to do and so much of it has to happen right now.

Funny that the answer to worrying about what might have been turns out to be exactly the same thing that stopped you from achieving it in the first place…

15 Replies to “A Few Reflections on Reflection”

  1. John C.

    A new assignment in a faraway place will naturally bring with it feelings of hope that come with a fresh start. In the late sixties my father was up for an assignment in Japan. At the last moment, his supervisor took the assignment for himself. My father felt the supervisor was unqualified technically for the assignment. When he made waves, he was terminated. What followed was a year long job search and eventually a new better paying job in the USA. He never made it to Japan. Not what he hoped for but a new start just the same. Not sure what that means about karma of God’s plan of whatever but in any case, welcome home.

  2. Eric L.

    Are the people who are able to see beyond the “day-to-day churn” those who make the biggest impact? Is that what separates a Bill Gates or Martin Luther or Julius Caesar from losers like me? Or is it unrelated, and surrendering to the humdrum daily grind is not a failing?

    • Thomas Kreutzer Post author

      The difference is that those people all have a goal they are working towards. They aren’t only managing today’s problem, they are handling it at the same time they are moving forward.

      Too often, people equate problem solving with being successful. It’s great that a person can solve problems but too often we celebrate that as a victory and then sit and wait for the next problem to hit us. We’ll overcome that, too, but doing that over and over never gets us anywhere. It is not, ultimately I think, I productive cycle.

  3. DougD

    Another good one Thomas.

    I regret not spending more time in the different countries I visited during my commissioning engineer career years ago. When the jobs were over I just wanted to get home, not realizing I would never get back there.

  4. JustPassinThru

    “For all sad words, of tongue and pen

    The saddest, these: ‘It might have been.’ ”

    You never know. Except for the times you do know.

    Coming out of the Service, 1995…I landed in Denver, and stumbled right into a recruitment drive by the Southern Pacific Railroad. They had just absorbed the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and needed bodies.

    And they paid. Beyond my imaginings. I did apply; and was interviewed, and accepted, and told to go home and wait for a training class.

    I waited. And waited. And I needed to eat, so I took another job, a Plan B.

    Meantime, the Union Pacific had made a takeover bid for the Southern Pacific. I was getting concerned; and when I called the SP’s Denver personnel office, it was chaos. Nobody knew nothing. I was relayed to San Francisco, the traditional head of the SP empire; and FINALLY got with someone who would answer directly.

    “Oh, we stopped all hiring. As a courtesy to the UP’s Manpower office – they’ll want to bring in people through their own channels.

    Oh, that’s nice.

    “Well, it could have been worse for you. We had trainees complete classes, and then get taken off the roster because of what the UP wanted.”

    Time went on; and my interim job was a drag. I landed with a railroad contractor, and on a trip home to Ohio, found out Conrail was hiring. In Cleveland – my hometown.

    I applied; took the tests; was interviewed, and hired.

    And Conrail was duly taken over; and the people who did it, were more than contemptuous of the people that came with Conrail’s track and customer base and bank accounts.

    It was, after the takeover, EIGHT YEARS OF HELL.

    I left, finally, in exasperation; at exactly the time the economy imploded. 2008.

    Two years later, with my long-term temporary job in South Dakota done, I applied to RTD, which had been that Denver dead-end job of 12 years earlier.

    This time, they were hiring, but not me.

    Point of this sob story is…the road not taken, is often no better, sometimes worse, than the way traveled.

    • Thomas Kreutzer Post author

      That sucks, dude. I would have thought the railroads would have been a great place to work, but I guess in today’s world where companies are constantly merging and acquiring it doesn’t pay to be one of the “little people” no matter where you work/

      When I was on college, I worked at one of the two hospitals in our town. The other hospital got into a financial bind and out hospital took them over. I was laid off a couple of months later as they decided to keep most of the staff from the other place and let us go. Still boggles my mind…

  5. -Nate

    Thanx Tom ;

    I too had similar past experience, some like to feel useful, others simply come in and cash their checks until the job is done, time to move on .

    J.P.T., that sux but it’s often just how life goes, I got lucky (IMO) when I was 30, before that everything was tumultuous .


  6. tresmonos

    I used to work on the road. I may be a lot younger than you, but I’ve forced myself to learn to cherish the present and not think of the what-ifs? Life is a culmination of every decision you’ve made with the circumstances at hand.

    I have old coworkers that have stuck to it and are much closer to retirement than I will be even in 10 years (and they’re in their 20’s!). I have classmates that tried to on board me at Walmart and Texas Hydraulics that are much more advanced in their careers and salary than I am. I have siblings, friends, old colleagues that I used to compare myself to. It drove me insane. It still bothers me when I dwell on it.

    I’m happiest when I live in the moment. The only past I try to focus on are the decisions that have made me happier, even if they did stunt my career. I just try to make those same decisions that continue to make me happy because in the end, all we can do is try our best and be grateful for the opportunities that are presented to us.

    From this internet person, basing my judgement on what you’ve shared over the years, you’re living a full life. I’d regret nothing.

    • Thomas Kreutzer Post author

      Thanks, Tresmonos. Although I am proud of the way things have turned out, I use self reflection to assess where I could have done better. The bad part of it is that no matter how well things work out, every performance could always be better.

      I can tell you this. Coming in slow and learning the system was the way to go. Had I done otherwise I’d have made enemies quick and been stymied at every turn. I’d have had zero success. In the end, I think my approach fit the requirements.

      I remain frustrated, however, because I also tried to engage with people outside of my chain of command and help them make connections with other organizations I had close ties with. Those attempts bore no fruit at all because those people could not see the big picture.

      In the end, I leave knowing I did a good job but frustrated and feeling like I didn’t help the organization to make any real progress. Day to day problems have to be solved, but ultimately they are like waves on the ocean. They roll in and under the ship making it rise and fall but unless the ship is making headway it will never actually get anywhere. I’d like to think I can do better than help the ship manage the waves. I want to propel it.

  7. hank chinaski

    Having gone through the trouble of dragging that van across the Pacific, you’re probably either a dad with a sizable family (or else a roadie to fill it with amps and groupies).
    If the former, it’s tough leaping out for that branch that’s *just close enough* with the weight of young on your back. The ground rushes up pretty fast when you miss.


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