I just finished reading Charlie Spedding’s book “From Last to First”. I had never heard of him either. The most significant unique achievement that is covered in the book is his run to 3rd place at the 1984 Olympic Marathon. I read more books than the average American, which does not say much, and this book stuck out more to me than most.
So much of life is mental. I can get an A on this test. I will get an A on this test. I will set a personal record today. Most people define things in terms of “okay”, “not bad”, “pretty good”, and other mediocre, slightly negative, descriptions. Charlie mentions things like giving yourself the opportunity, and focusing on how well you can execute the ideal, the perfect, situation.
In other words, how was the run today? It was prefect for me. (In fact I did have a perfect for me 11 miler in Singapore this morning.) That is such a huge mental shift from evaluating everything according to the fastest workout or race you have ever had. Sometimes the perfect training is slow and short.
Obviously the book was about running. But I feel this attitude is probably more applicable toward things like an education and career. I am writing this on a 747 flying from Hong Kong to Singapore. With a measly year and a half with the company and at the young age of 26 I am entrusted with being a good candidate to travel to the other side of the world and spend time in the field. I am the only structures analysis engineer (or I like to think of myself as somewhat of a design engineer) on the trip. There will be at least four direct Deere employees plus a number of dealer employees and customers/customer employees on this trip. I already wrote about why I have this opportunity, but it still seems strange to me that I am going. Had I been in charge, I would have asked several other engineers if they were interested before I allowed little me to go. Others have more experience. Others work more hours. Others will almost surely still be working for Deere in Dubuque in five or ten years. Honestly, I see myself as a bit of a liability. A liability in terms of the ideal 50+ hours a week quant who works for one company for 40+ years. I have never lived anywhere longer than six years. I don’t know what happens in year seven.
After reading Spedding’s book I have a feeling I am on this trip because I created the situation to give myself this opportunity. That sounds like I did a lot more work than I feel like I actually did. The situation is that engineers travel. How a person in Indonesia uses a machine is almost guaranteed to be different than how a person in North America uses a machine. Thus it helps us create more reliable machines if we can better understand how the customer uses the machine. In other words, Apple realized how much time people spend starring at a 3.5 inch screen and decided a 4 inch screen was a better decision.
An interesting off shoot of this, since I am reading “Makers” by Chris Anderson, is the long tail effect. One size does not fit all. With the ability to customize, a tailored machine is significantly better than a one size fits all machine. Using a few simple constraints in forestry, european machines must be less than a certain width. Many countries and regions have ground compaction limits so weight and footprint matter. Other areas the loading is so repetitive that stronger structures are needed. In other words, engineers travel to understand usage patterns. I would love to go to Africa to study Internet and cell phone usage. I feel they are really in the midst of defining connectivity.
So given the world inside my head of the opportunity to travel I assumed that at some point I would travel to other countries for my job. Once I knew I was going sooner or later it was simply a matter of letting everyone else know. Is it naive? Arrogant? Confident? I do not know. Is it arrogant to assume I will do something, then actually follow through with it?
The point of all of this is that I had a goal I was sure was going to happen, but it actually happened because I gave myself the opportunity. Well that’s not the whole story, I am incredibly blessed. But that’s another story...