Mighty proud of my new gas meter

No, you didn’t read that wrong. I have a new gas meter … and I’m kind of proud.

It’s not like I picked it out or anything. One day I walked into my back yard and startled a woman wearing a gas-company vest. Three days later, I received a letter informing me my ghastly, archaic meter would be replaced at zero cost to me. It looks very nice and appears to work well.

One of the reasons I do what I do for a living is an insatiable hunger for knowledge with … well, let’s call it limited usefulness. If someone selling timber harvesting equipment lines up behind me in the first B group, we can have a deep conversation about maintenance issues with articulated skidders. But other than that unlikely introduction, and wanting to share an odd example in the post you’re now reading, there’s not much opportunity for me to use what I’ve learned about them. Never seems to come up at trivia night, either.

Remember how you felt the first time you fell in love? Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel when a new client says, “You want to see our production floor?” Know that annoying guy on every tour you’ve taken who keeps asking questions? Guilty. I do come by it honestly. Dad sold chemicals to the industrial giants along Lake Michigan’s southern shoreline, and a couple times a year — like on those mysterious “teacher prep” days — I’d find myself gazing up at cat-crackers and cold strip mills and learning what they do. I’d set foot in places kids usually weren’t allowed, like industrial elevators right out of horror movies or atop a coke retort.

Boundless curiosity is a handy trait when one of the things you do for a living is make complicated subjects easier to grasp. So when a company needed to convince timber companies their product offered greater value than the competitor being used, I dug in to learn a lot about articulated skidders. The more I learned about the challenges of servicing specialized equipment in rugged, remote locations, the stronger the case I made. If I can put myself in the mind of the site supervisor who’s behind schedule because of storms and can’t afford additional downtime, the argument will be more convincing.

I notice things most people never see. Like new gas meters. I pay attention to processes, such as order flow at fast-food restaurants. I pick up items from store shelves and consider what it took to ship them halfway around the world. Because that’s me. It’s what makes me effective at what I do and what brings me to my desk every morning.

So yeah, I like my new gas meter. While I once might have been too embarrassed to air such a thought publicly, today I chuckle instead of cringe. Life has blessed me with the opportunity to not only accept myself, strange though I may be, but to smile at myself, too.

I mention that because it wasn’t always that way. Like many people, my career included stretches when I was unwittingly trying to do the wrong things. In many cases, I was allowing myself to be pushed into roles that brought little satisfaction but significant anxiety.

When we’re in the early stages of our careers, we pay more attention to others’ expectations than to our own desires. People tell us what they think we should be doing. We compare our lifestyles to theirs and strive to catch up, because we haven’t yet developed the self-confidence to recognize that those others’ goals and accomplishments may have been right for them, but not for us. They don’t intend to be pushy or cruel — they just assume we share their objectives, or they’re putting the company’s needs first.

We only get so much time, and the bigger the share we devote to doing things we don’t want to do in places we don’t want to be, the more we take ourselves away from what has the potential to truly satisfy us and recharge our enthusiasm.

The sooner you stop living for somebody else’s expectations, and instead recognize and focus your life around what brings you joy … even if that’s a gas meter … the happier you’re going to be. And the happier you are, the stronger your physical and mental health will be.

(What happens to all that limited-use knowledge after I’m through using it? It doesn’t go away. It gets tucked into some memory drive in the brain, ready to emerge when needed. Like when the guy holding B24 mentions he sells articulated skidders.)