All of my immediate family members were long-time assembly line worker, factory types. The holiday meal was often surrounded by discussions of possible strikes, unions, and “job-bumping.” Great people and hard working.
In the fall of 1989, I was traveling in a car with some co-workers to a team-building weekend at Black River Development Center in South Haven, Michigan. We passed a factory and the fellow I was riding with said “Those poor factory rats. Imagine them. Just waisting their lives in there.”
I said nothing. I was furious at the judgmental, sarcastic, and mocking tone. But quickly became more outraged by my own lack of response. I had learned to despise that passive behavior about myself. You know, allowing yourself to be walked on.
During the team building weekend, I had the opportunity to voice my thoughts, so I started with those back seat comments. Gulp. The group took a few moments to hash out my unwillingness to be confrontational in the workplace and how my wanting to “please” people can be a problem. The leader of the center told me I needed to be more “assertive” at work and my personal life. I felt a bit better and we moved on. A few of my co-workers, especially my dear friend Susan, thankfully weren’t so quick to let me off the hook.
The following week I was given a toy, male action figure with an “A” on his chest. “Mr. Assertion” was written on the note attached. That was the nickname I would carry for a short time back then. Susan still brings it up even today. It was a transformative moment about my personality that I’ve been working on for nearly 30 years.
That’s the story. 30 years of working on that part of me (and others). And I love it. I love me and I enjoy working on personal growth even when it means frustrating myself or people around me. The need to be assertive. Not passive. Not aggressive. I get more done when I’m assertive. I get more of what I want, like, and do more for others when I’m assertive. Most people like me better when I’m direct and diplomatic. I like me best when I’m assertive and I am certainly better today in regards to my manner. Wendy calls it “advocating for ourselves.” I like that even better.
Dear People: How about you? Do you have something about you that you’d like to get better at? Do you have the patience and willingness to try? Is there something that family and friends have been mentioning for years and you’ve never fully considered it? It’s usually done jokingly. You know the routine. “Oh, that Steve! He always (fill in the blank).” What fills in your blank? “Too sensitive.” “Always late.” “Too negative.” “Treat people poorly.” “Complain all the time.” “Talk too loud or too fast.” “Dresses inappropriately.” Time to get on with it then! What are you waiting for? You’re missing the wonderful challenge and freedom that comes with growth and upgrading yourself.
Sincerely, I hope the guy who referred to those workers as “rats,” has found growth and freedom in his life too.
Epilogue: The following year I met Art Fettig. A speaker and author from Battle Creek, Michigan. He had written a verse, “Growth,” and a co-worker of his sent it to legendary radio announcer Paul Harvey. Harvey read it on air and Fettig played a recording of it for a group I was in. It sums up the idea of the lifelong learner. Change that thing you need to get better at. Be patient. It could take the rest of your life. Ready to climb?
© Art Fettig I don’t ever want to be what I want to be
There is always something out there yet for me
I get a kick from living in the here and now
Yet, I never want to feel I’ve learned the best way how
There is always one hill higher with a better view
Something waiting to be learned that I never knew
‘til my life is over never fully fill my cup
Let me keep on growing Up! Up! Up!