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The Perspective of Self-perception

I find myself slowly delegating (something I used to be horrible at) to my folks at work more and more as part of an almost unconscious transition from me to the next generation of QA. I was asked “how long” recently and my answer was, and always has been – there is no number; it’s as long as I am making a difference. It’s as long as I am still welcomed. And it is as long as I am still happy.

But that is only a half-truth I think. I am wearied. And I become concerned when I tire because that is when I become less effective. And if I am not effective, I am not happy. I don’t want to change the world – that is not my personal calling. But I do want to have made a difference, to have mattered. Not egotistically like you might think of remembrance at all – not sure I really care who remembers my name five minutes after I leave – it’s more about having mattered by means of leaving the place better than I found it.

The leaves notice the change in themselves immediately; the people watching do not. They don’t see the imminent end until the leaf is bright and brilliant with color, literally screaming – look at me before I go. My colors are not showing yet, but I see them building within me – I’ve worked all my life and sense the change approaching. Our lives are already written into some cosmic book; the plot, characters, the storyline. And we “read” those chapters as we sojourn through each our own story. And none of us ever know when one chapter is about to end and the next chapter begin; or when you are in the final chapter for that matter. Each turn of the page, much like each day, is a new direction. My leaves are changing and my time as a 60hr per week full time employee grows short, just as the autumn days. Who knows……I am an odd duck and surprise even myself regularly – maybe I will “hang on” longer than I sense.

The point is, I am running out of time to effect the change I so desperately want. When I was deep in my career in Facilities Engineering a great and dear friend once told me “we have to manage perception”. And oh how I railed against that comment; “manage perception???” I complained; this place has enough real problems to keep me busy 70 hours a week! I haven’t the time or energy to manage perception.

But he was right. Everything we interact with daily, is filtered, colored, and rearranged by our perception. Conversations, passing glances (or the lack thereof), problems (real or perceived – hah!), and an endless stream of other daily moments are all painted with our own personal perception and perspective.

The most classic example: is the glass half full or is it half empty? To a thirsty man it is already half empty; to one already well drank it is still half full. See the difference? One needs to add a filter by way of an adverb and adjective – “already” and “still” – for perspective. Voltaire said that we all need to tend to our own gardens. A huge part of that is actually managing our perception. One simply cannot point out the weeds in their neighbor’s garden, if one does not know what crop the neighbor is trying to grow; it may be what you criticize is exactly what he exhaustively works to grow.

It is, of course, impossible for any of us to stop and consider every nuance of every action or interaction throughout the day; to stop, ponder, consider, and develop an understanding of our perception of the other’s perspective. There would never be a complete conversation held – ever. But we need to be aware of it; and mostly urgently at times of high emotion.  

Case in point: I was a much more aggressive and harsh person years back in my career. I could be caustic and abrupt; thought it “the way to be” as a superintendent. I expected much of my folks too; long hours, focus, dedication, and careful thought. I could be sharp with people who did not have the answers at meetings and was demanding in their daily tasks.

And I expected even more of myself. I needed to be the first one at work – often 4 – 4:30 in the morning – and the last one to leave, sometimes well after 6PM. Rain, wind, snow – if the job was outside I would stand there with them until done. I thought that was how to lead.

It was my perception.

One day, we had a massive power outage at 2AM. I was first on site and after evaluating the situation, I began calling people to bring them in for support. The utility trucks began arriving around an hour later and we met outside the facility fenceline to asses the extent and scope of their work. They told me they needed to open the circuits on the riser poles for three of my buildings, and I watched them open each pole in succession as I always did. There is no real lockout – tagout with utility feeds. If you request the outage you get a tag, but it it is their outage, you get nothing but a verbal. I confirmed with the bucket truck that we had about 20 minutes and told them that I wanted to open my padmount switch and inspect it and examine for damage.

I went back to the switch and called over my electricians to open the case and expose the internals. As I unlocked the padlocks, someone asked about safety gear and lockout. Always wanting to be the leader, the answer guy, the “go to” guy, I commented that I had personally watched them open the cutouts on  the riser and we were fine – the circuit was dead. Noteworthy item to mention here, the riser pole is on the other side of the building and is out of sight from the switch.

We opened it up and exposed the internals of the switch – 12,470 volts – bare and brassy and right in front of us. Everything looked OK except for a darkened area down in the bottom. I reached to wipe it and my master electrician grabbed my arm. “Wait” he said, “I thought I saw an arc”

We stepped back and he grabbed the voltage tester from the truck. And the lines were hot at 12.47kV. Instant death. Vaporization is more like it. I was a hand’s breadth from instant and certain death. And all because I let my personal perspective cloud my thoughts and judgement. My perception was that I needed to be unwavering and authoritative and completely in charge and decisive in my actions. And it almost killed me.

Ego? Certainly. One can easily argue that my ego sold me down the river. But understand that I was not an electrician; despite being responsible for the care, maintenance, and repair of an electrical system ranging 34kV to 12kV over 15 industrial buildings. I knew my systems and I knew my equipment and I understood electricity – better than many. But I was not an electrician and I knew that. So ego was not really what drove me to that near fatal decision. No, it was perception; a ego-influenced filter that almost turned out my lights.

My lesson that day has carried forth since. And I mean beyond the obvious always check your circuit no matter what you saw 5 minutes ago with your eyes – that lesson was imprinted on every electrical safety class I held after. No, the lesson Bob learned that day was in grave situations, to examine my perception of the situation objectively, carefully, and thoughtfully before reacting. Something I hope you can learn from me dear reader……Your situation may not be inside a high voltage switch. It could be a high stakes moment with a teenager, a volatile exchange in a conference room, or an encounter on the road. The circumstance doesn’t matter – it’s the intensity of the moment that matters. And that is the exactly right time to really examine your perception of the moment and to consider the perspective of the other person. It can be a life changing lesson.

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