Part 2: Reaching the American Dream

Part 2:
Reaching the American Dream

I’ve always viewed myself as strong willed, fiercely independent, highly self motivated, ambitious, and hard working. I’m very analytical. I think things through. I anticipate events and plan contingencies. I have high expectations and low tolerance for mediocrity. I make things happen. I have always attributed any success I’ve had in life to these attributes. When things have gotten tough, I’ve gotten through by getting tough. I was to face a reckoning that would cause me to question all of this.

From an early age I differentiated myself from the field, particularly in math and the sciences. Contrary to much of today’s academia, my professors generally graded me on a curve distribution. I became determined early on to be at the high end of the curve. I worked hard to get there and stay there. While scoring high on aptitude tests, I never attributed my academic success to particularly high intelligence. I just worked hard. Academic success gave me great purpose and made me feel important. I was recognized for my achievements by family, teachers, and fellow students.

My decision to attend graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley, arguably one of the finest public graduate engineering school in the country, was significantly driven by my desire for recognition. I wanted to differentiate myself from the undergraduate class that I finished with in 1979 at Fresno State University. Even now I’m not sure that I fully understand the roots of my insatiable appetite and dependence on this type of recognition and affirmation from other people. The effects, however, became self-evident throughout my professional life. I have been mired in a relentless and futile pursuit of self-fulfillment in the acceptance of others who had neither the will nor the ability to satisfy. This has been the proverbial treadmill that offers no rest or peace.

On July 1, 1980, with these 18 years of hard wiring in human competition around academic achievement, I began my post-education professional life with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company. I had interned with Santa Fe for the previous two summers and I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I loved working outdoors and I loved the travel. I loved railroad maintenance because I was able to play an important role in transforming worn out railroad track into strong renewed track that served a vital purpose for our railroad business and for the U.S. economy. The feeling of accomplishment was immense. I could see the results of my efforts. I loved leading a team. I loved the recognition and affirmation I was already receiving from my new bosses.

The competitive instinct and work ethic that I honed during my school years served me very well in my new railroad career. I found it much easier to differentiate myself in the work place than it had been in school. My bosses appreciated my dedication and my drive for results. I was rewarded with frequent promotions and relocations to gain experience in different roles and on different parts of the railroad. These assignments encompassed every single state west of the Mississippi River and several states east of the river. I was experiencing the American Dream. I had a great professional career and a great family.

Life seemed really good.

Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. (Ecc 5:18)

Read Part 3