I Was A Potted Plant

Have you ever watched an aircraft mechanic at a party or a wedding in which he knew only one or two people, and the other guests were "professional types" on his wife's side of the family?

Have you ever watched an aircraft mechanic at a party or a wedding in which he knew only one or two people, and the other guests were "professional types" on his wife's side of the family? He looks painfully uncomfortable, out of his element, just like how a man looks on his first visit to a proctologist.

Our mechanic becomes really lost when his wife volunteers to "help" the hostess in the kitchen. Abandoned by his bride, he just stands there, back to the wall, neck chafing against his too tight collar, wearing a frozen smile, and wishing he was somewhere else, doing anything else. As he looks at his watch, the second hand slowly skids to a stop.

After his initial, brave attempts at making small talk with people with perfect teeth fails, he retreats to the hors d'oeuvre tray and begins nibbling on baby carrots, celery stalks, and other green and red things that he cannot identify. As our hero is putting one of the unidentifiables on his plate, he notices something that betrays his occupation to the rest of the guests.

As a reflex action to the rising insecurity growing inside of him, he does something that many people would consider quite unusual - he attempts to hide his hands.

Yes, his hands. His rough, thick, callused hands - the ones with white, scarred fingers, a blackened fingernail and a Band-Aid®-wrapped digit. They are either stuffed in his pockets, or worse, hidden behind his back.

Not knowing what to do or even what to say, our mechanic stands there, alone, and knows he is out of his element, while thinking these people were all smarter than he. After all, he heard from his wife that they were all college graduates, so their hands were soft. So, he hides behind the self-taught lie that he was "just an aircraft mechanic," not smart enough to pour water out of a boot if the directions were written on the heel. He is now doomed by chance to be in the company of his betters. So, for the next three hours, he says nothing, assuming the duties of a potted plant until the evening grinds thankfully to a halt. On the way home, he takes his pent-up frustration out on his wife. He has a fight with her over something stupid, and he winds up sleeping on the couch.

Does my personal story sound a bit familiar? Has it ever happened to you? What is the real problem here? Is it my hands or the lack of confidence in my own abilities and accomplishments? In my case, I found out it was the latter.

Before I get to the sum and substance of this little article, let me tell you what triggered this piece about earning a college degree.

During the first week in August, I gave a maintenance presentation to approximately 32 mechanics, first level supervisors, and quality control folks. They averaged about 12 years working for their company - a large repair station with a great reputation for excellence. Just that week, they got the news that they were being bought out by another large aviation company, and concern for their individual futures was written deeply on their faces as they sat in front of me.

Noting their apprehension, I decided to build on my last block of instruction in my 3-hour course, a segment called professionalism. In this section, I stress the importance of professionalism in our business and how our professional values and principles can be put at risk. One of the last things that I discussed was getting additional technical training, like avionics, or NDI, and a college degree based on experience earned, and challenging college courses for college credits.

I was selling an idea. I told them that chances for promotions in this ever-changing aviation environment depends on having something better than your competitor. I finished my little pep talk by saying that getting a college degree was perhaps one of the best deals going, and it can open doors for promotions that would be forever closed without the piece of paper that certified you as being smart.

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