Sunday, October 24, 2021

Your Ice Cream is Melting

I’ve wandered so far off the island, at this point, for those of you who are still stopping by, here goes nothing.

I’m fixated on this relationship thing, post-career. And along with that, the transactional piece of those relationships we thought possibly more than they were.

It has hit home more than once in the last year or so. I’ve allowed for the epoch we find ourselves in: pandemic, social striation, a general turbulence in the balance of things on earth. Probably not something new, in geologic time. But for those of us in the here and now, it can be a bit disconcerting. Oh, and also, our ice cream is melting.

So, when I saw this post from an erstwhile associate, it gave me pause.

“Community. It’s a concept that is lost on a lot of people these days. I have been a part of many communities but none so important and fulfilling as the amazing people I have met in my life in food, wine and hospitality. A special bunch they are. I have always appreciated how people in the biz would genuinely applaud other people’s successes. You don’t find that in all industries.”

I know that feeling. Probably there are some reading who do, too. It felt real. It was real. Then.

Now? Not quite the same thing. For one, those of us who are done, are done. And those of us who aren’t done, well, they’re done with us. We’re not dead. But there’s a bigger puddle of melted ice cream in our bowls than there is in theirs. Them. They who are still working, still running after a paycheck, still in the midst of their careers.

It comes in subtle ways. People who used to return my emails, don’t anymore. Not even a “Sorry, I can’t help you anymore.”  They're "punching up." Funny, because some of those folks, when they were coming up, when they were nobodies, they took my help and support. They returned emails. Why? Because there was something in it for them. The whole transactional nature of the business.

Am I angry? No. Am I disappointed? Yes. But more for them than for me. Why? Let me put down my bowl of gelato, so I can further elucidate.

When I was younger and starting out, there was a pattern to coming up. One had mentors along the way. People who told you about some of those patterns, possibly to help you from repeating them. We spent more time talking to one another, in person. Time was moving slower.

I had several people who taught me immensely important lessons that, if they didn’t always save me from falling in that particular chasm, at least it provided me with a means to get myself out of it sooner. Two especially impacted my life.

I had a teacher at university. And he illustrated, through his life, the pitfalls of the academic process. He didn’t spend time at the faculty lounge. He didn’t publish, in the traditional sense. He taught. He spent time with his students. And he worked on bettering himself, always, as a teacher and as an example. So, when he was denied tenure, we knew why and how. Well, for one, he told us. But also, in observing the events unfolding around us, we saw his competitor, who did frequent the faculty lounge, and who did publish, even if it was a mediocre attempt. And who had exhibitions of his paintings, even if they appeared to be little more than rip offs of some famous abstract expressionist. He won the game, got the department and tenure. And those of us who witnessed this saw a life lesson. One which has served me well. My professor sacrificed his career so that those of us who were paying attention could learn from it. I sure as hell did.

Some years later I had a mentor in the wine trade. He’d been there, done that, long before I was even thinking about livelihood. And he loved to cook and drink wine and tell his stories. So, I sat at the feet of this master and listened and listened. And listened. He repeated the stories. I initially thought it was because he didn’t remember telling them. But no, from this perspective, I saw he was drilling it in me. He didn’t want me to forget.

He had a particular thread about this Italian executive who was his boss at the Italian import company he worked for. The Italian fellow was a dapper dresser, the epitome of la bella figura. He traveled first class, dined at the best places, stayed at the top hotels. The executive always “managed up.” And he got away with a lot of behavior that today would have him out on his ass in a New York second, in the corporate world. But back then, things weren’t as tightly wound, right or wrong. In other words, he was a man of his time playing the game to win.

My mentor witnessed this and offered me up an abundance of anecdotal evidence. Not sure if he was trying to steer me clear, or just point a light. Well, it worked for me. Not that I didn’t fall into the occasional crevasse and twist an ankle or two. Oh, I did. But it wasn’t fatal. It wasn’t cataclysmic. I survived.

Those two experiences with teacher and mentor didn’t, however, save me from the delusion of thinking that the “relationships” we forge in the work force were nothing more than the conducting of business. Oh, there are those lifelong friendships one can harvest from a lifetime of work. But we’re talking appetizers, not the buffet. Amuse bouche, not entrĂ©e. In most cases.

Will I tell my once-upon-a-time associate what I know? Probably not. I’ve also learned not to give advice unless asked. One exception: I can do anything I want on this blog. But understand, I’m cleaning the fog off the mirror of my life, past and present. I’m trying to understand what it was I just went though, make it seem more clear, more understandable. More cogent.

All the while, the ice cream continues to melt. Now where did I put my spoon?

From Roberto Voerzio's mouth to God's ears


wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Mitchell Pressman said...

Your professor? I would hope he thought he didn't sacrifice his career, that his career was teaching, not publishing or administration.

It is with a mix of admiration and envy that I congratulate you on your retirement.

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks Mitchell. He continued to practice architecture, and teach at another university. But we all learned a lesson from the experience, especially him.

David Webb said...

Well written my friend. I too am coming to the end of the race
Hopefully we can meet up for a glass or two someday

dfredman said...

Being ghosted by colleagues or former colleagues doesn't bother me these days as much as it once did. We live our lives on different cycles of mentorship (whether seeking it or doling it out to others) and everyone's cycle is moving at a different pace. People move into and out of my life when but they always seem to return. Sometimes it's paced out to every few months but there have been others who've appeared after decades, invariably at a time when one or the other can benefit from the experience and wisdom the other has picked up. Rather than wonder "where the hell have they been?" I'm more in tune with finding out why the timing meshed. Taking a positive view lets me maximize the intersection of lives. And if someone from the past never shows up, no problem, because there have been other people over the years who have had (or will have) an impact that lays a foundation for moving forward.

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