The Rocks, The Pebbles, and The Sand

I started a new job about a month ago. This marks three jobs for me in the last 18 months, with 9 months before that as a stay at home mom while I figured out what to do when grad school turned out to be not for me. It’s been a long journey, and I feel like I’m finally ready to stop searching. January of 2014 I happened to accept a job working for a company that makes auto paint as a chemistry technician. I had no idea what went into paint, no idea what was in store, I fell in love. Coatings has become a passion for me that I just can’t describe. It’s likely due to the amazing people I worked with at that first company. They are smart, knowledgeable, willing to listen, willing to teach. They are kind, caring, and just an all around great group of people. When I was there a few positions opened and I was not selected for a full time position (for good reason, I don’t think I have had a worse interview before in my life).

Not too long after I was offered a position (still contract) for a competitor. They still do coatings, and they hire pretty frequently. It was a pay cut and afternoon hours, but being the main breadwinner for my family the promise of a full time position was very appealing. Leaving my initial position was a really difficult choice, I believe in giving my all to those who treat me well. I felt like I was letting someone down. In the end the second position was not at all what I needed. The company is in a large transition state, they run like an auto union shop instead of the companies I was used to, and the people who bought them out were trying to transition away from that. The result was some really amazing people that I worked with and a few that were very vocal about being bitter. The people I worked for were the same as the company I had left, knowledgeable, kind, willing to listen and teach. I worked on a different part of automotive coatings from my initial position, and there was a plant on site, so I learned a lot of really valuable lessons about the industry and the history of the industry. I interviewed for a full time position there as well, but realized pretty quickly I was not what they needed, and the company was definitely not what I needed.

I was only there 6 months, and leaving was (yet again) bittersweet. The people were funny and genuinely great to be around (for the most part), the man I worked for and the people we worked with were wonderful. I’ve made professional contacts and friends at both of my previous companies, but when I was offered an interview for a smaller company I took it. While it took a long time to get everything sorted out I started my newest (contract) position at a much smaller company. With the plant included there is less than 70 people on site at the corporate headquarters. The R&D division has grown to a whopping 15 people in the last few years. I love the smaller atmosphere and as I’m training I’ve met with the head of QC, QA, and the president of the company (just to name a few, it’s a very extensive training).

When I accepted my newest position I felt like I’d been doing internships; 9 months here, 6 months there…starting the new job made me nervous like it always does. Who will I be working with/for, will I fit in, have I maybe found my forever spot? After time at two separate companies I knew that I wanted to stay in coatings, preferably in color. That is exactly what I found. The group I work with is kind, genuine, hard-working, considerate, quirky, and right up my alley. I love waking up and going to work every morning, and within the first two weeks I knew I want to keep working for and with this company. What really cemented my decision that I honestly love my new company was when I was training with the president of the company. He reminded me of this story:

A teacher walks into a classroom and sets a glass jar on the table. He silently places 2-inch rocks in the jar until no more can fit. He asks the class if the jar is full and they agree it is. He says, “Really,” and pulls out a pile of small pebbles, adding them to the jar, shaking it slightly until they fill the spaces between the rocks. He asks again, “Is the jar full?” They agree. So next, he adds a scoop of sand to the jar, filling the space between the pebbles and asks the question again. This time, the class is divided, some feeling that the jar is obviously full, but others are wary of another trick. So he grabs a pitcher of water and fills the jar to the brim, saying, “If this jar is your life, what does this experiment show you?” A bold student replies, “No matter how busy you think you are, you can always take on more.” “That is one view,” he replies. Then he looks out at the class making eye contact with everyone, “The rocks represent the BIG things in your life – what you will value at the end of your life – your family, your partner, your health, fulfilling your hopes and dreams. The pebbles are the other things in your life that give it meaning, like your job, your house, your hobbies, your friendships. The sand and water represent the ‘small stuff’ that fills our time, like watching TV or running errands.” Looking out at the class again, he asks, “Can you see what would happen if I started with the sand or the pebbles?

It’s one of my favorites, and is one of the foundations which the company has built their post-recession values. The rocks at work are designed to lead the company towards their three year goals, the pebbles are the daily bullshit that happens that can ruin a day (flat tire on the way to work, ordering a material that hasn’t arrived in time), the sand is everything else. Distractions can be overwhelming and that is something I have experienced in former jobs, at school, in my personal life. He explained to me that it’s really important to keep the rocks in sight, and leave work at work. When I go home I have email that comes to me, but it’s not really a distraction. As an hourly contractor I’m not allowed overtime, I’m still learning about the company and the company’s process, and that helps me from getting overwhelmed. I do research and study about coatings in my free time, but it’s because I honestly love coatings. I get home and we have a whole routine with Edgar, and I now have two hours at night where I can do whatever I want after he goes to bed. It feels freeing, and much of it is I honestly enjoy work again.

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