WOW! It's been a long time since I've reminisced on my "former life" in corporate land. But I was recently reminded that it was not all stress and politics and pressure and achievement and ladders.
It was also friendships, growth, variety, experience, and camaraderie. It was special. And it made me who I am today.
The picture above is of me graduating from the Manufacturing Leadership Program of Goodrich Aerospace. I'm being handed a lovely plaque by the amazing, indomitable Helen Goldson. You likely don't know her, but she is an incredible human being. A beacon of light and a stalwart example of perseverance. I feel privileged to know her.
In this post, I'm going to take a trip down memory lane and walk through my experiences. It will be a fun journey, so hang on for the ride!
I was ALWAYS an academic. From my earliest age, I loved and thrived on learning. I was writing books in kindergarten. Legit. I learned how to spell "written and illustrated" at age 6. The principle of my school kept several of my "works" because he believed I'd someday be an accomplished author.
Through grade school, I used my intelligence to its full extent, wracking up straight A's, competing in math leagues and knowledge bowls, and taking several college courses as a high school student. I graduated high school with a 4.0 and a fair amount of college credits. Needless to say, I was a quiet, introverted nerd. But I was driven!
My dad encouraged me, with my affinity for math and science, to become an engineer. I was accepted to Rice, Cornell, Purdue, and a few others, but I chose to remain in-state and attended the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. After one semester with a Materials Science major, I quickly adopted the chosen major of my dorm roommate - Mechanical Engineering.
From there it was nose to the grindstone, both academically and workwise. I knew that accomplishment to a potential employer meant work experience. I also wanted to see what it was like to "try on" different jobs. I wanted to be prepared for graduation, as fully as possible.
I worked internships and co-ops at 3M, Andersen Windows, PaR Systems (they make gigantic six-axis robotics), and also tutored for the University in calculus and physics.
Senior year rolled around, and so did a unique opportunity from Goodrich Corporation.
No, they don't make tires. They made (past tense since they were acquired by UTC in 2012) anything and everything that can go into an airplane.
They sent a recruiter to my school, one of only six universities that they gathered candidates from, to talk about their leadership rotational programs.
They had several well-established programs for new graduates looking for a fast track to leadership in a large company. Manufacturing, Engineering, Human Resources, Finance, and others. All of these programs lasted two years and consisted of three, eight-month-long job rotations. Typically each assignment was in a different business unit, in a different part of the country, and with a different job role.
It was a program designed to create adaptable, highly effective leaders within the company, and it had a lengthy track record of success. Graduates of these programs went on to become executives within various divisions and also became mentors for current program participants.
Not only did it sound like the challenging experience I was craving, it also sounded like family.
The Goodrich Corporation Manufacturing Leadership Program did not disappoint! The above photo shows all of the program's participants (across all divisions) doing a community volunteering activity in Charleston at one of our annual gatherings. We made hurricane kits.
My fellow participants, our mentors, and the people we met along the way were some of the most down to earth, solid, genuine, supportive human beings I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.
After Goodrich was acquired by UTC (United Technologies Corporation) and integrated with another aerospace company, United Technologies Aerospace Systems (UTAS) was born. Sadly, our leadership programs began the rapid process of dying. They were not supported by the new company, but we were allowed to finish them. Even though the infrastructure changed, we all supported one another.
If you're curious, my program went like this:
Rotation #1 - Manufacturing Engineer at a machining facility that made landing gear for all sizes of aircraft, a facility of about 300 employees (98% of whom were male), in Tullahoma, Tennessee. This was my crucible for sure. A young woman engineer from the North in a factory full of traditionally-minded men in the deep south. That's a story for another time.
Rotation #2 - Production Planner at a wonderful facility in Vergennes, Vermont that made sensors and electronic brakes. I helped my team successfully transition to SAP (for those who aren't familiar with MRP systems, we'll just say this is an arduous process) and was a part of the healthiest, most badass leadership team I've ever had the privilege of working with. The culture here was top notch, and Vermont is a huge part of why it was so awesome.
Rotation #3 - Fake Supervisor (that's another story as well) for a production crew of about 30 women in a tiny factory that made premium leather seats for private aircraft. Peshtigo, Wisconsin. This rotation sucked, to put it mildly.
Here's a picture of me when I graduated. I almost didn't. The last rotation was so bad, I flew to Charlotte, NC to interview with a different company. I decided to stick it out, though, and after completing the program, I moved back to Vermont and took a position as a Lean Manufacturing Specialist.
In that role, I had close contact with the leadership team. I had responsibilities that encompassed the entire 800 employee facility. I was provided with ample education and experience. I was supported, and I grew.
Unfortunately, during that time, my childhood dog of 17 years passed away and my significant relationship with my boyfriend ended. My anxiety began to grow as my responsibilities and stress increased. I began to struggle.
Near the end of my time in Vermont, I had to take an entire week off for mental health reasons. I was close to falling apart. In talking with my family, I started entertaining the idea of moving back to Minnesota. Of being closer to my support system. Of taking a break from this stressful line of work and getting back on my feet.
The universe is pretty good at communicating and lining things up for you.
Within just a few weeks of starting my job search, I was flying to Anoka, MN for an interview with Pentair. A couple weeks after that, I was handing in my letter of resignation and making plans to leave Vermont.
It was with a heavy heart, because I so loved (and still love) Vermont, that I packed up a moving truck and drove with my dad across the country to return home.
If you're still reading - yee haw! You get 10 gold stars! I have a little bit of story left, so bear with me!
After a 3 week decompression and moving into my new rental house in Anoka, I began my new job at Pentair. There, I was a Lean Leader. I had a couple employees, and I mentored a few more. I had even more responsibilities, more scope. I worked side by side with a Value Stream Manager and a 3-shift team of a few hundred. The facility (campus) held about 1200 - 1500 employees.
I worked on my most challenging project ever and celebrated wild success.
I was also manager-less for 75% of my time there. Which means barely supported. Which meant more stress and more to take care of.
All of this on its own would mean considerable stress. But the culture here was awful. I had a small handful of coworkers that I trusted, and that's saying something. The company was struggling, plus it was a high volume manufacturing environment, which meant incredible pressure to make numbers. Since the company was struggling, they employed several common methods of trying to fix the bleeding. All of which meant an unstable work environment and a general sense of unease.
I gained valuable experience here, no doubt. But it was a blessing when I was laid off just shy of two years after being hired.
It took climbing the corporate ladder, gaining the prestige, making the big bucks, and feeling everything that comes with it for me to realize the toll it takes to live that life.
I think that, as a highly sensitive person (HSP), that type of environment was just never going to work for me long term. I was incredibly good at it. I excelled at my job. Because of my insane attention to detail, doing process improvements at small- and large-scale was right up my alley. I loved managing and mentoring and leading others. I gained a lot of coaching experience in those roles.
Most importantly, I learned the value of authenticity.
I met some incredible people on that journey, and it took a LinkedIn post for me to remember it. I believe that all people are inherently good. But sometimes the environment and the pressures can make us forget who we are. I clung to those few authentic people who appeared unaffected by the rigors of their positions. They lifted me up, and I now choose to lift up others.
I'm incredibly grateful for the experiences I had and the people I met. I wouldn't trade it. I'm right where I need to be, and those experiences helped craft who I am today.
So, no matter where you are, no matter what you're going through, know that you're right where you should be. That the way will be made clear. Stick to what's important to you. Appreciate the little things and the people around you. Find contentment where you are, but keep one eye open for new opportunities. You never know when they might strike!