Last night I finished Walter Mosley’s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey
I just finished Walter Mosley’s masterpiece. Over ten years late to it, I confess, but it was worth it. Not my first Mosley book, but by far my favorite.
We all grow old, if we live long enough. It is possible to outlive one’s support system, spouses, siblings, even children, and find oneself in a strange and harsh reality surrounded by dreams and ghosts. Such was the case of Ptolemy Grey, somewhat. He lucked out when Robyn entered the picture. We should all be so lucky. I think about my lifelong friends, my sister and her progeny, and my elderly relatives. Think I will call my uncle up on the phone tonight. He is 91. And my first cousin, who is close to 80, I think. I wonder how will I organize the distribution of my treasure, my library, my financial assets that I will likely never consume, my CD collection with music from every country where I have been assigned?
Ptolemy Grey provides insights into those and other end-of-life considerations. Strangely, I laughed out loud at the very end, frantically turning the page for more, only to discover those pages intentionally left blank.
Expertly written. Can’t wait for the movie.
Just put in touch with a young colleague referred by the DC chapter of my undergrad alum association. It made me wonder, what does one say to the young ones coming along? I mean, beside the normal advice, “Don’t let a fool kiss you, and don’t let a kiss fool you?”
To a person entering into a bureaucratic career, and that includes the military, corporate America, or government service, my first piece of advice would be a declaration that you are starting off with all the tools that everybody else has. But you need to look into your tool bag and determine what gives you the competitive edge. For example, I grew up in a very political environment at church, and learned early about treachery and trade-offs. Then, at a tender age, I learned to navigate my way around an all-white boarding school where, as a scholarship student, I was considered somewhat inferior. You only prove your worth through hard work, grit and determination
To that I would add to take that edge and go for the tough assignments, the out-of-the-way locations, the jobs that your peers don’t seem to want. Given the circumstances, you only have to survive, not that the achievement bar is lowered, but the survival rate becomes the critical measure. You can be a superstar later and in a better place.
Be curious about things, about standard procedures and protocols, about why things are done the way they are done. Don’t be afraid to lift up the hood, to see how the whole machinery runs. Along with curiosity, carry around a healthy dose of skepticism, not in-your-face skepticism, but I-wonder-why skepticism that dovetails with your curiosity. If you have weak bosses, they will feel threatened and may even try to retaliate. Live through it and save your best resources in a safe place in order to be ready to return to the fight another day. And as my father would say, don’t take no wooden nickels.
Keep a journal. Record your thoughts, your reactions, your responses. Not as a weapon, mind you, but as a chronicle, a plotting of points from which you may make a mid-course correction if and when necessary. Along those lines, don’t try to trade on your identity, whether as a member of a minority group, or your sex, or your ethnicity, or any other physical characteristic. Don’t trade on it. You know what I mean. And heaven forbid, don’t bring your personal life to work, i.e., don’t try to sleep with the girls at work if you are a man, nor with all the boys at work if you are a woman, or any combination or permutation thereof. It just doesn’t work and people around you will whisper just loud enough for you to know it.
At some point you will hit your stride. Keep your wits about you. If someone higher up notices your talent and makes you an offer, consider it, even though it may take you off your intended track. It may be a good thing, and people who “pick” may be more inclined to “take care” of you. Consider all the ramifications. Discuss it with your spouse or significant other. Speaking of which, try to keep in touch with an outsider, a college professor, a high school teacher, a clergy-person, someone who is not beholden to your system who can give you a different perspective on things.
Finally, don’t stay in a situation too long. When you have things “running like a sewing machine,” it is probably a good time to examine your options and plot your next move. When I went off for long-term language training in preparation for a three year assignment, one of my mentors told me that a year and a half would probably be long enough to get all the problems solved and move on. Turned out he was right. I once contemplated making a lateral move to a different organization that I was extremely excited about. At the last minute I was offered a vertical step if I remained, and, driven by ego and ambition, I took it instead of the lateral. Turned out to be a mistake.
That’s about it for now. Would I change some things if I could go back in time? Probably. Do I have any regrets? Absolutely none.