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Posted: November 07, 2013

Got time to lean, got time to learn

Bridging the road to betterment

Laura Cook Newman

Colorado is renowned for our spectacular seasons: Winter and ….Construction.

For the next eight months, I’m trapped in the season of scenic cranes and orange cones as a decaying bridge in my neighborhood is torn down and replaced.  Every day, the blinking sign reminds me the project will be completed in July 2014.

My “improved” daily routine involves navigating a comical detour while the hard-hatted workers attempt to control traffic.  They urge impatient drivers to STOP and SLOW accordingly. 

The construction has provided me an opportunity for personal improvement as well.  Since breaking ground, empathetic passengers have humored me by listening to my daily rants.  I’ve gone through most of the grief phases for loss of my bridge:

  1. Denial and Isolation – “There is no way this is going to take a year.”
  2. Anger – “Are you kidding me?  I’m gonna be late for Zumba!”
  3. Bargaining – “Can’t you just let me through this one time?  I live right there.”
  4. Depression- “I’m not leaving the house today (sigh).”

Four months into the project, my friends have reached their limit for soothing my toddler-like tantrums.

Now I’m forced to direct my second phase of loss at the innocent sign holders; they’re an easy target after all. The only job I could think of being less rewarding than holding a sign for hours, would be Richard Simmons’ stylist: “Red tank top and striped shorty-shorts again, sir?”

These guys are kinda in construction, yet aren’t building anything.  They’re kinda in law enforcement, but don’t get a shiny badge or firearm.  Most of them seem resigned to their humble task.  The neon-vested urban cowboys half-heartedly guide the herd of commuters while talking on the phone or smoking Marlboros.

But there’s one guy who holds his cautionary post in one hand and a textbook in the other.  You can tell it’s not a book for pleasure.  It’s clunky and hard covered; he’s not reading it, he’s studying it.

As an undergrad, I held a job as a line cook on nights and weekends.  The class that relentlessly punished me was Cell Biology.  The auditorium was full of international pre-med students.  Clearly I was in way over my head. But I signed up, paid and was determined to tread water.

In an effort to survive the tidal wave of reading assignments, I’d scan my scientific text until alerted by the kitchen printer’s hum.  When we were slammed, that book was nowhere to be found.  But on Monday nights, that baby was open, getting toasty under the heat lamps.  

You could tell my Executive Chef wasn’t thrilled with my…multi-tasking.  My time was on his dime after all.  In pro kitchens the mantra is: “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean.”  And there I was furiously highlighting the function of mitochondria.

But Chef never said a word.  He knew I was juggling work and school with nary a silver spoon to be found in my mouth.  No work = No tuition = Maruchan for life. 

I imagine the foreman of this bridge job and the young sign holder have the same unspoken agreement.  Sometimes bosses look the other way, recognizing the importance of the bigger picture.

Managers probably don’t want to punish their employees for trying to improve themselves, and may even be secretly rooting for them. I suppose it’s like a parent wanting their kids to be successful.  And maybe your employees’ self-improvement could pay dividends for you someday.

As for the construction by my house, it’s a third of the way done.  I’m curious to see what new textbooks Mr. Sign Holder will be flipping though next.  It took his foreman and my old Chef less time than me, but it looks like I’m at the final phase of loss of my beloved bridge:

  1. Acceptance

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Good piece. Like how it comes full circle to the final stage of grief. Nice job! By Pater Familias on 2013 11 13
When I wrote this article, I was thinking more about the lucky folks I have known who work at a company that pays for their advance degree, like an MBA. Sometimes these generous companies even allow their employees to take classes while “on the clock”. This is probably not the norm at most companies. But reading on the job, is NOT just isolated to college students, chefs, and sign holders. Take a look at this. WWYD? http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/11/is-it-ethical-to-read-programming-books-on-the-clock/ By Chef Laura on 2013 11 12
Excellent article! I full-hearted agree that a little study time on the job is a good thing! It means you're expanding your mind whether it be for a company project or simply education. In the end, the company benefits from an improved you! By Kris on 2013 11 10
After all the boring articles on CoBiz about 'being better,' it's nice to finally get one that shows us a good way to waste our employers time. As if sign holders need to be alert, bah. If they paid us enough to care, maybe we would, ammiright Laura? Keep up the good work. (I hope you wrote this at work.) By Taker on 2013 11 08
Excellent article! A little self improvement on the job never hurt anyone. By Minerva on 2013 11 07
It's better than facebooking By Ta tee on 2013 11 07
I hope I don't ever have to work for a D-Bag like Aghast. What a short sighted way to look at life and work. Right on Chef, you are correct - sometimes we do look the other way because we know its the right thing to do. By Jeez on 2013 11 07
Got to take you to the wood shed on this one Chef. We are paid to do a job, studying while on the clock unless its directly for a work issue is not what folks are paid to do. Bettering oneself is important, but I hope his studying doesn't impact the safety of his coworkers and drivers. By Aghast on 2013 11 07
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