Uninstructive Memories

Years ago, I was offered a job as executive director of an engineering association headquartered in Morgantown, West Virginia. The salary was good, its location—in a college town—was appealing, and I was ready to make a move. But when I received the employment contract for my signature, the offer’s attractiveness disappeared like a wisp of smoke in a high wind. Though my moving expenses were to be covered, the contract provided that I could be released without notice and without severance at any time—and the agreement did not provide for relocation back to the city from which I would have moved. Even if I had been fired within a week of moving. I could have responded to the employment contract more graciously, but I let my temper take charge. I expressed my dismay to the executive search recruiter who had recommended me to the board and who had arranged for my interviews. While I waited for the board to modify the terms of the contract, the offer was rescinded. Even today, as I think back on that experience, I am offended that the search consultant would have called the agreement a “contract.” It was an employment-at-will offer, with absolutely no protection for the employee. I doubted the board would modify the offer; the original offer told me more about the volunteer leadership of the association than I could have learned otherwise. Though I was a little disappointed in the outcome, I was grateful I had not been successfully lured into an untenable situation. I have never changed my mind. I am confident I would have gone head-to-head with that board from the very beginning. The experience should have long since evaporated from my memory—why does it occasionally rear its head, all these years later? Pointless recollections get in the way of relevant memories. And they interfere with things that matter. That job offer and its subsequent withdrawal has not mattered for more than a quarter of a century. But I suppose the fact that it remains wedged in my brain, surfacing every five or ten years, suggests it may have mattered more than it should. I guess the experience taught me something; maintaining one’s composure is preferable to losing one’s temper, even if the outcomes are the same. But, have I ever really learned that lesson?


It is time to get ready for my visit with the doctor. I hope he has a magical cure for my troublesome sinuses and whatever else ails me. Already, I am ready to go back to sleep. This is getting so damn old.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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