Wednesday, February 16, 2005

When it comes to climbing the corporate ladder, I have no ambition whatsoever. I don't care about titles, getting a promotion, or commanding a division of minions. I believe Darwinism normally weeds out people like me, but sometimes, like the platypus, we sneak through an evolutionary backdoor.

My lack of ambition started at an early age. While my friends had dreams of becoming President, or astronauts, or giant robots, I aspired to being a cab driver. Of course, because I had no ambition, I never really followed through on that plan. Like the failed actors who end up waiting tables, I'm a stereotype. Just another computer programmer, struggling to make ends meet, while his dreams of driving a cab go unachieved.

For those of you who think that this type of ambition-less life is the road to misery, I give you the story of Ed Greer. I read this story in the newspaper nearly 20 years ago and it spoke to me. I clipped it out and saved it for years, but I can no longer find it. So, I shall do my best to document it here from memory because it is one of my favorite stories.

Ed Greer was an electronics engineer at Hughes Aircraft back in the 1970s. He was happily married, enjoyed his job, and was pretty pleased with his life overall. After a few years, however, perhaps due to financial needs, or maybe because of ambition, he accepted a promotion to management. His job changed from being one where he built electronics, to one where he managed people who built electronics.

This promotion sucked all the joy out of his job. He hated being a manager and dreaded going to work each day. He longed for the days of being an engineer but felt trapped in his new role. This was a life he no longer enjoyed.

One day, in 1981, a co-worker spotted Ed at the airport and said hello to him. Ed seemed nervous but said one thing to him. He said, "Don't ever get too good at something you hate. They'll make you do it for the rest of your life."

Ed then walked away and completely disappeared from his life. Poof, like Kaiser Sose, he was gone.

His wife had no idea where he had gone. His co-workers at Hughes never heard from him. His father placed a large reward for any information that would help find Ed, but it was all to no avail. No one heard from Ed again.

Years passed and Ed became a legend at Hughes. Annually, some old co-workers would celebrate Ed Greer Day on the anniversary of his disappearance. They'd photocopy pictures of Ed, make masks out of them, and have cake. They envisioned him on a beach, on some tropical island, everyday celebrating his escape from the drudgery of a career he hated.

As it turns out, they weren't too far off.

Ed had made his way to Florida and started over. He earned money by repairing boats and enjoyed living a very simple life. He relished this new existence and lived like this for a while.

Eventually he yearned to do something a little more technical, so he pretended to own a company and placed an ad in the paper looking to hire electronics engineers. Among the resumes that he received, he saved one. Ed then applied for engineering jobs using the name and identity on that resume. He soon found a job with Exxon and moved to Texas to start anew again.

Ed was an engineer once more. He met a new woman and settled down in Texas. He had managed to recreate his life back the way he wanted it. Ed happily continued like this until one day the IRS noticed that two people, with the same name and the same Social Security number, were getting paid in two different states. This bit of accounting detective work eventually brought Ed's new life to a crashing halt.

Confronted with the evidence of his false identity, Ed was forced to admit who he was. His new girlfriend was stunned. His father was both shocked and relieved. His wife was furious.

Ed had little to say to the media when this story broke. He acknowledged that he had angered some people and he had some apologies to make.

That's all I've know of the sad tale of Ed Greer. I don't know where he ended up or whether he regretted his disappearance. All I know is that when I reflect upon this story, I don't feel so bad about my decision to ignore the corporate ladder.


tinyhands said...

I can't tell you how many times I've been tempted to put the top down on the old roadster and just head down to Old Mexico without telling anyone. If I called my Mom a day or two before I left it could be a couple weeks before anyone noticed. Alas, I've got a test next week in Strategic Management.

Badaunt said...

I have a friend in radio who ran up against a similar problem. There was a cap on how much you could be paid as an announcer. The next step up was into management, and off the air.

On-air was her THING. It was what she was good at. She could not get promoted without losing her job. The better she got at it, the more they kept offering her promotion. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Tinyhands: the test sounds like a good reason to do it rather than the other way around. (Also, are you stalking me, or am I stalking you?)

Mike said...

Tinyhands, week after next then. It's been a pleasure.

Badaunt, please, no stalking on my blog. You two can take this outside.

Tasty said...

I fully support your decision to ignore the ladder. You're not alone in your decision, either.

Mike said...

Tasty, thanks! Maybe I just have a fear of heights though.

The Mincemeat Vixen said...

The Learning Annex in Toronto offers a course on disappearing and starting a new life. I read an article on it and although they don't say it in the course description at the link below (I just cut and pasted the link, I have no idea how to make it "hot" within the comments), apparently they cover how to fake your own death too! I'm not kidding.

Mike, I hope you got your shirts clean - Try salt & soda water. And you might want to see someone about those bleeding eyes. I hear that's not normal.

Mike said...

Mincemeat Vixen (dang, that's hard to type), thanks for the shirt cleaning tip. You'd be surprised how many shirts I have to throw away because of blood stains.

I hope the Learning Annex makes people pay in advance for that course.

The Mincemeat Vixen said...

I also answer to Vixen (who wouldn't??). Your last line made me laugh out loud.

Mike said...

Vixen (well, I wouldn't), thanks!

Anonymous said...

There is a Los Angeles Times article about this Ed Greer story. I read it in a high school philosopy class. I used to have that article, but then I think I threw it away. In the end, I think Ed Greer regretted his decision to walk away from everything. He said in the article, "I wasn't a rational decision. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone".