My students often ask me how I got started in the space business, the classes I took, where I went to school and how to get into a field or career path coming out of college. My answer is simple… Be nice to people and treat them with respect, because you never know who can help you get to where you were meant to be.
In the fall, I will have three children in college, two in graduate school and another working on his first degree. They worry about where they are going to school, the degrees they are pursuing and what they will do when they get those degrees.
I was listening to a radio program on my ten hour drive back home from my second daughter’s college graduation/moving trip. In the program, they were talking to a filmmaker from London, who had dropped out of school at age 15. He noted it took until he was 25 to figure out what he really wanted to do.
He wanted to be in the film business. He was serious about this passion to be a filmmaker, but knew he had to start at the bottom. This is something that some our youth either don’t understand or want to skip. We’d all like to skip it if we could, I understand that. But we can’t.
This future filmmaker started by being a “tea boy,” or someone who brought tea to the folks working on the movie set. The film he had been working on was seen by the right people or he met the right people by being in the right place and I would have to assume by being nice to people. I’m not fool enough to think that was all there was to it, I’m sure he was talented with his craft.
He noted that the most money he had ever made was around $250 in a week. He literally went from that tea boy salary to making millions in a weekend when his first film made it big. We can’t all be so lucky.
I went from being a janitor to being a camp counselor to being an aerospace guy. In there somewhere was “Ken the Bus Driver.” Ken the bus driver was a fellow I befriended while working at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, while finishing my graduate degree. Most of the other counselors didn’t pay much attention to Ken’s stories of grandeur and advice on life.
When my graduation date was approaching, I told my Ken my aspirations of working in the space program. Ken was probably close to 70, maybe a little older and always had an unlit stogie in his mouth. After hearing what I wanted to do with my life, he simply said, “Get yourself a resume and give it to me.”
Two days later, I had an interview and a job about a week before I officially graduated. We sometimes don’t expect help from people, either because of what they look like or what they do. My advice is not to do that. We can’t expect everyone to want to help us or take an interest in what our goals are, but they also don’t walk around with signs hanging around their necks that say, “I want to help you.”
Thus, we should treat everyone with respect and help others when we can. “What goes around does come around” in a good way if you will let it.
I wasn’t a “tea boy,” but I did put myself in the general area of the field I wanted to pursue. That is the first thing and perhaps the hardest to do. Then, I talked to people and tried to be nice to everyone. Those things are perhaps as, if not more important than my piece of paper saying that I graduated college a couple of times.
Some thirty years later, I have not, nor will I ever forget Ken, the bus driver.
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