Growing Among Sharks
By: G Wayne
Copyright © 9/9/11
If this opinion seems childish or outright wrong, you are correct dear reader. The primary education system I endured was better than average and prepared many students for college and a prosperous life. It just did not work for me. I would attempt to read along in class, try to keep up, fall behind, miss information needed to understand what the teacher would say next, be unable to catch up, then get frustrated and quit. As I fell behind, the pressure and belittling criticism increased and I became withdrawn. When I was finally given up for dumb, and my teachers labeled me as useless cause; I found comfort in being ignored. I began to plod along, gritting my teeth, and resigning myself to not expecting too much from life. A concept my not-so-discriminating academic handlers had so graciously pointed out.

As my studies progressed, I began to notice a broadening difference between my failures as a student and my success at deciphering the physical world. I began to develop a method of learning that excluded all unessential knowledge. If my brain was defective, as I was told, I would conserve its usage by learning only what was needed. I became annoyed at having to start at the shallow end and found it more efficient to concentrate on pertinent knowledge. This combined with the joy I found in learning-by-doing made self-discovery enjoyable and effective. My true education became a series of projects where attaining the end result dictated what I needed know.

My skills increased, giving me the ability to repair things and then be puzzled by my own success. By the time I was in junior high school, I operated my own TV repair business. It is ironic that some of my best customers were my teachers. Although, at first, they engaged my services because of thrift, they became return customers because I was able to resurrect their TVs from the dead. Somehow, this did nothing to palliate their view of me being scholastically inept, but my grades in the classes taught by certain teachers (my customers) tended to improve. This brought on a realization that became a lifestyle for me: Whenever possible make your own rules! I will clarify this statement by stating that I am not suggesting any unlawful behavior, nor do I support any sort of civil disobedience or cheating, but there are situations that you can create to shift things in your favor without offending moral justice. It will not always work, but at times it will provide profit and peace of mind.

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I completed my primary education at a private high school, being graduated in a class that was a year behind the one I started with thirteen years earlier. If not for one teacher in that school understanding the nature of my problems, I might have quit. That fine woman, an extraordinary educator possessing insight none of my other instructors seemed to have, provided me with the gift of positive self-image. She was able to provide new hope in prospects that I had long ago given up.

"Are you looking into going to college after high school?" Mrs. Suddy asked.

"No, I don't think that I'm the college type," I replied, looking at the floor.

"What!" she shouted, "What the hell is wrong with you? You have so much going for yourself and you don't think that you're good enough. Are you crazy? G, listen to me, if you want to go to college, you have more than enough intelligence to succeed. You really need to change the way you view yourself."

I looked at her, trying to decide if she was just being nice. "I don't know . . . I'm just no good with words. It's painful for me to read; I have to go over it and over it to understand what I am reading, and my spelling is atrocious-I don't even know how to spell atrocious," I added for comic effect. (I am proud to say I have recently learned how to spell "atrocious", but by the time this story is published I will probably be spelling it with two tees.)

"You do have problems and it will take extra work to overcome them," she went on," but you are not stupid! You have so many things going for you. I don't know anybody your age that can fix televisions. Do you realize how special that is?"

"Well, probably anybody could do it if they wanted to," I said.

"No! Not everybody can fix TVs, even if they want to. That is a gift you possess and you need to respect it and also yourself." She then, not so softly, punched me in the arm and I giggled.

"G, I want you to think about this. You have the potential for a very rewarding life. If you want to do something, give it a try. Don't shoot yourself down before you even attempt it. You may not succeed all the time, but you will be successful and probably surprise yourself. Never buy into negative opinions people may have of you."

"Okay," I said sheepishly.

"Good, now go away. I need to grade these papers," she said.

"Thank you, Mrs. Suddy," I said then started to leave.

"Oh, and one more thing, when will my TV be done? My kids are driving me crazy."

"I'll finish it tonight, Mrs. Suddy."

"Well thank you, and don't forget to work on your self-respect," I heard her say as I left the room. They all wanted their TVs fixed, but she was the only one that made me feel like I could do something important.

This is the point when life started to improve. Perhaps, it was when my life actually started. It was like being freed from a psychological prison. I was developing a positive opinion of myself that was made easier because the amount of people staring down their noses at me had dwindled considerably.

The local community college accepted my application and I embarked on a path in the field of engineering. Although the skills I developed while fixing electronic equipment gave me a head start in my collegial endeavors, basic learning disabilities were still prominent and made progress extremely difficult. I did apply myself because of a strong love for electronics, but as in primary education, I found it almost impossible to keep up with my fellow students. History began to repeat itself and I began losing interest. Again, my self-image as a loser began to raise its ugly head and I quit college. This time I fought back and discovered pursuing avenues that seemed out of reach could be very rewarding.

There are lots of people out there that will give you a chance. This is so important: if you feel that you have ability and you think that no one will be interested, try it out anyway. Excuse me for repeating myself, but there are lots of people out there that will give you a chance. You may or may not succeed, but if you do not try, failure is your only option. I am still awestruck at the truth in this aphorism even though it has become an underlying theme for my life.
After a string of menial jobs that wasted the last of my teenage years, I applied for a position as an Electronic Technician. One of the prerequisites was an Associate's Degree in Electronics Technology and I did not have one.

I was almost sure that they would reject my application without even bothering to call back, but I sent them a resume that reflected my experience with TV repair. I had almost forgotten about the position, but two weeks later they called, asking me to come in for an interview. I was ecstatic; someone was actually considering me for a job as an electronic technician. It was a good thing they scheduled the interview within two days; any later and I think I would have exploded from emotional overload.

I spent most of the next two days studying as hard as I could with extra hours provided by lack of sleep. My attitude was correct: I felt capable and would do whatever it took to be hired.

The test they administered was not too difficult, and when the interviewer asked about compensation I proclaimed it did not matter. "I have the capabilities to fulfill the requirements of the position." I looked the man directly in the eyes and said, "I will do anything for the opportunity to prove myself."

To my surprise, the company called me back for a second interview.

"Are you still interested in the electronics technician position?" the interviewer, and my new boss to be, asked with a wry smile.

"I certainly am!" I said, trying to seem as unemotional as possible.

"In that case, I'd like to offer you employment with us as an electronic technician."

Without further consideration I accepted. We talked about the position and during that time he mentioned that other applicants achieved higher test scores than me, but required higher compensation. He also said he was impressed with my attitude.

That is how it started; I became an electronic technician, not because I was the best applicant, but because I was willing to work for less-and they did seem to have detected some sort of potential in me.

I found no difficulties in completing my assigned tasks. However, there was a challenge in handling the equipment. Improperly plugging in an un-keyed connector and powering up the system would create great clouds of smoke to waft up and spread across the ceiling of the two-story manufacturing floor. It was fortunate that my supervisor was out of the building when I had the bad luck to witness this sort of disaster firsthand. I was able to change the 96 circuit cards that had blown up and place them under my bench before he returned. After replacing the cards I was happy to find that the system powered up and worked perfectly. That's all anyone really cared about: "Does the system function properly or not?" I was able to repair the blown-up PCBs over the next few weeks.

Things were going well with my fledgling vocation. I was completing my tasks on time, and the engineers seemed pleased with my work. It was not easy though, the work hours were long and the conditions were harsh. The large, high ceilinged production floor was cold, drafty and the freezing during the Ohio winter. I used to surround myself with three large vacuum tube type oscilloscopes. One I used for my work, and placed the other two with their exhaust fans blowing hot air towards me to keep warm. Then I had to deal with the warmth of my cozy cathode-ray cocoon causing me to doze off.

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