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Don’t Get Left Behind! (by Paul W. Smith)


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“CAUTION!  Moving walk is coming to an end...”  My kids know this by heart, and recite it right along with the mechanical voice every time we pass through Denver International Airport.  The problem is that the moving walkway is never going to end….

August 6 would have been Lucy’s 100th birthday.  She spent 20 years in Hollywood as an unknown, auditioning but failing to get the part of Scarlet O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” At the age of 40 she finally hit it big with the debut of “I Love Lucy” in 1951.  She was the first woman to own her own film studio (Desilu), producing such TV favorites as Star Trek and Mission Impossible.  Lucy is one of the most talented comedians to ever inhabit the planet; if you are feeling blue, ditch the diazepam, pitch the Prozac, and watch a few old Lucy episodes.

The Chocolate Factory” is one of the funniest television skits ever.  Initially, things on the factory line are going just fine, and Lucy and Ethel are feeling pretty confident.  As the pace begins to quicken, they panic, finding various ways to fool the boss and avoid being fired.  Just as the ruse of eating surplus chocolates (or hiding them in their hats) seems to have worked, the boss speeds up the pace.  No matter how fast they work, or what tricks they employ, there is no way that the girls will ever keep up with the system.  They are doomed to fall behind.

When I was in graduate school, I shared an office with a much younger student named Bob.  Like me, Bob had an outside part time job in addition to working for the engineering department as a grader.  As if that wasn’t enough, he also had a fiancé who competed with his dissertation for his precious remaining time.  Bob was bright, driven, and borderline burned out.  In the street lingo of our department, he seemed destined to become a “crispy”. 

On one memorable occasion, my young officemate dragged himself into our cubicle in the early morning, plopped down in the squeaky swivel chair, and threw his backpack onto the desk.  After pausing briefly to contemplate his next move, he said, “Paul, I dream of the day when my life will be simpler and less hectic.”  From the vantage point of my additional years, I could only observe 1) that aspect of your life will never change and 2) if you are to survive, your attitude will.

I am neither an insomniac nor a television addict, but it seems like no matter what time of day or night I flip through the channels, that same guy is always there with his knives, slicing and dicing common household items from tomatoes to empty soda cans.  After deftly converting everything within reach to a neat pile of small pieces, he makes his pitch.  You too can slice stuff like this in your very own home.  All that’s required is someone at least 18 years of age, with a credit card, who is capable of dialing a telephone.  There is one catch; the product is not available in stores, and the amazing offer is only open to the first 100 callers.  You must act fast to take advantage.  Don’t get left behind…..

From choosing teams in PE class to the rapture (see Left Behind by Lahaye and Jenkins), one of our most primal fears is that of not acting quickly enough, not making the right choices, or just being fundamentally inadequate to keep pace with life.  With the “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001, we sought to protect our kids from this fate.

Harried people are sometimes counseled to create order from chaos by making a “To Do” list.  By neatly collecting all of your pressing concerns on a single piece of paper, you theoretically take control of your life.  Here comes the metaphor you’ve been expecting – the “To Do” list is like the moving belt; it never ends.  Your life is now under the control of an ever-changing, rapidly scrolling piece of paper. 

If there isn’t a book called “Life Lessons from Lucy”, there should be.  Just when you think the challenges of life are manageable, the moving belt will surely speed up.  Hiding the evidence of your issues may create the illusion that you are in control.  This will draw more issues like a magnet.  Be careful when the belt is in motion, as there will always be danger. 

Research shows that well-being comes from good relationships (including marriage), rewarding work, leisure time, sufficient money, a healthy lifestyle, and some form of spiritual foundation.  In the meantime, the world keeps exhorting us to get more, look better and live longer.  We respond by spending countless hours reviewing the things that past us by or the things that might be coming at us, without ever actually occupying the present.

Lucy showed us how to laugh at the moving belt.  Why is it that when we hold up a mirror to our own lives, it isn’t funny anymore?

PaulWSmithLogoAuthor Profile - Paul W. Smith, a Founder and Director of Engineering with INVENTtPM LLc, has more than 35 years of experience in research and advanced product development. 

Prior to founding INVENTtPM, Dr. Smith spent 10 years with Seagate Technology in Longmont, Colorado. At Seagate, Dr. Smith was primarily responsible for evaluating new data storage technologies under development throughout the company, and utilizing six-sigma processes to stage them for implementation in early engineering models. While at Seagate, he was a proud member of the team that brought the world’s first notebook disk drive with perpendicular recording technology to the market. 

Dr. Smith holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, a Master of Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.