Sunday, May 31, 2009

Significant Events

Quick as you can, think of some experience or event that changed your life. Some "fork in the road moment" that had a lasting effect on the direction your life took. It's possible (particularly if you are relatively young) that you haven't had such a moment yet, but if you have, did you recognize its significance at the time? And if you haven't had such an experience, how do you think you would recognize one if you did?

I've been thinking about this lately, because over the last few weeks I've been doing the Storage Networking Industry Association's Management and Administration course, and the ITIL version 2 course, and the related exams. I reckon that the two activities have consumed about 10 days in training courses, additional study and the exams themselves (I passed both). However, for all the effort, I don't really expect either one to change my life noticeably.

An event that did change my life happened in about five minutes early in 1981, and at the time I barely noticed it.

In 1981 I was working as a library assistant for the Community and Child Health Services branch of the Public Health Department of Western Australia. One of my duties was to take care of journal circulation, the extremely manual process by which periodical publications were circulated among staff who had asked to see them. This meant dealing with hundreds of people and thousands of individual issues of everything from the British Medical Journal to Nursing Times. There was no Internet, and the only way for the medical staff to stay up to date with current information in their field was to read the printed word. So every day scores of periodicals would cross my desk, and I would try to at least glance at the contents page of the new ones, and if anything looked interesting I might put it aside to read during lunch.

On this particular day, the November 1980 issue of Psychology Today hit my desk, having already made the rounds at head office, and during lunch I skimmed through it. There was an article by an American physician called John Eric Holmes, entitled "Confessions of a Dungeon Master". It was about the fantasy role playing game Dungeons and Dragons, told from the perspective of Dungeon Master of a long running game. It probably took me less than five minutes to read it, and I thought it sounded like fun. I was looking for a new hobby, principally because I wanted to find a way to extend my social circle, most of whom at that time were either other librarians or nursing students (read: very few men). I knew that there was shop in Perth that sold the paraphernalia for D&D, because they also sold military simulation games, which I had tried previously. So, when opportunity permitted, I stopped by the shop and asked the owner if he knew of a group that I could join. He said he did, and gave me the name and phone number of someone who ran a gaming club the the Gooseberry Hill area.

I called the number, and spoke to the club organizer, Stephen Neal. And as Miss Bronte has it in "Jane Eyre", "reader, I married him". Not at once (not until 1986), but my husband and I met because I read an article in a magazine. A chain of events started that otherwise could not have happened. When I was offered work in Canberra, my prospective employer (the National Library) would not pay my relocation costs, but
Steve was just graduating from his degree and starting to look for work, so we decided to drive across Australia together. I started work in Canberra, and Steve went on to Sydney and found a job there. I got a transfer to Sydney in 1985, and we married in 1986, just in time for me to get retrenched and accidently join the IT industry.

And I can think of at least two other people whose lives I significantly affected, by helping them get out of poorly paid public service jobs and into better paid (but much more stressful) private sector jobs. All sort of things could not have happened if I had stayed in Perth, and I couldn't get out of Perth without Steve. If we had not met, I would probably still be a librarian, and he would probably work in heavy construction on some mine site. Our directions changed because of a five minute event that I barely noticed at the time. I did work it out later, and while I was still at the National Library, I located that issue of Psychology Today and photocopied the article. I have it beside me now, faded but readable, with a proper citation scrawled on the first page in my hand, giving volume, issue and page number detail.

The important events are not always the obvious ones.

If anyone happens to know Doctor Holmes, say "Hi" for me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Longer than I care to remember, I was on a fishing trip in Canada. I was part of a group, but only knew a few of them.

On the fourth day, three of the group whom I didn't know, asked me what I did for a living. I explained I was a night shift restaurant manager.

They asked me the next day after more conversation, if I would be interested in managing a new company that was going to compete against Mickey D's.

I thought they were nuts, and told them so. In truth I wasn't willing to take the risk. I had turned down a management position at the very fisrt Wendy's.

I like your story much better!



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