I can tell you for a fact that I wasn’t awake as my body and mind entered the last year of my fourth decade of life. That unstoppable force called “time,” which pushes us all ever onward, shoved me right along… Right into my 40th birthday. Damn!
The good news, I’m told, is that 40 is the new 30… Yes? Strange, feels nothing like 30 to me.
For one thing, when I turned 30, I was still struggling to figure out what my career path should be. That was 1995, of course, and I was just about to take a job with a young but promising company called Clark Internet Services, Inc., in Columbia, MD. I still remember my first interview with the owner and the Sales Manager for the company.
We met at the Pizza Hut in Columbia, where the owner/President, Jamie Clark, bought pizza for us and chatted casually with me via his Sales Manager who translated Jamie’s Sign Language into speech for me, and vice versa. Jamie was a nice, highly intelligent, man who was immensely dedicated to the dream that, one day, this obscure service called “the Internet” would change the world and help level the playing field for members of his community.
After dinner, we drove just a few miles down the road into Clarksville, MD — yes, named after Jamie’s family, whose history stretches back to the nether reaches of Maryland history — to a 300 acre stretch of farmland. We turned onto a bumpy dirt road that wound itself through about a half mile of corn fields to an old barn. And there we parked.
We had arrived at the hub of ClarkNet’s operations… A converted dairy barn nestled amongst the corn fields, cow and sheep pastures, and several wooded acres.
It was dark when we arrived and there was noone at the “office.” Jamie unlocked the door, which was newer than the building, walked in, and turned on the lights.
I walked in and looked around. Yup, a barn. It smelled like a barn, looked like a barn, etc. On the right was another door which led to the room which housed ClarkNet’s servers as well as an impressive (for that day) bank of modems. I honestly can’t remember for sure, but I think they were all 14.4K modems at the time, which was, of course, the best dial-up standard of that day. On the left was a round room that had been completed coated with tiles… The milking room.
I also noticed that there was actualy HAY on parts of the floor. Obviously tracked in by employees during their comings and goings. I thought it was totally cool.
That was then.
Now, a decade later, I work for a company that generally hovers in the top 50 of the Fortune 500, where I can grab free coffee, tea, or soda from any of the pantries on our floor, or go down to our subsidized cafeteria for a Starbuck’s coffee (NOT free). I work, not in a converted dairy barn, but on a “campus” of offices owned by my company, and I make more than three times the amount I used to earn with ClarkNet.
Is that an improvement? I’m not sure.
Life is certainly different. I have resources that I never dreamed of, a company which treats me well, compensates me well, offers me challenging work, opportunities for advancement, etc.
Truly, I live now in “Corporate America.”
When I think back to my earliest days with ClarkNet, I wasn’t even sure whether or not I’d be paid from one week to another. And, Jamie was a notorious workaholic. He NEVER took vacation. A year or two later, after Jamie hired Drew Clark, his cousin, to take the financial and business reigns of the company, formal vacation days were established. Before that happened, however, you just sent Jamie an email which said something like, “I’m taking tomorrow off, see you after Christmas.” His response? Generally it was along the lines of “have a great day off! :-)”
I couldn’t do that again. I have kids now, and they expect to see their daddy. And their daddy looks forward every day to going home to see them. Yet, if I could afford to go back to another startup led by a young, intelligent, ambitious person, would I do it?
It depends I guess. But for today, the question I’ve found myself asking at the cusp of my fifth decade is this: Am I a better person today than I was ten years ago?
I think so… I hope so.
I’m fairly sure.