Friday was my 44th birthday. A few days before, a young woman at work who joined us just after graduating college this year proudly announced that it was her 22nd birthday. It reminded me that I turned 22 shortly after being hired into my first job after college – and that therefore I’ve been working in software development more than half my life. Holy frijoles!
But I’m cool with that. I wouldn’t be 22 again for all the tea in China because the intervening 22 years have brought such maturity and confidence. As a matter of fact, my 22nd birthday taught me a lesson that helped me grow up a little.
It was standard practice in our office that when someone had a birthday someone brought a cake and someone decorated the break room and we all knocked off for a half-hour or so in the afternoon to celebrate. I don’t like having a fuss made over me, and so I deliberately didn’t mention my upcoming birthday. On the day itself I thought I had successfully dodged all the attention, but I didn’t count on Freda. She was my boss’s administrative assistant – in those days, first-level managers still had admins to to answer the phone, type memos, and keep the schedule, as nobody had voice mail, e-mail, or electronic calendars. She prided herself on taking care of the entire department. I guessed later that when I was hired she probably handled my job application, which showed my birth date. She bought a cake, decorated the break room, and invited everyone in to surprise me.
I was mortified! But I didn’t want to hurt Freda’s feelings, so I put on a thin smile and went along. I did my best to be polite as people wished me a happy day and as some of the guys in their 40s (which seemed like an advanced age to me then) expressed their jealous astonishment at my youth. But I didn’t want to be there, and it probably showed a little.
I, I, I, I, I. Ay yi yi. But as people laughed and talked over that cake and coffee that afternoon, I saw how they enjoyed this short break from our hard work. It dawned on me that this celebration was as much about my co-workers enjoying each others’ company as it was about my birthday. To think I would rather have denied them this brief pleasure. I felt embarrassed about my attitude, and I determined that from now on I would be man enough to give of myself for everyone else’s enjoyment. I even said so to Freda. And so on my 22nd birthday I became a little less self-absorbed.
I’ve known I wanted to make software since I was a teenager. But without a course in public speaking, I never would have had the opportunity. Read that story.