83) Splendid Isolation

I was determined to keep it from happening again.

So I approached my new work mates at Intel with an enthusiasm and friendliness I hadn’t mustered since my days in San Francisco on Nob Hill, showing million dollar properties to affluent locals.

Our design team numbered in the hundreds and mask designers in the dozens. I counted roughly 35 mask design contractors. As things turned out, I had met two of them on a different contract. So in terms of my relationships with the folks at work, I started strongly.

In my last post you read about my “crazy” cube mate who lived for 1940’s radio shows featuring Sam Spade and Fiber Magee and Molly. In this post, I’ll try to let you in on some of my thought processes as I approach my 51st birthday, aware that the only way I can support my family is  to take assignments hundreds, even thousands  of miles away from our home in Fort Collins, Colorado.

My frame of reference for some of these thoughts were feelings of exhilaration for making great money yet helplessness for having no other viable skills.

Was I even control of my life?

My Sanctuary

My tiny, nearly new, scorpion infested apartment in Awatukee, Arizona – with all its imperfections – proved to be a magnificent sanctuary for the 12 months of 2001. My living room was bathed in the piercing sun of the Arizona desert. And I set the thermostat to 65 degrees, drank Starbuck’s coffee by the quart and pounded the stock investment section of Investor’s Business Daily (IBD). Like some of the local’s, I rarely went outside, finding it uncomfortably hot. This accentuated my isolation.

There is nothing like a contract at the Intel Chandler Design Center to focus one on the merits of finding a different way to make money. Like the sun piercing two small windows in my sanctuary, I was deadly focused on making something else work. I was 51 years old.

Still a World of Possibilities?

While I wasn’t analyzing the stock market data in the Investor’s Business Daily, I was still holding out hope there was something in my career that would “click” again and provide a means to make a living during the next 14 years – until I had reached the age of retirement. Like a paddle in a vat of butter, I churned these thoughts round and round. If only I found the right technology, the right group, the right project, the right company, the right city, maybe then I could make this career work. If only. I wanted to like my work. I wanted to like Arizona. I wanted to turn the switch to automatic for a few more years. But I hated all of it. My one-year contract in the desert couldn’t end soon enough.

I enjoyed some aspects of  mask design – like getting paid well to create some cool things from scratch – but increasingly, after having accomplished so much in the career, I was finding many aspects of my assignments boring and found it increasingly difficult to sit in my chair for 8 -10 hours per day.

Note – On some contract assignments, due in part I believe to my growing resume, I was given the highest rate and most difficult projects. This is a trend that continued until the end, sometimes despite my efforts to negotiate lower rates and less stressful roles on the teams.

Until my contract ended, music by Nirvana, Metallica, Incubus, got me through, courtesy of my son Steve, who came to visit me.

Next: One of my favorite assignments at a place nearly everyone loves.

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