Things I Learned from The Oilpatch

It occurs to me that I’ve never really written much about what is, arguably, the most interesting thing about me, which is that I worked in the oilpatch for three years.

Part of the reason that I don’t say much about it is that it is a dysfunctional industry, and I was in it for the wrong reasons, and therefore the lesson I learned were mostly *negative* ones– the sort where you see things going horribly wrong and you know exactly why and you vow never to perpetuate them, and then you do, and then you hate yourself for a while, and then you learn the VERY IMPORTANT skill of forgiving yourself, but THAT, my pets, is a rant for a different time.

Now, I’m going to talk about what I learned.

The oilpatch is kind of like Wonderland, and I mean that in the queer, dark, Tim  Burton-y definition. The politics are murky, nothing is ever as it seems, and it’s a cut-throat old-school jungle.

…and those are its good points.

Like most jungles, once you know the rules, you’re all right. But learning those rules…. well, you’ll see what I mean about the negative lessons

Lesson 1.

The company is never on your side. The company is on it’s own side. As a rule of thumb, your best interests are not its best interests. It’s not AUTOMATICALLY out to screw you, but it’s not morally opposed to the idea either.

Lesson 2.

Remember that value systems, principles and motivators differ. If you are idealistic, this is the hardest lesson. Generally speaking, the company wants the most profit at the end of any given quarter, and any method, no matter how short-sighted, is an option. Managers want to take as much credit as possible for that profit, and they don’t often have the enlightened views that Google does. Finally, the people you work with want to make alot of money. That’s why they’re in the patch.  They do it for other reasons too, but never forget the primary motivator: Filthy Lucre.

Lesson 3.

Systems beget the results they reward. Therefore, dysfunctional systems require overhauls to the motivation and rewards in order to produce the desired results.  After you get to  certain point of dysfunction, , it’s easier to start from scratch than it is to modify

Lesson 4.

Not everyone is going to like you. It’s not your fault, but that doesn’t change the facts. Some of those people might even be your boss, so watch your back and make friends, because unless you’re  smart and careful  *Might Makes Right*, and you lose.

Lesson 5.

Stay out of politics. You could be the next Machiavelli, but that road is paved with crushed glass. I knew a guy who recorded every single phone call with the office. He was consumed with plots and machinations, some real, some imagined. He was a brittle, bitter ball of tension and ulcers.

Lesson 6.

People like to share their craft.  I could always find someone to learn from. Always. I just asked them how they did things. People who are good at their jobs are proud of their skill and eager to show you their methods. Be humble, be teachable, be grateful and you’ll get ahead faster than you ever believed possible.

Lesson 7.

In spite of Lesson 2, people are human, and like to behave that way (it cuts down on the ulcers). Make it easy for them. For instance, let them feel good, even superior, for helping you. Remind them of your commonground. Inspire trust.

Lesson 8.

When good people do bad things, at least one of your assumptions is wrong. Everyone thinks they’re doing the right, or at least the reasonable. You have to understand their decision before they can understand why you don’t agree with it.

Lesson 9.

Guard your principles carefully. If everyone else is doing it is the best reasoning you can come up with, back away slowly. You know very well you’ll be ashamed of yourself later.

Lesson 10.

You can do more than you think you can. I worked 20 hr days for an entire summer, eating granola bars and redbull, no days off.

Lesson 11.

Just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean you have to. Don’t be fucking stupid. Is it really worth your health?

Lesson 12.

You don’t have to deal with this bullshit. You can work like a dog through the politics and the 100-hr workweeks, to have the sports car, truck, boat, RV, McMansion, lake country cottage, and alimony payments, or you can do something you like, in an industry with standards you respect, with people who’s principles and motivations you want to support, and define your own damn standard of success.

Any hard-won lessons you’d like to share?


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