THE SEVEN-YEAR ITCH
I get lessons in life from some unusual places. Throughout my career, I have observed the wisdom of the 1955 film, The Seven-Year Itch which starred Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. The premise was that Ewell’s character, after seven years of a rather routine marriage, was tempted to stray to Marilyn’s character when his wife took the kids to visit her mother for the summer. This left him in the city with Marilyn living in the next apartment. Even the most faithful of husbands might have had difficulty in resisting the charms of Ms. Monroe, but don’t tell wife I said that. The lesson I took from the movie was that anything can become humdrum after seven years and that it would not be unusual to feel the need for a major change. Later, I amended my theory to include a clause that the change can be either a total divorce from your current situation or a radical restructuring of your existing life. This theory fits me to a tee.
It’s funny. I have never experienced the problem in my marriage, which has just completed its forty-eighth very happy year. However, I have seen the itch very clearly in other parts of my life, especially in my career. Of course, seven years on the nose is not magic, but it’s a good average of the amount of time it takes until some extreme action is needed. There comes a point when evolutionary change isn’t enough.
In my case, I spent six years in the sixties drifting through four different jobs before realizing I needed to settle down and find something for the long haul. Once at Kane, I was in the accounting department for seven years before getting myself transferred to manufacturing operations. I was plant manager for eight years, but most of the final year I was committed to leaving and was looking for a place to land.
My next job lasted seven years almost to the day. The first three were as plant manager leading the startup and establishing a culture of excellence at the new Indiana plant. In the final four, I was COO driving the turnaround of both the Massachusetts plant and the other functions there.
Although I was at United Way for seventeen years, I was presented with periodic opportunities that enabled me reinvent myself. I started as president in 1995. In 2001, we received the donation of the campus and buildings that became the United Way Center and, eventually, the Doug Otto Center, a co-location of about fifty human service agencies and programs at one site.
In 2008, our county was hit by a destructive 500-year flood for which I took on the task as director of the long term recovery while continuing my United Way duties. I had managed to property as one of my United Way duties, but when I retired as president in 2012, we spun off the management of the buildings as a separate job and I stayed to do that job on a part time basis.
It’s been a fulfilling and gratifying career that has been broken into unofficial but clearly visible seven year segments. Travel in your mind back through your own career. Do you find a similar pattern?