My first job after college was on the “plug line” at a commercial greenhouse in Manhattan, Kansas. The plug line is as sexy as it sounds, a conveyer belt surrounded by college students, all aiming to “plug” seedlings into moving planting trays fast enough to avoid a pileup. Only I wasn’t a college student, but a recent college graduate. And I was making $6.25 per hour.
That would be quickly solved, I reasoned, once I applied my bachelor degree in horticulture to an epic greenhouse improvement program. I began taking notes, which I brought into the owner’s office, and asked him to take a seat. I would, in very short time, explain how he might repair the miserable business he had taken 30 years to build.
To my surprise, the proprietor had little interest in repairing anything. He didn’t care about my academic insight on synthetic plant hormones or their capacity to reduce his greenhouse space by eliminating the need for half his propagation materials. He didn’t care that he was wasting time on inefficient watering methods. He was, apparently, making a fine living and perfectly happy with it. To get that message across, he handed the next promotion not to me, but to a smiley dental hygienist who knew nothing about plant hormones, and was only there to make a few bucks for dentistry school.
I learned a lot of things that spring, but mostly that a good college degree is best used in combination with a lifelong dedication to understanding and appreciating people. I’m still working on that one.