Adam Calaway

Getting a Grip on Life

These three statements reside in our organizational ethos: Begin with humility. Put words into action. Build together.

  Estimated read time: minutes

I am not a grease monkey.

Maybe my Y chromosome is defunct, but I just do not enjoy working on engines. A carburetor might as well be a cantaloupe. So the annual maintenance of the family riding lawn mower pushes the boundaries of my mechanical repertoire.

However, all chores must eventually be done. Armed with YouTube-generated false confidence, I wheeled the lawn mower into the garage and gave it a go.

Within a few minutes, the cover was disassembled and the battery disconnected. With deft and ease, I switched out the air filter, changed the spark plug and drained the oil. Replacing the oil filter was all that remained. As I began my first twist, a fleeting thought passed through my mind: “What will I do with the rest of my day?” As it turned out, my afternoon was booked.

What followed could best be described as The Odyssey meets The Three Stooges. It was two hours of slapstick and tragedy as I journeyed through increasingly ridiculous attempts to remove the filter. Muscle it off? Never budged. Extra-large wrench? Not big enough. Oil filter wrench? Worthless. Begging and cursing? Not helpful. What other tools do we have? Nothing worked.

My immediate response was to buy a new lawn mower, drag this clearly defective model into the yard and proclaim it as a piece of modern art entitled “YouTube lied.” 

Finally, I did what all perplexed men eventually do. I found an old guy. Old men are amazing. They’ve seen it all. They’ve broken it. They’ve pieced it back together. I fetched Ed from down the road. He brought more tools, strange and magical tools, but an hour later, the filter remained. It mocked me.

I needed another old guy, one with enough mechanical daredevil to attempt “unconventional” solutions. I called my father-in-law, Ray, who had one last ditch solution: ram a spike through it and use a long steel pipe for leverage.

I did as I was told. Admittedly, hammering a spike through the heart of the oil filter was satisfying, but I remained a skeptic. I found a pipe, slotted it over the spike and gave it one last hernia-inducing heave. The oil filter begrudgingly released. The fight was over. Sweating. Sore. I was the victor.

A few days later, the guys at work were handling the usual Monday-morning watercooler updates, and I rolled out the story. Self-humiliation always plays well to this crowd. We all laughed at my plight and returned to work with the memory of misadventure soon to fade.

Billy Phelps approached me a few weeks later and asked if we could talk in his office. Billy serves as our communications technology coordinator on the computing services team. You’d love Billy if you met him, and you’d respect him if you worked with him. Everybody does.

He smiles every day. He always makes time for people (even though he has little to spare). His first response is “yes.” And he works like a coal miner on deadline. So when Billy asks to talk, you oblige.

Once in his office, Billy launched into his speech with a surprisingly serious tone. “Your story the other day got me thinking, Adam. Every man needs two things in this life. The first thing is love, and you have that with Summer (my wife). The second thing every man needs is a good set of Channellocks.”

Billy then pulled a set of gargantuan Channellocks out from under the desk and presented it like a Christmas puppy. At almost 2-feet-long with a metal mouth and shiny blue handles, these Channellocks must have been bought at an aircraft carrier rummage sale.

It’s difficult to properly respond to that type of genuine kindness. I shook Billy’s hand and carried my new Channellocks down the hall to my office (receiving a few questioning looks along the way).

These are the moments that make me cherish working here at Noble. These simple personal interactions reveal the character of our people.

Great employees are not exclusive to Noble, but toss an oil filter down any hall here and you’re bound to hit a dozen people you’d love to know.

Most every organization has a set of core values, and Noble is no different. These three statements reside in our organizational ethos: Begin with humility. Put words into action. Build together.

The ideas are written on paper, but it is our employees who breathe life into them. People like Billy, who model modesty, compassion and thoughtfulness every day.

The depth of integrity manifests in simple meaningful acts, which give rise to unity. A unified team is an unstoppable force, and that’s all an organization really needs.

Oh, and a good pair of Channellocks doesn’t hurt either. 

Adam Calaway

J. Adam Calaway formerly served as Director of Communications and Public Relations for Noble Research Institute. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Cameron University and a master’s degree in communications from the University of Oklahoma.

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