I have a hard time being intimidated. Not because I’m arrogant – far from it. It’s because I know that, at the core, we are all the same. We may all be in various life stages or different levels of success, but we all share humanity. We all get sad, happy, angry, for different things – sure, but these emotions exist in everyone.
As a young Airman, back in the mid-’90s, our GPS operations floor was set up in an obvious nod to rank. The grey rectangular room had a dais where the Flight Commander and Crew Chief sat, elevated above the remaining five crewmember worker-bees like me. Some of the other airman would venture up there. Most wouldn’t. For me, it was the best view. I went up on that platform as often as I could. When the satellites weren’t scheduled for contact, you could find me chilling on the steps, rolling around in one of the extra chairs, even answering calls from the Wing Command Post.
On a typical day shift, there was a lull in the schedule so I headed up to my favorite perch to chill with the upper echelon. With my back to the door, I didn’t notice our squadron commander (AKA the big cheese) walk up behind me. Colonel Squatrito was a very tall (6’4?-5?), very military kind of dude. He also wore a giant UT class ring.
The Colonel walked right up to my pint-sized self and said, ” You are the only airman I ever see hanging out up here. I like how you aren’t easily intimidated by rank.”
His blunt comment left me speechless for a second. All I could do was smile back. And then, glancing down at the giant gold class ring on his hand, I said, “Sir, I see you are a Longhorn. I’m from Houston and I actually joined the Air Force instead of going to UT.” It was a condensed version of my reality, but basically true.
“I knew I liked you,” he said with a grin.
That was sometime around 1996. I ran into Joe Squatrito last year at the National Space Symposium (space nerd conference – see nerd stalking photo above). He recognized me instantly and was just as gracious as he was 17 years ago. Just because he outranked me tenfold all those years ago did not mean that we had no connection. It didn’t mean that he couldn’t speak to me or that he was far superior – aside from what the military dictates.
He got over himself.
By doing so, he left an indelible impression on my life. He taught me that you are never too good for anyone (well, unless there’s abuse or violence involved). I’ve also grown to believe that those who feel and act as though they are superior never deserve to be treated as such. So if you think you are better than someone else, check that attitude because you can rest assured that you are the only one who feels that way.