I wrote this story, published in Shift Miner Magazine, as a response to a challenge. I blogged about this story here, but only provided a link to the on-line version of the magazine. By popular request, the full text of the story appears below.
"So, how's business Nathan?" asked Julie. Nathan had been her boss until he'd left to start his own company just over a year ago. Julie had stepped up to take his old role as Maintenance Superintendent of Freshwater Coal. Nathan was a bit of a diamond in the rough, but she still cared enough to ask how things were going.
Nathan smiled and smoothed his hand over his mostly-bald head. "Fantastic," he said. "Can't get the men or materials to meet demand." He added with a bit of a smirk, "You must be pretty jealous, huh Julie?"
Not again. She'd thought Nathan was just cruising around site, flying the flag and trying to win some more work. Instead, he was starting his "small cog and big wheel" routine. Julie was sick of it. "Why would I be jealous, Nathan?" she asked.
"I know what it's like in that job," said Nathan. "You're a small cog in a big wheel, inside an even bigger machine. It's the same with all the multinationals. Unless you're head of Australian operations on a million bucks a year, you're a nobody."
"And you're not a nobody, I suppose?"
Nathan looked shocked at the thought. "Of course not. I'm numero uno: the man in charge. I run my own company, and I'm my own boss. I'm not hidden away in a big corporation reporting to numb-skulls any more." He pointed vaguely towards the administration building.
"No, now your hidden away in your own company."
Nathan's jaw began to hang a bit low. Julie had never talked to him like that when he was her boss, of course. Poor bloke; she almost felt sorry for him. "It's not like you've become an international super-star. You're a legend in your own lunch box. You've got ten blokes working for you now, right?"
"Eleven, actually." Nathan pulled on his goatee.
"Fine. With supervisors, planners, engineers, trades and others, I have 23. What's your annual turnover: one and a half million dollars?"
Nathan's forehead was covered in sweat. "Just under $1.7 million."
"Great. My budget this year is $18 million. How much of your work this last twelve months came from just my department? Fifty percent?"
"More like forty," said Nathan. His face was red.
Julie thought it was probably more like sixty, but she let it go. "That means that I'm your boss 40% of the time, and I can sack you at any moment by only inviting quotes from other suppliers. You're not your own boss: your customers are your bosses now."
Nathan looked like he'd had enough. "Look, what's your point," he said softly.
"My point?" said Julie. "My point is that there's nothing wrong with being a lowly superintendent, or a fitter, or an operator in a multinational mining company. I – we – like to be a small part of something big. That doesn't make our part any smaller than yours. You've chosen to be a big part of something small. If what you're doing makes you happy, that's fine. Just don't assume that the rest of the world is insanely jealous and wants to be like you. And please, don't try to put me down for what I've chosen to do." Julie smiled, then added, "Especially when I'm 40% of your boss."
Nathan slunk out of her office. They got on fine after that.