Home Richard K. Rein Life Lessons at Wawa

Life Lessons at Wawa

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Who will win this little race? It’s 6 in the morning or so, and I have taken my place in line at the Wawa convenience store next to the Princeton Dinky station. The hyper-kinetic guy in front of me, eying the opening of a second line on the other side of the checkout area, suddenly dashes around the counter to join that line, obviously betting that it will get him to the cash register a few seconds quicker.

I smile as I recognize a vision of myself 20 years younger, jumping from line to line to save a few seconds here or there. I have long since quit that game, in part because I now recognize Rein’s Law of Queuing, which states the whatever line I choose in a store will contain at least one person in front of me who will have one unanticipated complication that will delay the entire line. Excuse me, I see a bruise on this rutabaga — can I take it back and switch it with another?

So this morning at the Wawa I hold my place in line. The frenetic fellow in front of me plays the change game. But it doesn’t do him any good and he ends up in the same position as me in his line. Except that the guy in front of him, recognizing the impatient bobbing and finger tapping on the counter, steps aside and lets him go ahead.

The guy who steps aside has even more gray hair than me. I smile again. Must be another Low-T guy, just like me.

Low-T. OMG — another one of those concerns that we baby boomers are suddenly being asked to weigh. You may have seen the television commercials. An aging baby boomer is portrayed as a shadow of his former self, lagging around like a rag doll while his former (and younger) High-T self swaggers through the day.

The T stands for testosterone, and it is available through a little dab of a drug called AndroGel. Now — no surprise — it’s also available in a new, improved, and faster acting format: a 1.62 percent formula as compared to the original 1.0 percent. In the commercial the resolute guys are using a giant erector set (is there a subliminal message here?) to hoist a gigantic 1, 6, and 2 into place to represent the new elixir.

If you doubt that a boost of testosterone will enhance your physical prowess, look no further than former New York Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera. He was a teenager when the Yankees signed him in 2001 and in his rookie season impressed fans with his enthusiasm and hustling defensive plays. But eventually Melky’s star began to fade with the Yankees. He ended up playing with little notice in Kansas City.

Then this year when the 28-year-old Cabrera re-appeared with the San Francisco Giants. Never a power hitter with the Yankees (his batting average was .267 in his first five years in the majors), Cabrera this year blossomed into a .346 hitter. He was named the most valuable player of the All-Star game. How did the Yankees fail to recognize all this potential? Maybe because the potential was realized only after Cabrera began using testosterone. Thinking that his great progress was too good to be true, Major League Baseball launched an investigation and ultimately banished Cabrera from play for 50 games.

So apparently testosterone will make a difference for a professional athlete. But what about a weekend jock or a road warrior who finds himself dragging — mentally and physically — at the end of a long week? A Reuters report posted online notes that experts acknowledge physical and psychological challenges for middle-aged men, but “they say that testosterone replacement therapy isn’t necessarily the solution for these problems. The symptoms described in the ads occur in other diseases, they note, and could also be chalked up to plain old aging.”

The Reuters report adds: “According to a review in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, testosterone replacement therapy is questionable because it has risks, its efficacy is uncertain, and there’s no strong agreement about whether low testosterone is really a disease in older age. ‘We’re skeptical about this,’ Dr. Ike Iheanacho, the journal’s editor, told Reuters. ‘You may have men who have symptoms who have low testosterone levels, but in our view it doesn’t add up convincingly to an undoubted medical condition.’”

To get back to my early morning moment of enlightenment at the Wawa store: Assuming that the frenetic young man hopping from one line to another was a high T kind of guy and assuming that the other gray-haired man and I were both Low T guys (experts say men lose 1 percent of their testosterone per year after the age of 30), then let’s ponder the possibilities. What if all the people in line were Low T — would it move more slowly than if all the people were High T? If there were a mix of High T and Low T would the High Ts get through a little quicker, as our energetic young man did?

Coming from a guy in line at the Wawa, this research proposal sounds a little silly. But, much to my amazement, business school researchers from Northwestern, Columbia, and Queensland, Australia, conducted a similar study, to determine whether work teams reflecting office hierarchies and led by dominant personalities are more effective than “flat” groups with no clear chain of command.

As reported in the September issue of Inc. magazine, participants were asked to find as many words as possible from a set of scrambled letters and then create sentences from those words, with each member in the group contributing at least one word.

“Participants were grouped by dominance, as measured by testosterone levels,” Inc. reported. “Participants were placed in three types of groups: all high-testosterone individuals, all low-testosterone individuals, and a mix. Afterward participants were asked to rate the level of conflict within their group. The mixed group created more sentences and reported less conflict than did the high-testosterone groups. The low-testosterone groups also had less conflict but were less productive.”

As the magazine concluded: “Having too many dominant personalities on one team could create a toxic work environment.” For some reason I’m thinking that women readers might have known this all along.

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