Why Am I Here?
It was just about eight years ago that I started a quest that brought me to this very point in my life.
I was at my wits end, a bartender turned reluctant career restaurant manager. I’d gradually worked my way down the food chain from fast casual restaurants to pizza chains. The next stop on the train was the exciting world of fast food. My career, if you want to call it that, was a succession of fast starts and spectacular flameouts. I was a raging maniac. It was not a good time to be me.
In my late forties, I found myself playing out the chain as a pizza delivery driver in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Columbus, Ohio, The Hilltop. I bided my time. I liked the job. I was a GREAT delivery driver. Hell, I’d been a General Manager of the two largest pizza chains for over seven years. I knew exactly what my manager needed from me and I left it all out on the streets every night. After a year in the shooting gallery, I made a simple request. Transfer me to a safer spot and I’ll continue being the teacher’s pet. The word came down from on high:”
“We can’t do it, Brother T. If we let you transfer, we have to let everyone do it.”
Now you and I both know that this is a bullshit answer. If you can’t reward your good employees, then you don’t deserve good employees. Despite feeling betrayed and unappreciated, I gave my two-week notice and began looking at my options. It never occurred to me to just go. Managing was in my DNA. I knew that I would leave them in the lurch. I remembered the countless times over the years that my employees had done the same to me.
It was time to take stock of my life. Time to stop looking for the most bucks and the best perks. Time to do something to enrich my soul. Time to stop feeding the madman that raged within.
The Bullshit Artist
I’ve always had the ability to walk into a job interview and come out on top. You could same that I’m the ultimate bullshit artist. I‘m a voracious reader. I’m able to learn things on the fly. I’m good with jargon, so I’m usually speaking the same lingo as the interviewer. And I have the ability to get along with anybody.
It doesn’t hurt that I’m a white male, relatively attractive (I guess, I’ve never seen it), with a military background and I was articulate. I seem more educated than I really am. All through school I was an underachiever. I didn’t bother with homework, studying or things like that. I was a test taker. I knew that I had a pretty good chance of scoring well. Job interviews were just like tests for me. Go in there, tell them what they need to hear, report to work on Monday. That’s how I became an internet support rep who had never used a computer before, a supervisor in a factory when I had no mechanical skills, a high-volume restaurant manager who had no formal training.
Looking back on all those interviews, I can honestly say that I was the beneficiary of white privilege. The interviewers didn’t doubt me because I looked like them. They didn’t question my past because I have a nice smile. I was tough. I was a Marine. I’d been a “manager all my life.” I used this phrase in every job interview for twenty years. It worked every time. The only times that I didn’t get a position that I wanted was when I interviewed with someone who knew about my past. That never went well. You can’t bullshit someone who already knows about the skeletons in your closet.
I Went Down to the Crossroads
I quit my job. I was at a crossroads. I was also flabbergasted. I was raised in an era where we were told, “if you work hard enough, good things will happen.” I’d often used that messaging with my employees as well. Of course, mine was often double-speak. In the service industry, especially on the corporate side, we told our people whatever it took to get them to show up and not steal from us. Most times this wasn’t enough for them to keep their jobs, but at least it gave me time to find their replacement. So now pizza world was finding my replacement. What was I to do?
There was one thing I knew for sure. I could not endure another service industry gig. One the one hand, I’d been working in restaurants for so long that self-abuse and the abuse of others was second nature to me. I had done awful things to my employees and tolerated the same from my bosses. Twenty years in the industry was enough. I needed a clean break. I was searching for menial work. I needed zero responsibility for minimal compensation. I looked back on my history. I made a list. Marine, security guard, factory foreman, Jetski salesman (what?), environmental canvasser, retail manager, Internet tech guy, bartender, restaurant manager, multi-unit manager, pizza guy, delivery guy.
The Marine Corps was NOT an option. I guessed I could still guard things, but security is hardly a fulfilling field. I could sell things (but not Jetskis). Technically (no pun intended) I could get back into IT customer service. But the field had passed me by. No more retail. No more food. My eyes kept circling back to the canvasser job. I’d had a lot of fun. I’d hooked up with one of the loves of my life. I’d been very good at it. I told you I was a bullshit artist. On a whim, I called the number on Craigslist. I had an interview. I got the job. (Just not the one I have now). That’s what I do.
I picked up right where I left off. I was one of those guys that walk around your neighborhood and knock on your door, telling you “how bad your windows are, and I can give you a heckuva deal on some new ones.” If you own a house, we’ve probably knocked on your door. It wasn’t my job to sell the windows. I just had to get my salesman into your house and let him rip you off. It was easy. Follow the script and watch your paycheck increase. I was good at it, but I fell into a malaise. I may be a bullshitter, but I felt like I was a con artist instead. And the conning went both ways. I could twist the words to get what I wanted from the homeowner, while giving the bosses what they wanted as well. After a year of this, I needed a change. Back to the drawing board.
The next ad I replied to was for a similar job. The heading said. “Make a Difference. Change the World.” Yeah right, I thought. I called the number. It changed my life.