A friend of mine, Michelle, just got promoted. Friday night, a bunch of us went out to this place called Aragon, a jazz bar. I'd never been there before, so I felt pretty under-dressed with my chucks and green polo shirt while all the "cool kids" were decked out in Vegas club-attire. But, the music wasn't half bad and drinks were tasty (where tasty means strong).
"Congrads, Mich. You deserve it!" I told her clinking our margarita glasses together.
"Thanks, Johnny. I might have not made it if you didn't knock some sense into me."
"That's probably not true because it's me you're talking to. Let's just dedicate this one to Ryan, shall we?"
"I'll drink to that."
Okay, let's Tarantino this right quick. Rewind to Halloween 2006. Michelle and I are sitting in a booth at Chili's drinking, ironically, margaritas. We both had graduated 4 months earlier and Michelle had landed a job in San Francisco, thanks to her Journalism degree. Pretty sweet deal, right; living in the city, loads of culture everywhere, got a job right out of college, etc.?
"Not really," she tells me downing her margarita. "I hafta wake up everyday at 5:30 to get ready and hop onto BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to get into the city by 8 o'clock. Then the commute back is twice as bad because it's like sardines in each train."
"Why don't you find a place in the city?"
"Because I don't know if I'm going to stay much longer. I'm a copy editor. Nothing major."
This is how the majority of our conversations go when talking about her work in the city. A month prior to our 'call for alcohol' on a random Tuesday night, the initial "coolness factor" of working at her company dissolved into thoughts of leaving it for a better job. But, the catch-22 in all of this is since she's so young without much experience except for a Bachelor's Degree, her chances to compete against other people who've worked in the industry for years are next to none. I feel bad because there isn't much anyone can do, except stick it out, right?
Well, I had a friend who did the opposite. He left after a couple of months at a pretty good job (from my perspective, anyway) because he wasn't being utilized (in his opinion). He had gotten a job at a local radio station as part of the street team. Okay, let me lay the groundwork or else it won't make much sense. My friend, Ryan, graduated as a Business Major with a concentration in Marketing. Good guy, but kinda crazy sometimes. One random college party, he ended up stripping down into a "man thong," painting his face with eyeliner, and running around the house terrorizing everyone like a rabid rooster. He did graduate in 3 years though, so I give him props for that.
Like I said before, 2 months in, he gets up and walks out. I asked him out of anger to grace me with an explanation because he was suppose to score some tickets to the All-American Rejects concert for me which I ended up going to anyways which turns out to be a pretty crazy story, but for another time.
"Dude, I can't work like that, as a drone being told what to do! I know I'm manager material and I won't settle for anything less."
"Ryan, it's your first job! We're not suppose to get manager positions right out of college. A wise man once said 'You have to eat shit before you give shit.' I think it was Dennis Leary or someone, but the point is, we have to gain experience first."
"Man, Johnny, you're stuck on that 'apprenticeship' kick. This is the real world, bro. Kids our age or even younger are CEOs of companies. If they can do it, so can I!"
"They inherited the company from their dying parents, loser! If you want to talk real world, then in the real world, majority of people in high paying, corporate positions started out in the mail room or assistant to the assistant of the Vice President. What do we have to offer big companies like Gatorade or Gap?"
"You'll see, Johnny, and when I'm a big dog making tons of money, I won't forget you, I promise."
At first, I believed him. I started to realize that I probably do have a lot to offer companies like that; a new vision, a different perspective, experience from my two decades I've been on this planet, etc. But then reality dawned on me and kept me grounded because even if I was the luckiest person in the world, I still needed to gain experience and credibility to make a difference in whatever company I worked for or team I managed.
Now, don't get me wrong. I do aspire to be that corporate big-wig driving his Lexus and vacationing in the Hamptons, etc. But, the way Ryan was going about it basically demeans what Michelle was going through. You see, Michelle stuck it out for another 6 months, even though she hated it. She grit her teeth during the 4 hour commute everyday and endless hours behind a computer, typing and checking, retyping and rechecking. At the end of June 2007, she had a breakdown. She came over with tear-stricken eyes and shaking hands. Without a word, she handed me her 2-week's notice. I knew she hadn't had time to find another job because we talked earlier that week about the topic, but she outlined in her notice that the work wasn't meaningful to her because it wasn't what she wanted to pursue later on in her career of managing layouts for magazines.
I tried coming up with something meaningful and comforting to say, but nothing came to mind. Finally, I told her the rest of Ryan's story.
"Hey, remember, my friend, Ryan, who believed that he was manager material right out of college? Well, I caught up with him one day and this is what he told me. He said, 'Johnny, I finally made it in the world, but I was wrong. I thought I could make it to the top in just one leap, but it didn't work that way. I was rejected at every interview; I can't count how many times I was rejected and jobless. Finally, my parents kicked me out of the house and I ended up interning at a marketing firm. I didn't do anything above getting coffee for the execs and run to Kinko's for copies for the meetings. As I was rushing to get back to the office on the bus, I ran into my old boss from the radio station. We had a quick conversation that ended with meeting at a bar downtown after work. I met him and he told me something that changed my perspective on everything. He told me that since I left so arrogantly from the radio station, my peers on the street team were inspired NOT to be like me. Turns out they all have moved on and some are doing what I wanted to do, be executives at marketing firms, like the one I was working at. I was speechless. He told me that I had so much potential but young people like me blow their chances because they think they can dodge bullets. It was like a slap in the face.
But, I already had gotten a slap in the face when my parents kicked me out and when I couldn't find a stable job. The internship gig came to me quite randomly; I received a call after dropping off almost fifteen resumes at different marketing firms hoping to get anything entry-level. I was given an impromptu meeting over the phone with the Human Resource lady and the next day I was on the payroll. But, the slap in the face I received at the bar was realizing that a member of the street team I was on gave me another chance. I found out later that his name was John Crockett. And, if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have gotten my start."
"What does this story have to do with me," Michelle asked between sobs.
"Ryan aspired to be an executive. You aspire to be something more than a copy editor at your company. That's the connection."
"So, what are you saying? If I stick with it and turn the other cheek, one day I'll end up like Ryan, executive of a company, etc etc."
"Ryan isn't an executive. He isn't even a manager. He realized that what he truly wanted to do was see his vision materialized. He's worked on so many projects that I know you've seen on tv and print alone, and he told me he's satisfied. He works everyday on things he loves with a group of people that share his passion. You're the same, you love the industry. It does suck that you're not doing magazine layouts like you want, but you will in time. For now, you're a copy editor. For now, you're doing the 4 hour-a-day commute. It's only for now."
Fast forward to present day: Michelle in her business attire and me trying to hide the mustard stain on my shirt (forgot my Tide pen at home). My friend was happy, and that was contagious. As I gathered my self-esteem and walked over to the bar for another drink, I realized that those four words that motivated Michelle were pretty amazing. Poetic for kids like us who were use to switching classes at the end of a ten week period. It made me look at my own life. For now, I'll be doing my 9-to-5 job editing videos. For now, I'll be single. For now, I'll be driving my 2000 Chevy Camaro.
And for now, a world of possibilities lies ahead; not just for me, but for everyone out there willing to sacrifice his or her commute, sleep, and happiness to one day achieve the dream of laying out magazines, climbing Mount Everest, becoming that executive of a marketing firm, or whatever it is. Though you may have to hit "pause" on your dream, when you finally achieve it, like Michelle did, relish in the fact you never quit. Plus, don't forget to invite me to the festivities!