I've always been a 'company man' at heart... not the Don Draper sort of drinking and smoking your lunch, but the kind of man that did whatever it took to succeed, putting work in front of everything else. I was taught the American dream... work hard and you'll succeed. From the time I was teenager carrying a briefcase around to school, I knew I always wanted to be in business. I started as a paperboy with my own route, making $30 a month and wondering how I would ever spend that kind of money. Then I went into the food industry, managing a restaurant in high school in my late teens, moving on to retail management with Blockbuster Video in it's heyday. I started as an Assistant Manager and quickly was promoted to the biggest store in the company, which was previously an old supermarket. Within 6 months of having the highest sales numbers, I was made the District Training Manager while continuing to run my store, training all of my management peers. I was 22 at the time. From there, I went into office management, taking over a high-end interior design business in downtown Philadelphia and their showroom. From there, I was an Accounting and Operations Manager for a wholesale manufacturer, which eventually led to my job as Controller of a steel company, HRIS Analyst for SAP, and then Controller and Operations Manager for another manufacturing company before I got out of business altogether. At that point, I was 33 and I had never attended college.
My mother used to always bitch at me for job-hopping, but I honestly couldn't see myself in any one particular position for any length of time. My Dad worked in the moving business for 15 years before settling into a job on the railroad for 40 years... both back-breaking jobs, but it was different back then. In the 80's and early 90's, it was different then as well. It was an employee's market... I could quit a job at 10 a.m. and have another by noon, and I gained my experience and knowledge doing just that, climbing the corporate ladder, making sure that I gained pieces of business in each move, gaining a better title and more money each time. When you don't have a college degree, title and salary become the gauge of your success and self-worth. I had to work harder than anyone else to prove myself not only for not being educated, but for being young as well, most times walking into a management situation where I took the promotion of an older, already-established person in the company. I've always had the philosophy of lead by example so when I rolled my sleeves up and jumped right into the trenches, I quickly gained respect. I worked long hours and did what I had to do for the good of the company. I've moved 38 times in my life... some for relationships but most for jobs. I didn't know any better. My blood pressure was through the roof and I had no life beyond my workplace. This was living?
At the height of my business career in the position that I excelled at the most, my job was given to a friend of the family that I was working for, and I was left scrambling for position at a time where I was making too much money for someone without a college degree and one was now required to pump gas, practically, in the new business climate. It was an employer's market now and competition was fierce. I was disqualified most times right-off-the-bat because I didn't have an education. The days of recognizing someone for their experience was replaced by the minimum requirement of an education and how cheaply they could hire someone. The idea of a company man went out the window as employers didn't give two shits about their employees. I had to reinvent myself, so I did. Having always had an interest in physical therapy (something completely different), the market was saturated with an influx of people in the field, so I chose massage therapy and enrolled in school. Six months later, before I even graduated, I opened a day spa and hired an esthetician and did that for a few years. It was a total mind-fuck for me to go from title and power to the service industry and my self-worth took a tumble. While my esthetician sat and did nothing all day long instead of drumming up business like she was supposed to, my business grew so fast that I was working 8+ hours a day, 6 days a week booked solid. I was essentially working my ass off to have her sit on hers, so I closed up and did it out of my house for a while. It was very rewarding to be able to physically help someone with their pain and stress, but it didn't help mine in the least bit, developing back and wrist issues as well as depression from the stress of keeping it all going and being in a dark room all day long sucking up other people's bad energy and being around those in constant pain.
I went through a several-year period of depression and odd jobs and a move to Vegas to start fresh that ruined me financially and led me to almost take my life when it didn't work out. I moved back and did some massage and bartending while having a near breakdown that reduced me to a child-like, basic mentality of survival. My daily goal was just telling myself that all I needed to do was get up, shower, go to work and come home, and that's exactly what I did for a long while. I became paranoid as the recession hit, hiding all my money under my bed in a box, eventually accumulating $19k... in a shoe box... under my bed. I was doing massage on the weekends walking out with $1,000 a weekend, plus bartending and I took a side job with my friend who had a landscaping business. I really enjoyed being outdoors and it gave me time to clear my head. I was working so much that I had little time for anything else. I wasn't right in the head, but blogging and hard work got me out of the worst depression I had ever been through. When an opportunity to take over the landscaping contract at the Marriott came up and my friend that I was working for didn't want to bid on it, I did and got it and I've had it ever since, which led to expanding into my own landscaping and deck business. The other day, the General Manager of the Marriott left for another position, and as I watched him pull away from the parking lot on his last day, I couldn't help remembering how that was... to look in your rear-view mirror back at the place where you worked your ass off and gave so much. Now gone, it will be hard for me to be there without him, since he was not only my friend, but also the only person there who really cared about the hard work that I put in and the attention to detail in my work ethic. I suddenly feel a lack of purpose there that I will have to overcome. The effort that I put forth is mostly for myself, setting standards that I can live with, but it is nice to have someone appreciate your work as well. It also makes it worth while. I will have to prove myself once more to the new guy. It angers me when I see today's twenty-something's come out of college and expect to have a job handed to you, making $50k out of the gate after sending out a resume or two. That degree doesn't get you anything except getting in the door... the rest has to be worked for and proven. Always proving yourself. Always.
Sure, there are days that I miss the business world, but when I look at my friends who work in cubicles for the 'man', giving their life and breath for their work, most times getting nothing out of it but high blood pressure and misery, I am thankful that my life turned out the way it did. It took me a long time to come to the realization and acceptance of who I am and what I do for a living... I pull weeds and cut grass... I am my own boss, I take only the jobs that I want to, I run my schedule for the most part and I am finally happy.
Recently doing work at the house I grew up in, there's a long-needle pine tree that looked like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree when I planted it. It now towers about 70 feet high. I am surrounded by beauty and nature in my job and when I plant a twig and see it grow into a tree, I know that I have made my mark on this earth, in my own board room, on my own terms.