Corporate America. That’s the dream, right? Suit and tie, 9-to-5, 40 hours a week, twice a month paycheck, stock options, money, house, car, toys, vacations, etc. That’s what we all aspire to and work for, right?
That’s what I convinced myself, anyway. And the truth is, I didn’t really hate any of my jobs, and I had several. But I didn’t LOVE them either. I was good at several of them, but never truly brilliant at any of them.
My first job in Corporate America was in sales. I worked for a car dealership, selling new and used Fords. At 23 years old, I had a lot to learn, and the manager at the dealership was very willing and interested in teaching me the art and craft of sales. I also got to learn about self-discipline and motivation, not necessarily through my own conscious choosing.
You see, there were two sales teams. Every day, the teams switched their shifts from morning to evening. So, for example, on Monday’s, Team ‘A’ would start at 8:30am with a sales meeting, then work the opening shift from 9:00AM until roughly 3:00PM. The next day, Team ‘B’ would open, and Team ‘A’ would work the closing shift from 2:00PM until 9:00PM, and so on. Well, at that point in my life, I wasn’t really what you would call a “morning person”. In fact, I slept through so many sales meetings that my career and continued employment was in jeopardy. My manager called me into his office to discuss the issue and find a resolution.
“It’s pretty simple, really” he said. “Wake up every morning at 7:00. If you have a sales meeting that day, get up, get ready, and be on time. If you don’t have a sales meeting that day, go back to sleep, or do whatever you do.”
Simple solution to a problem that had endangered my entire career (or at least what I thought was going to be my career for the next several years). So I took his advice, and started waking up every day at 7:00, regardless. What I learned is that making adjustments to achieve results doesn’t have to be difficult or challenging. In fact, in most cases, it’s a simple, small adjustment.
As it turns out, selling cars wasn’t my calling. I got bored quickly. Although each new client was a challenge, overall, there wasn’t any real challenge, no life lessons, no growth, no variety. I needed something more. I craved challenge. I hungered for growth. I needed to be learning, and I’d reached a plateau that was a combination of my own paradigms at the time, the people, mentors, teachers, friends, and co-workers that I’d surrounded myself with, and what I thought I wanted in life. Once again, I was stagnating, suffocating.
So it was that after just over a year, I left the dealership and went to work for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel company in their central reservations. It was a call center, and I worked in a pod. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Office Space”, it was pretty much like that. Only I really enjoyed what I did. You see, my job was to know everything that there was to know about 40+ resorts and hotels all around the world. The first several months were spent learning about each hotel, learning about the company and its guiding principles of extraordinary service, and the small, individual skills that would combine to make me a master of each of the 12 service values.
I know this next part is a tangent, but I feel like it’s important to understand, and truthfully, it’s a lesson in and of itself. Those 12 service values? Yeah, they’re very specific and actionable items. Every day, around the world, all 35,000 employees study and act on the same single principle that’s been chosen for that day. And the next day, they move on to the next principle. So at any given time, there are literally tens of thousands of employees being mindful of, and practicing the exact same principle. In fact, each employee always carries a small folding card that, along with the Ritz-Carlton Credo, Motto, and Employee Promise, has all 12 service values printed on it. At the beginning of each shift, our team would gather together, read the principle chosen for that day aloud together, and then commence our shift. In this way, each employee was ALWAYS working on improving, and had the support and involvement of every other employee, in the same office and worldwide. That, my friends, is how a truly remarkable experience of service is consistently executed, regardless of geography or circumstance. My invitation, in this tangential little paragraph, is to determine your own service values. Write them down. Read one aloud each day, and practice it mindfully and deliberately.
But back to the narrative…
I was fortunate to work for the Ritz, because I learned and grew, and refined myself as a person while I worked there. The skills I learned there underscored my sales skills, and made me far better at communicating, and serving people, which in turn made me an excellent employee. And I got to go to some pretty amazing hotels on their dime. It didn’t suck at all, and just like with the car dealership, I thought that this would be my career.
Life, the universe, god, or whatever had different ideas, though.
Through a series of mundane and unimportant events, I left my position with the Ritz-Carlton, and was hired by UPS to work in their call center. Although I was a supervisor at the Ritz, UPS made it clear that I would be starting out as an entry-level employee on the phones. I made it clear to them that I wouldn’t be there more than 90 days. They informed me that most promotions from the floor came at around 12-18 months of employment. I informed them that if I hadn’t earned a promotion in 90 days, there was no point in waiting around after that, because if I was unable to prove my value in three months time, I either wasn’t valuable, or I hadn’t done my job. Either way, I wasn’t going to be on the phones on day 91.
As it turns out, it only took a little over 7 weeks for me to get my first promotion, and another 9 months after that to be promoted into management. A fair amount of credit for those promotions goes to the Ritz, and to my manager at the dealership. Without that training, there’s no way that I could have advanced so quickly.
I entered management in the quality measurement department, and it was good money, great benefits, and a job I was pretty good at. My rapid ascension had rubbed a few of the corporate upper-management types the wrong way, though. You see, at UPS, you’re still basically the new guy even after 10 years with the company, and to have a noob with just over a year with the company promoted into a management position so quickly, well, they just felt like I hadn’t done my time or earned the position. Sadly, one of the team with ruffled feathers was my direct supervisor’s boss. Needless to say, it added an extra element of challenge to my daily work. Nevertheless, I managed to do good work for another five years.
And then one Sunday, I was reading a book by Randy Gage – 101 Keys to Your Prosperity. It’s a collection of one-liners and short bits of wisdom relating to prosperity and mindset. Well, one of these tidbits hit me like a basketball to the face – as long as your hands are holding so tightly to what you have right now, you’ll never be able to open them to receive the greatness that may be in store for you. Now, I paraphrased that a bit, but that’s the essence of the message, and I realized that out of fear, I was holding on to my job at UPS.
I gave my two-weeks notice the next day. My manager, a truly wonderful woman that genuinely cared about her team, and supported them in many ways that were far outside the realm of business, asked me where I was going for work.
“I have no idea.”
“Then why are you leaving?” She asked, perplexed.
“I’m not entirely sure. I just know for certain that my work here is done, and that it’s time for me to move on.” I replied, just as perplexed as she was by my decision, but confident that it was the right decision to make.
“Well, I’d like to help you in any way that I can, and this is the only way I can think to do that, given the circumstances – why don’t we make today your last day. I’ll still pay you for the next two weeks, so you’ll have a sort of “safety net” while you look for your next job. How does that sound?”
I gratefully accepted her offer, still completely uncertain about what was next for me.
When I got home and walked in the door with a box full of my office stuff under my arm, my sweetheart was completely supportive, as she’d always been.
“So, we’re done at UPS?” She asked with a smile, already knowing the answer.
“Yeah, I guess we are” was all that I could reply.
Over the next two years, I would start and run a branding firm, helping small businesses to develop a look, feel, and most importantly a message that attracted their ideal clients. The skills I’d learned through all of my work up to that point gave me a solid foundation, and aggressively immersing myself into the study of color psychology and the science of branding gave me the rest of the tools I would need to make massive differences in how my clients did business. Once again, although I enjoyed the work, it wasn’t in my “zone of genius”, so I got bored. Right about that time, the economy was just starting to take a shit. Being self-employed had it’s advantages, but I wasn’t willing to risk the well-being of my family just to say that I was self-employed, so I reached out to a friend and took a job at his company selling credit repair in another call-center.
I was exceptionally good at it, too. I was always in the top 5 sales performers. It wasn’t difficult or especially challenging work to maintain that lead, either. So, I became bored, and because the work came so easily to me, I became a little arrogant and entitled. I took long breaks pretty much whenever I felt like it, and realistically, I only actually worked about 3-4 hours out of my 8 hour shift.
Now, to sum up everything so far, I’d had several good jobs over the last 15 years. I’d made some decent money, and for the most part, I’d enjoyed the work I’d done, even though I wasn’t passionate about it. I didn’t hate my job, but I wasn’t passionate about it. I didn’t hate my life, but again, I wasn’t passionate about it. Overall, I was in a gray, mediocre, bland, state of meh – not loving or hating anything, not passionate or dissatisfied with anything, just… existing.
Enter my good friend Steve Zimmerman.
Steve is a financial coach and mentor, among several other pretty awesome skill sets, and he’s just a really great guy to know. He’s the type of friend that you could call up at 2:00 am to bail you out of jail, and he’d show up with a smile on his face, give you his shoulder to cry on, and have you laughing and grinning, ready to wake up the next morning and take on the world by the time he dropped you off at your doorstep.
I approached Steve because I just felt like that for the amount of money I was making, I should be living a much better lifestyle. I needed to learn about money, and he was the one I chose to teach me. When I showed up for our first appointment, I’d brought tax returns, bank statements, and any other financial records that I thought may be useful to him. As I sat down in the chair across from his desk, he put his feet up, smiled, and just asked me “what are you passionate about?”
“Huh?” I asked, caught off guard.
“What are you passionate about?” He asked, a bit more intently, with an ever widening grin.
“Like, what do I love?” I asked, still trying to process and make sense of his question.
“No, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what you love. I want to know what you’re PASSIONATE about!”
I stammered out some sort of generic reply, not sure what he was really getting at, and even more uncertain of my answer, which I can’t even remember.
He smiled, told me we’d come back to that, then reached out his hand for the manila file-folder I had with all of the financials in it. We went through some basic concepts of budgeting and finance, and then scheduled a second meeting. I left feeling a little more knowledgeable about my financial dealings, and somewhat unsettled by his initial question.
“What was I passionate about?” I wondered to myself constantly over the next two weeks. It was a fruitless endeavor. I had no idea what passion even meant, much less how it applied to me, and even less still what it had to do with my finances.
No sooner had I sat down in our second meeting than he leaned across his desk and asked me “well, what are you passionate about?”
“Hell, Steve, I don’t know. I’ve been wondering that all week, and I really don’t know. I mean, what’s this got to do with my finances, anyway? I just really want to learn about money, and how to make more of it and manage it better. Can you just teach me that?”
He explained that it was more in-depth than simple math lessons, and that knowing what I was passionate about was a vital element to my progress. For several months we continued this, with him asking at every meeting, and me fumbling my way through half-assed responses because I really didn’t have a good answer.
Then one day he invited me to a weekend retreat he was facilitating with a small group of his clients. I accepted his invitation, not really knowing what to expect. The first day, a Friday, was spent primarily in the classroom covering concepts and material that I was already pretty familiar with. The second day, however, promised to be much different.
We were given instructions to meet at a park-and-ride lot about 30 minutes south of Salt Lake City at 4:00am. That meant that I had to drag my ass out of bed at 3:00 in order to make it there on time. I wasn’t super happy about that, but whatever. I showed up on time, as did everyone else. Steve pulled up in a big van, and we all piled in.
Not many words were spoken as Steve eased the van out of the parking lot and headed west into the black dark of painful-early morning. Almost an hour later, and after making several twists and turns and leaving the paved road fifteen minutes earlier, the van came to a stop. The darkness of the early morning was still oppressively thick, especially since Steve had shut off the headlights. He had a small flashlight, and he instructed each of us to stand silently with our eyes closed. After hearing him lead several of the others away, I felt Steve’s hand on my shoulder, as he leaned close and whispered in my ear to walk with him. He lead me through the dark over uneven ground for what felt like several hundred yards, and then, after rotating me just a bit, he whispered in my ear for me to sit. I could hear some of the others close to me, but not invasively so. After a few minutes, I could hear Steve approaching with someone else, sit them down, and then disappear into the darkness again. This happened a few more times, until all of us were seated on the bitter cold, hard and rocky ground in the dark morning.
“I invite you to imagine that today is your perfect day. Everything that happens will be exactly as you want it. This day is yours. What is your perfect morning? How does it start, from the moment you wake? Who is there to share it with you? Do you go to work? What do you do for work? Who does your work benefit? Imagine every little detail of your day – who you’re with, where you go, what you do.”
He continued with the visualization for a few more minutes, but my mind was already in full gear, putting together every detail.
“Open your eyes” he instructed.
As I did, I could see the faintest glow on the horizon across the barren Utah West Desert, as the sun was just beginning to cast its light into the sky behind the far-off mountains. There was a notebook and a pen at my feet. “Pick up the notebook, and start writing about what you’ve envisioned”
I wrote about waking up next to my lovely and amazing wife, going into my professional-grade kitchen outfitted with all of the high-end appliances found in a gourmet kitchen, and preparing a wholesome and hearty breakfast from scratch, then spending a few hours on the phone talking with clients, then heading back to the kitchen to cook lunch from scratch, then spending some time working with my online clients in the afternoon for an hour or so, going back to the kitchen to prepare a lavish dinner, then finishing the day by spending time with my wife and son.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I’d just opened the door to my passion.
As the day progressed, Steve had several other processes that he lead us through. There were breakthroughs, plenty of time for working through limiting beliefs and restructuring paradigms, and a great deal of growth among the entire group. In the late afternoon, after a long day of challenging internal work, we all piled back into the van, and Steve headed east, back to the parking lot. As we drove, me and one of the other participants began to chat about cooking in general, and Dutch ovens in particular. The conversation flowed quite natural, drifting across many food and cooking-related topics. At one point, Steve began to chuckle as he listened to our conversation, and my excited and animated engagement.
“You still don’t get it, do you?” He chided, warmly.
“Umm, what?” I asked, not having a clue as to what he was talking about.
“Just listen to yourself!”
“Yeah?” I was still oblivious.
“There’s not a single person in this van that has any doubt about what your passion is, except YOU.” He said, very clearly and directly. “You’re the ONLY one here that doesn’t know what you’re passionate about, so it’s one of two things: either you don’t want to admit what you already know is true, or you’re a fool. So which is it?”
And just like that, the heavens opened, and it became brilliantly, undeniably clear – I was passionate about food, and always had been. And just as clearly, I’d been avoiding and burying that passion since I got into corporate America. It was time for me to surrender to the journey.