The Best Decisions We Never Make
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” –Proverbs 11:2 (ESV)
The origin story for the Climb Mountains Blog goes something like this:
Last year, I graduated from Liberty University with a major in Marketing and a minor in English. Four years of the three-ring circus were over. I had spread myself between a full-time class load, triathlon/cycling team, and 30 hours a week of either nighttime or early morning shifts at McDonald’s. From what I have heard from others, college life was all about picking your poison. We all had a three-ring circus of some kind going on. We each chose what went into each of the three rings.
I have no regrets with the mix I chose. I tamed my head-in-the-clouds love of writing and packaged it into a back-burner English minor while my practical side pursued an acquired taste for a marketing major. I learned all about business management by day in my classes, enjoyed riding and racing my bike, and ran a restaurant by night. What I learned in class, I applied to my management position at McDonald’s. I increasingly saw my role as spearheading the fast-food industry in ways that top executives of my company were wringing their hands over how to control. By applying big ideas on employee motivation and smooth operations management, I kept a tight lid on the local face of a global restaurant known for lax standards and colossal indifference.
But all that was over now. I was moving on to bigger, better, and (most importantly) more challenging things. With the joy of my customer-facing position fresh in my mind plus coursework in professional sales and a summer job as a bike salesman, I was planning to shoot for an entry-level sales position. My younger brother, Ryan, still finishing his post-motorcycle crash physical therapies at the McGuire VA in Richmond, required just enough of my assistance so as to give me an excuse to search for sales jobs in the big city capital of Virginia. I found a fun summer job as a delivery cyclist at Jimmy John’s while I job-searched.
By the end of July, I had landed a job at a third-party direct sales firm. A simple enough position to wrap my mind around, I ignored some of the attributes of the company that sounded more appropriate for an MLM scheme than a legitimate place of work. “Put in the effort now and you’ll be running your own company within 6-8 months!” was the line that was least believable. As it turns out, there was a semi-secret parent company behind the company I was working for. This parent company had litters of tiny offspring called “independent distributors” that it bred for the non-explicit purpose of endowing the CEO title (within 6-8 months true to their word) on what were essentially middle managers. With this type of sleaziness leveled against its own employees, it’s not hard to picture what kind of white lies the employees were using to sell customers on the product. All of my rose-colored, customers’-needs-focused, win-win sales tactics were no match for tackling the task. I needed to quit.
I was no longer in any position to be picky. I needed a job to pay the bills. Less than a year prior, my forcefully “can do” attitude had carried me through the impossible. I had taught myself and my McDonald’s minions to weather consistently low-staffed over-busy shifts with the “can’t never could” mindset. You won’t find solutions while you preoccupy yourself with gaping at the problem. So then, with so much ambition and positive attitude, why was I stuck? I never felt stuck when I was grooving along in my food-service domain. Food-service, despite its arbitrary distinction as low-class work, was honest work where a solid work ethic and a rock-hard positive attitude won the day. It made more sense than endlessly filling out job applications for any job requiring a bachelor’s education and receiving nothing but rejection.
So I fell back on my previous success in food service management. I had years of management training, management experience, and now a degree that said I had learned the textbook definition of good management. I had stacked the deck in my favor. It was time for my hard work to pay off.
I dug my heels into Jimmy John’s and began to push the management to give me more training and promote me faster. I took the junior management position and challenged myself to cover the full range of other manager shifts. Within three months, I had learned the baseline skills of every position (driver, PIC, in-shop, open-assist, morning manager, evening manager) and I was impatient to hone my skills even further. Jimmy John’s has a wonderful obsession with nit-pickiness and it was a great environment for an ambitious young lad such as myself itching for room to grow.
An Accident Happens
Then, while operating a meat slicer on the morning of February 28th, 2018, I attempted to brush a piece of debris away from the spinning blade. It was a stupid move. The middle finger of my left hand was caught and I heard and/or felt a semi-audible crunch as the blade effortlessly slid through the nail, nail bed, and bone. I hit the stop button on the machine and jumped back from the meat slicer. I held my finger together and briskly walked towards the first aid kit in the office area of the restaurant.
“Is everything okay?” Seeing my quick steps toward the back of house, my boss was confused and concerned. “Oh no? Not okay?”
I stopped walking and reconsidered whether a band-aid was appropriate for the level of injury.
“I believe I have sliced all the way through my finger,” I said flatly. “Can someone please call an ambulance?”
“Oh! Yeah. I can call. How bad is it?” She asked, failing to read the severity in my calm response. “Are you able to get yourself to the hospital?”
“No. I don’t believe so. I think I have cut all the way through the finger. Could you call an ambulance to take me?”
I then stood over the sink and held my finger too tightly to assess the damage any further. The top third of my finger felt severed and foreign to the rest of my body. It was like a bit of cartilage jiggling on top of the remaining two-thirds of the finger with unnatural flexibility.
The ambulance operators were very helpful and pleasant individuals and commented on my calmness as they applied a tourniquet and rolled me into an emergency room.
Once the bleeding was controlled, the emergency subsided and I was appropriately left staring at a clock in a hospital room while I contemplated the loss of one of my digits. I have always considered amputation to be my biggest fear. The threat of permanently losing a part of me that won’t grow back doesn’t sit right in my mind. It’s gone. There is no getting it back. One half-second blunder, unable to correct except by time machine, could leave irreparable damage for a lifetime. Hardly comparable to the loss of a whole limb (the plight of those much braver than I), I was nonetheless attempting to face that fear with a somewhat steely, somewhat pouty gaze burning an ineffectual hole in a hospital clock.
But the doctors probed around and found that I had cut up my germinal matrix and the bone without severing any nerves or tendons (the diagram above is my best guess at how that worked out and is not medically verified). I would have to endure the shish-kabobbing of my finger on a pin like a hot dog on a skewer that would keep the bone aligned while it fused together. A month and a half later, they would twist the pin loose and yank it out with a pair of pliers. I would make a full functional recovery with the only permanent damage being purely cosmetic. I now have a vertical ridge in my nail and a small scar.
I insisted on going back to work with as few days off for surgery as possible. I failed to convince my superiors that I could still deliver sandwiches on my bike while a protective splint around my left middle finger rendered the whole hand immobile. However, being very right-hand dominant, I had no trouble with most other tasks.
The Nail in the Coffin
It was at this point that the big boss offered me a promotion. Hooray! But there was a catch. It was bad hours, the pay was nothing to write home about, and the schedule somehow managed to conflict with all two of my chauffeur responsibilities to my brother.
The whole thing felt like a step in the wrong direction. I had set foot on Jimmy John’s soil with 7 years of food service experience, two and half years of management experience, and a head full of lofty textbook management principles ready to conquer the whole operation. After completing the rigmarole of convincing the ever-skeptical big boss of my skills and ambitions, this was all he was willing or able to offer me. There was no way I could accept. I was running the risk of landing my brother in the hospital for a position that was arguably worse than what I was currently working. I told the big boss this and his apathetic response was that my current position was temporarily better than it should be. The combination of low staff and my ability to fill any and all positions meant I was getting away with putting in a full-time and overtime schedule in a delivery cyclist position that was supposed to limit me to 30 hours a week or less. If I stayed where I was, my hours would be cut as soon as they had the staff to do so. I could not move up and I could not stay and he refused to give another solution. I was stuck.
So I accepted the position. Everyone makes sacrifices for their work and I didn’t want to cry “uncle” quite yet. But I was now sitting on a ticking time bomb. It was only a matter of time before my brother would indeed crash his bicycle and land in the hospital because I was unable to drive him to church and I would need to step down from the position. From that point, it would only be a matter of time before the powers that be would start to cut my hours with or without proper staffing.
It was here, in stumbling desperation, the moment of inspiration found me. I was once so sure about scoring big in sales that I was willing to ignore the snake-oil tactics of a dishonest company. Now I could see scams in too-good-to-be-true “entry-level marketing” positions and everything else required 3-5 years more experience than I had. I was once so sure that rolling into the food-service industry with a stacked deck as a skilled worker in an unskilled labor market would get me where I wanted to go. Now I could no longer trust even that. I had been glad to put in several months of sometimes 10, 12, 15 and even a few 19-hour long shifts, as well as sleepless nights, early mornings, and 50 to 60 hour work weeks in the hectic low-staffed insanity of food service. But if I couldn’t move up or stay put, the justice of a system that rewards hard workers with promotions was flipped on its head. I was now working towards a demotion where the longer I stayed with the company, the more likely they would cut my hours and unintentionally choke me out.
And then, somewhere in all this frustration, there was the simple quote by Judith Charles: “A copywriter is a salesperson behind a typewriter.”
A light bulb switched on and I said, “Hey! I have a typewriter.”
If Not I, Then Who?
I’d like to say I made the decision to pursue copywriting years ago. I’d like to say that choosing a marketing major and an English minor during my senior year of high school was all part of my master plan to tackle the role that perfectly blends those two skills. I’d like to say I’m a smart adult with sensible and well-researched decisions. I’d like to say I know what I’m doing.
But I can’t.
The subsequent months I spent sitting in my room typing out my first blog posts with only 9 operable fingers say otherwise. My meandering career path filled with break-neck detours, misdirection, and desperation says otherwise. Climbing through this ridiculous brier patch, I can’t take credit for stumbling out into a well-paved road I should have discovered months ago. It was one of my best decisions and it came from having my back against the wall with nowhere else to go.
But if not I, then who? If some of our best decisions are the ones we don’t make, how arrogant is it to pretend like oh-yeah-right-I-knew-that-all-along? Maybe an ounce of humility, found in a dark and desperate event, was the beginning of a wise decision to step in the right direction.
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