It is strange to think about the years I’ve spent in the working world. More than anything, it is crazy to think that I have been going to and from New York City for almost 30 years. In fairness, I don’t like the sound of this. I almost feel as though this somehow makes me an adult. And I cringe a little, just thinking about the idea.
30 years . . .
This means I am nearly 30 years older than the last time I sat in a classroom and worried about my grades. I am 30 years older than my first attempt at a real job and what I thought it meant to be rich.
I was young and drawn in by headlines. The ad said, “Salesmen needed. Big profits available.”
Turns out this was a network marketing scheme that literally threw their pitch to hundreds of people. Needless to say, this didn’t last very long. I went door to door selling calculators and imitation Mont Blanc pens for $3.00. Yet somehow, there was a way to be rich doing this.
There was a man that started his own business. He charged $7.00 to clean the backyards of dog owners. He’d come once a week and pick up the dog shit from the backyard. Just seven bucks, unless you had more than one dog. I think there was an extra $4.00 charge for each dog after the first. He built up a weekly client base of 2,000 yards. That’s a lot of dog shit.
I used to be caught up in the ideas of prestige and social snobbery. I thought status and titles meant everything. However, there are people sitting in offices with big titles and all the prestige in the world. But trade W-2’s at the end of the year between this person and the dog shit guy and see who smiles more.
It is crazy to look back and realize that I am 30 years older than the sum of my biggest discomforts and insecurities. I am older than my youngest thinking, which is obvious, of course.
I am 30 years older than the time I was fired from a company that manufactured and sold, triple-pane, vinyl windows.
This never lasted beyond the training period. It turns out one of the sales managers talked about some of his “crazy” times with me. I related with a few stories of my own and then found myself called in front of the supervisors by lunchtime. I was fired 15 minutes after.
I am almost 30 years older than my first job in the Garment District. I worked in a cutting room for about a week. This is where they cut the fabric for dress manufacturers. More or less, a sweatshop, and safe to say that I was the only natural-born English-speaking employee, still, this was my entryway into working a real job in the big city.
The interview at the sweatshop was very quick for me.
The owner asked, “Can you get here by 8:00?”
I said,” Yes.”
“Good,” he said.
“Be on time, Monday morning.”
This must have been some kind of racket. My introduction was through a friend that was linked to a garment union, which made things easier than words could describe. No one wanted a problem with the union.
I did not have to work hard. I did not have to do much of anything if I’m being honest.
There were a few times I picked up a broom but the old man that ran the place asked, “What are you, crazy?”
He told me, ” You put that broom down.”
I’d try to take initiative but instead, I was sent to make deliveries of envelopes with instructions like, “Go there and wait.”
I never asked questions. I did what I was told but it was clear this job was not for me. Admittedly though, I could have stayed there and perhaps been a manager, which, I think is what I was being trained for. I remember a man named Romelo asked me why I was there. He asked me if I was related to the boss. Then he asked me how long I planned to stay.
I told Romelo, “I just needed a job.”
“This job is for wetbacks,” he said to me.
“Everyone thinks you’re related to someone.”
I did not speak much Spanish but I understood enough to know that some of the guys wanted to kick the sit out of me because they thought I was the boss’s son. That job lasted about a week.
I remember my first suit and tie job. I remember the nervousness I felt during my interview. I accidentally misspelled the word, “Satin,” and wrote “Satan.” This caused my new boss to raise an eyebrow. But again, he didn’t want a problem with the union, and I came highly recommended.
I didn’t like this job. I didn’t like the office. I didn’t like my desk. I definitely did not like the receptionist, Eleanor. She was a beast of a woman. Loud as can be, intrusive as ever, and also mother to the other salesman. Eleanor made my life extremely difficult. So did her son until I offered to fight him in the storage room. This was after they weaseled an account away from me. I followed Eleanor’s son to the back room and proposed a simple offer.
“Let’s fight. Win or lose I won’t say anything.” I told him, “Let’s just fight and then we can go on our way.” He chose to honor my boundaries after this.
I was so young then. I had no idea what it took to earn a living. I certainly had no idea what it meant to do something I felt passion for. I was a salesman in the Garment District. I hated my products. I hated the grind and the rejection. I was caught up in some preconceived notion of prestige and status. I hated the fact that I always came up short. I was underpaid and underwhelmed. I had high hopes and starry-eyes, but no direction whatsoever.
The idea that all of this happened so long ago is surreal to me. This seems like this happened in another lifetime. The memories are either faded or seem as if this happened to someone else. The feel of my past is like I saw this in a movie once; and there I was in the audience, just watching.
Then again, a lot of my young life seems this way to me —as if I was only a witness and life was happening to me, right before my eyes.
There are fears I have that date back much further than this. There are memories I have, like old stains that never went away. These ideas are deeply ingrained recollections that linger in my subconscious programs.
It is crazy to admit this, but to this day, I cannot drink milk. Seriously, the sight of milk makes my stomach turn. I can see milk in coffee but the sight of milk in a glass or in a bowl of cereal, or to see anyone drink milk alone, creates a feeling in my stomach.
The reason is from when I was a toddler. There was a woman named, Maddie. She used to watch me sometimes. I was too young to remember much. However, I remember eating cereal for breakfast and somehow, there was a roach floating on the top of the milk. There were only a few flakes of cereal in the bowl. Maddie made me eat this. She had me sit at the table and eat it. Although this memory is only a tiny glimpse of something; here I am more than 46 years away from this memory, yet still, to this day, I cannot, will not, and do not drink milk. In fact, I still cringe and feel an old familiar discomfort about this.
Memories work this way. They are neither honest or dishonest but instead, rather than always accurate, memories are shaded by emotion and perception. I sometimes think my memory is a liar. I certainly know there were times when my memories were a disservice. There were times when my memory and ideas projected my assumptions that led me toward predictions of disappointment. I can see how these projections altered relationships and sabotaged possibilities because the ideas I had were based on old fears that were no longer relevant.
There are fears of mine that led me to worries of rejection and social humiliation. I have fears of being exposed and vulnerable, or more accurately, humiliated and unprotected. And isn’t that all we want, to be protected? Doesn’t everyone want to feel safe or be happy? At minimum, doesn’t everyone want to be comfortable in their surroundings and in their own skin?
The truth is much of my discomfort came from training that is as old as I am. This means if I am to create freedom or if I am ever to find comfort and feel passion for my life; I have to learn to deprogram the programs that linger in my opinions.
Most people are raised with the need to be accepted. This begins at a young age. As we grow, we move from trying to be the one with the best toys in the sandbox to someone that has the best toys in the schoolyard. Then from the playground, we find ourselves in middle school and the need to find our place. That switches again into high school and then into college. After college, we are trying to find where we fit in the workforce. Each level graduates to the next.
The fear of being unremarkable and underwhelming is equal to the ideas of being unwanted and unprotected. And then one day, I came to the realization that none of this was working for me. I don’t have to take my report card home anymore. I don’t have to align myself with anyone or anything, nor do I have to be approved of or accepted by anyone in particular (except for me).
The conversation of reading in public came up yesterday. I never liked the sound of my voice, let alone the sound of my voice when I read out loud.
I used to stutter when I read. I used to lose my place in the chapters when reading in classrooms. The performance anxiety stuck with me throughout my life. Safe to say this discomfort and fear is much more than 30 years old.
Safe to say that yes, this happened to me in another life but also, as long ago as this was —the remnants of this program are still around.
Until I learned to defy the lies, and until I learned to disconnect with my old ideas, at best, I would only fill the old definitions of myself. If I wanted to become someone new, then I had to allow myself to become someone new.
This means all of what happened is only what happened. Mistakes are mistakes. One thing I say often as a reminder to myself is “We make mistakes. Mistakes don’t make us.”
Memories are not always honest or accurate, and above and beyond anything, safe to say I will never have to bring home a report card again or be somewhere, like say, Mrs. Critchley’s 3rd grade class. This is where people laughed at me because I couldn’t read very well.
Life truly starts the moment we realize we don’t have to prove ourselves anymore. We got the job. Now all we have to do is be us, find our passion, and let this be the reason we live until the day we die.
All else is really unimportant.