I understand the title of this entry is not grammatically attractive. However, I title this for a reason. In fact, I title this because there are people who can live this way and remain lost. There are people who can live this way and find excuses why they stay as they are. Lost. But why?
If there is more out there, then why do people stay stuck? I swear, sometimes it’s like we play hide and seek with ourselves and yet, after a while, we just stop looking. We become accustomed and comfortable and then what?
I was months into my new job and by this time, the novelty of being a young salesman in the big City had worn off. The ideas of being the top executive or being rich were gone. It had been a few months and I learned a few things about work. First, I learned that it’s not fun.
I learned more about my industry and more about my product, which was simple. My job was to seek out production managers in the garment district. I was located in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. My product was perhaps the least important on the garment and furthermore, the rejection factor was worse than anything I had ever seen before. In my experience, I was yelled at, cursed at, and once, I had someone throw a box at me to “Go away!”
I sold woven labels. I sold the size labels and care instruction labels that go inside garments. I sold Made in USA labels, which was interesting to me because the labels were all made in Taiwan. But then again, most of the production was switching from domestic to foreign at that time. Hardly any of the big manufacturers were producing their clothes in domestic plants. So, maybe that was the problem.
This was the early 90’s and times were certainly different. Or more closely, I was very different. I was young, around the age of 19 or 20. I was baby-faced and competing with people who had been around since long before my birth. I was uncomfortable to say the least. I was awkward in my approach and yet, I was pulling in a cool $300.00 per week. This was before taxes as a draw against my commission, which I never made nor did I care after a while.
The company had been around for 40 years which was odd to me. The concept of 40 years was unthinkable. This was twice as long as I had been alive so anything this old seemed ancient to me.
The owner was an old man who was outdated to say the least. On the phone, he called his wife Bunny as a term of endearment. He was a man who loved music. He loved the opera, which he took me to once.
And to me, I was just a kid.
I saw myself as a kid. I acted as a kid and yet, I was playing in the deep-end of the pool; and this is where the adults swim. I was competing with other salespeople. Plus, I had to deal with another salesman in the office. He was a mutt to say the least. I did not like this man. I did not like him at all.
He poached my accounts but worse, his mother was the receptionist, which meant any calls for new business would land on her son’s desk and thus; the 10% commission would go to him.
The receptionist was mean. I did not like her either and nor did she like me but I suppose all is fair in war and business. For this text, we will call her son Mark.
As for her, we will call her Ellie who was annoying at best. Her voice was the kind that went through your skin. Ellie was overweight and she smelled of cheap perfume that mixed with a moderate supply of Aqua-Net hairspray.
The office was old and small, which means there was never any privacy. Consequently, Ellie heard all of my phone conversations. This also meant that her son Mark took advantage of whatever information he could.
The bookkeeper was a kind woman who would try her best to send new business my way, which never worked. Her native language was Spanish and she would often mildly curse at Ellie in Spanish.
By now, I had surrendered to the fact that I was not going to be making a six-digit salary as a label salesman. My ideas of earning enough money to find an apartment in the City were gone. At best, I was hoping for something better to come along. I was waiting for something better to come my way. I was lost but at the tame time; I was too afraid to be found.
There was a back room to the office where the storage and shipping was done. This room was small and the shipping clerk was a young man named Eric. He was nice to me.
Eric was helpful too and though neither Eric nor I enjoyed working at the company—both Eric and I would have a few laughs and joke throughout the day.
We joked about Mark. We joked about Ellie. We joked about stupid movies and we’d laugh, which was inevitably interrupted by Ellie who would come back and say, “Keep it down. People are trying to work out here!”
Eric introduced me to some of the other shipping clerks that worked in the building. One of them was more interesting than most. He was a skinny man, middle-aged with dark skin. He began each morning the same way.
He’d start each morning by downing a bottle of vodka as if it were water. He guzzled the entire bottle down in one gulp and then he tossed the emptied glass into the garbage.
People would tell him “That bottle is gonna kill you one day,” and he would argue, “That bottle never did anything to me.” And just like that, he would walk away and go to work. This was his passion. Drinking a bottle before 9:00 a.m. and then heading off to work at a place that had no excitement.
I suppose he was right about the drinking because it wasn’t the bottle that killed him. No, it was the express bus on Broadway. No one spoke or said anything about this. Mostly, people shook their heads as if to say, “Hey, this is part of life” and they just kept going.
There were times when I would walk around the City. I would see people in their business attire. I would watch the way grown folks behaved. I noted the way they spoke to each other or held a newspaper beneath their arm. I noticed the way people gripped their briefcases while charging down 7th Avenue; as if to have a sense of purpose. But did I have purpose?
I thought about the man who owned the company that I worked for. I thought about the length of time that he was in business, which meant that he was only a few years older than me when he began.
I believe he started somewhere after he served in the Army during the end of World War II. He came home and started a family. He started a business and yet, my age was no different than his.
So, what made us different?
I suppose the only difference between me at my age and him when he began was a level of intention and a stronger sense of sticktoitiveness. Then again, the world was a different place when he started the business. There were different challenges. We were living in different times—or so I thought. What was so different about us?
Was it education?
Was it privileged?
What was it?
I blamed the industry for not being kind to me. I blamed the other salesman, Mark, and his mother for being crooks, which they were. However, there was something that I was missing.
There was something that I was not doing, which had I done, even if I did not like the job or the industry; had I shown the gumption and the honest effort to remove emotion and keep pushing; my sales would have had more value.
I lacked something. I lacked the drive. I lacked the interest. But more, I lacked the passion and the sense of purpose.
I was lost . . .
This is what happens with passionless living. And by the way, this can become habitual and worse, this way of living can become permanent. There was no drive for me. There was no excitement. There was no connection, which is fine when you’re young and still learning. But what happens when you grow or you blink and decades pass without even being noticed.
Then again, I could have taken a stand. I could have gone back to school or learned more about another trade. I could have gone to another company or accepted any of the other offers that came to me. But no. Instead, I stayed because I was afraid to trade problems and go someplace else. I was afraid to try because I had given into the ideas of failure and blame. I had given in to my rejective beliefs and so, I stayed stuck. I stayed lost and I remained this way for a very long time.
The one thing I see is that fear can cripple our growth.
Fear itself is not bad. This reminds us to stay safe.
But irrational fears are a killer.
I took hold of an opportunity this week. I took more than one to be honest. I chose to go down the road that was less traveled. I started my plan to venture away from the comforts of what I know and face the thrill and fears of an unknown adventure. Thirty years after landing my first job in the adult world and more than two decades in my current position as a operating engineer, I took a step towards my dream. And sure, there are times when I look back. I think about the life I would’ve had if I made changes when I was younger. But then again, I wouldn’t be who I am now. I wouldn’t be me.
(Do you understand?)
We all have a path. Some evolve younger and some come to the realization when they are older. I’m older now. But I’ve learned from this. I learned that fear is a cage that I held myself in. I suppose this is why I was emotional when I ended a phone call the other day—because this is what freedom feels like—this is what it feels like to be free or to err on the side of passion instead of caution—or to give it a shot and double-down and take the gamble by betting on me instead of something else.
There is absolutely no need or benefit to be handcuffed or slaved to a job. Nor is there any benefit to living a passionless life.
Therefore, I took the dive. Essentially, I’m back on the street.
As a means of being mindful, I refer to an old nursery song that goes:
When you go to cross the street, watch out where you put your feet. Look both ways and be alert. If a car hits you, it’s gonna hurt.
And we know this is true; especially if it’s the express bus on Broadway.
Go get found!