Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Quiet In The Men's Room Please

A year ago last month I resigned a position at a great company to purse a dream. This month, that dream ends. I believe there are few coincidences in life. I don’t read into everything, making room for the “that just happened because it just happened” possibility. But with a little time and distance even some of those seem to paint a picture.

About sixteen years ago I was at the end of my rope. I was twenty-four years old, in a job I despised (and being encouraged daily by my boss to lie to make a sale), was still a newlywed (using the 12 months or fewer rule), and going through a very tough time adjusting to married life. On top of all that we were broke and had one car between us with jobs 25 miles away from each other. Things were not going well. Let’s just leave it at that.

In October of that year I hit the wall, and made a very simple request of God. “Please get me out of this mess, I promise I will shape up.” Not quite a fox-hole prayer, but close to it.

About a week later I was sitting in the parking lot of Giant Food grocery store waiting for my wife to finish her shift as a pharmacy tech. I was bored out of my mind because she was late finishing work, and no one had yet invented the Blackberry. I must read or do something all the time. Kind of a problem I have. In the back seat of our tin can Geo Spectrum sat a ceramic Christmas tree my mother-in-law had made for us. It was wrapped in newspaper. Yes!

I fished out a section and settled back to read while I sat in the no parking, no loading, no standing zone. I opened it up, looked to the top left hand corner, and there it was. “Music Company Seeks Sales Rep.” I had pulled out the classifieds.

Music has always been a big part of my life. In high school I played in a band called Entranzit and we did all the keg parties, battle-of-the-bands, the whole burrito. At the time I read the classified ad I was still writing, playing and recording as a hobby. My entire life I had wanted to work in the music business one way or the other. One more piece of background- I was starting to develop the ability to sell and persuade. “I could do this” I thought reading the detail of the ad.

I stepped out of the car, went to the pay phone next to the store entrance (no cell phone back then), and deposited the $3 or so in change the operator instructed me to (after running to the car to get it leaving the phone dangling off the hook, and the operator waiting).

The gent that answered the phone, Steve, told me that the position was still open, and that he and his boss were actually headed to the airport right then to fly into Baltimore and conduct interviews the next day. The slots were all booked, but he assured me I would get squeezed in if I showed up. I wrote down the name of the hotel, gave Steve my name, said thank you, and hung up.

I didn’t tell my wife when she got to the car. In fact, I didn’t tell her that night either, or the next morning. Fortunately she didn’t have to work the next day, and as she slept I called in sick and drove from my home in Gaithersburg, MD to the airport hotel some 40 miles away.

I got there at 7AM. Steve had mentioned the interviews started at 8, but I wanted to get there early in hopes of getting in first. I waited all day for someone to call my name. No one ever did. Unless, it happened the ONE time I couldn’t hold it any longer and hit the head. I tiptoed through the men’s room being as quiet as possible and straining to hear if my name was called out in the lobby right outside the door.

Around 6:30PM two guys came out of the elevator at dinnertime. The only way I knew these were THE guys was that one was wearing a jacket with the record company logo. I got up and introduced myself, and Steve said he sort of recalled our phone conversation the night before. Laran, his boss, invited me to join them for dinner. I told them I would love to, and would meet them at the table after I visited the restroom.

By dessert I had a job offer and accepted. Minor details: the position was in New York (they had hired someone already for the DC/Baltimore position, and saw me as a chance to cancel the next days trip and head home), our parents (both Michelle’s and mine) were in the Washington DC area, and, oh yeah, I still hadn’t told my wife about the ad in the paper or the interview. Oh, also, I didn’t know what the job paid. Turned out, territory sales reps didn’t make much. Less in fact than I was making in my current job. Much less.

As I drove home I thought to myself ‘She’s gonna kill me.” We didn’t speak for days. Finally, after much discussion and some persuasion (we laugh about it now) Michelle agreed to go north with me. It was touch-and-go there for awhile. Really. I believed God had provided this direction (and so told Michelle we WERE going to do this), and Michelle believed I was an idiot (and that we WERE NOT).

My first commission check in January 1991 was for $47. I didn’t care. It could have been for $4.70. I was out of my old job, and in the music business, and where I truly believed I was supposed to be. 15 years later I left that company and my position as the president.

Was that all coincidence? The Christmas tree, the newspaper, my wife running late that day, a guilt induced dinner that shut-out all the candidates in NYC? I don’t think so.

The weird thing is there were similar indications that led me to make the decision to leave my position last year and strike out with a start-up company and a dream. This time, things turned out differently. So, as I wrap up this month and this dream, I will be patient knowing that what has happened, good and bad, is preparing my family and I for what is next. We can’t see what that is now, but with a bit of time and distance behind us, I am sure it will be clear.

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