Those who follow my blog know that I’ve had some trouble re-entering the workforce since moving from Michigan to Colorado a few years ago. Part of the problem might be the workforce itself, as reflected by this recent job posting: The Director, Brand Experience Management, is responsible for creating and advocating a cohesive brand experience framework for the company that will demonstrate a thorough understanding of the emotional and functional space we need to occupy to acquire new customers and increase the loyalty of existing customers.
What the actual fuck? I can’t even demonstrate an understanding of that ad.
And while another problem – my age – is out of my control, I’ll cop to some responsibility for my predicament. More than simply not growing up to be what I wanted, it’s doubtful I ever really knew what that was to begin with. One of the few things I remember from high school was a counselor’s ominous view of the road ahead.
“Decide what to do with your life,” he told us as if he were revealing launch codes for a ballistic missile strike, “or life will decide for you.” Turns out the man was right.
During my so-called career I have cleaned bathroom stalls, flipped burgers, washed dishes, delivered pizzas, made auto parts, hosted radio shows, driven heavy machinery, poured over payroll records, maintained inventory, created marketing plans, brewed lattes, stocked grocery shelves overnight and flown in helicopters, among other things. And looking back I can count on one hand the number of jobs I actually enjoyed, while still having enough fingers left over to maintain a proper bowling grip.
In the early days I dabbled in employment the way others might dabble in real estate or the stock market, dipping a toe in a variety of occupational waters. A few weeks here, a couple of months there, trying different professions on for size. Usually it was just long enough to realize that “entry-level” actually meant “everything runs downhill and welcome to the bottom of the hill.” These were the types of jobs where the middle finger served in place of resignation letters. Jobs with a low bullshit quotient – what you get when you compare your paycheck to the amount of excrement you have to wade through. The wider the gap, the less likely you’ll be sticking around long enough to pick up that gold watch.
I recently received my Social Security Statement – you know, the document that tracks your earnings every year starting from day one – which may help put all this in perspective. To “nutshell” the whole thing, let me just point out that my annual totals do not even contain commas until the fourth year in. Perhaps most perplexing of all is the notation for my seventh year, in which, according to government statistics, I generated absolutely no income whatsoever. Nothing. A financial flat line. A big, fat, glaring zero.
Remember how hard it was to bring your grade point average up after taking an ‘incomplete’ on an assignment? Same thing, but with compound interest.
Radio was my first attempt at an actual career, for no other reasons than it didn’t involve heavy lifting and might possibly attract females. But after almost twenty off-and-on years in the business I can say with some certainty that the vast majority of women are not impressed with guys who sleep in their cars and smell like government cheese.
Eventually, family life dictated that I buckle down and accept an unsavory degree of stability. This led to a series of ‘real’ jobs, each more responsible than the last. One of those was Marketing Coordinator for an engineering firm, where I tried my best to make the company look, well, desirable. My job description actually defied description, other than to say that it was very much like Bullwinkle forever trying to pull a rabbit from his hat. And when compared to my broadcasting background, this position was – as the guys in Monty Python used to say – something completely different. Put simply, engineers design bridges and radio people live under them, which is as close as the two should ever get to each other. They are the equivalent of matter and anti-matter – it’s a wonder I didn’t simply burst into flames one morning as I was walking into the office.
Radio work was pretty cut and dried. You played the music, talked between the songs and ran commercials when the schedule told you to. Not running the commercials or forgetting to talk was bad. No one required a great deal of direction – if it was quiet, you probably weren’t doing your job. But in the business world there are Mission Statements and Vision Statements and Core Principles should you lose your way. While they may not necessarily guide you on your path up the corporate ladder, if you keep repeating them like a mantra they should at least distract you from the fact that the hamster wheel is stuck on auto-pilot.
After the engineers, I took a marketing job with a manufacturing firm. The old man who ran the place, fast approaching his eightieth birthday, had apparently reached the age where he no longer felt the need to abide by basic social tenets. At least when it came to flatulence.
We were having a conversation shortly after I started there, me seated at my work station and he leaning up against my desk, when he simply discharged in mid-sentence. And not a little squeaker that could have snuck out by accident given the man’s age and what I assumed to be a corresponding decline in bunghole control, but a regular cheek-slapper. He even tilted to one side slightly to facilitate its passage. Without an “Excuse me” or even so much as a “How do you do,” he finished his thought and stepped away. As I sat holding my breath and quietly reflecting on my vocational choices there came, from the other side of the cubicle wall, the disembodied voice of the guy at the next work station.
“Welcome to the company.”
Metaphorically, the moment perfectly captured the essence of my quest for a fulfilling career. There’s an old Elvis Costello tune where he sings derisively of the 9-to-5 world, “…I know it don’t thrill you, I hope it don’t kill you.” I guess that pretty much sums it up for me.
Even so, I like to think that my diverse background stems from the notion, perhaps misguided, that all of us have a calling – something we were born to do. The thing is, most people seem to have a pretty good handle on that right from the get-go, whereas my plan has mostly relied on the process of elimination. And while I may not have figured it out quite yet, I do know this much – just as Tom Hanks noted that there’s no crying in baseball, there should be no farting in business.