Doing What It Takes
This is probably one of the longer blog posts I've done in quite some time, so if you make it through - I salute you. What motivated me to write this post, was that I overheard my boss talking about me to one of the new guys, and he said some things that made me think. Now, its nothing bad but in fact quite the opposite. He had explained that if he wanted to be successful, to do what it takes to get things done, take the initiative and work hard, and always learn. He then threw my name out there as an example.
And like I said, it got me thinking. I've always worked hard at whatever it is that I do. Is my work perfect? No, not at all. There is always room for improvement. But I learn from mistakes (and successes) and I always take the initiative to learn the things I need to. And most of all, take ownership of failures and not make excuses. I've done this with every job and task that I've had for just about as long as I can remember.
When I was in the Army, I would read technical and field manuals in my spare time (especially as my duties and job description changed). My career moved from mechanic, to recovery operator, maintenance manager, squad leader and platoon sergeant, operations manager - where I wore many hats including Supply, Communications/IT, Armament, and Human Resources.
And as those jobs morphed, I would learn about other things as well that were important the army - first aid, marksmanship, field sanitation, environmental compliance, and more. I went out of my way to meet other professionals in my field. I became known as the person to go to when questions needed to be answered. Even if I didn't know the answer, it was likely I knew where to find it or who to ask. I trained my subordinates and peers. Even years after leaving the service, I'd still have people asking me questions long after I got out.
I've applied these same techniques after the service as well, which has helped me not only gain employment, but adapt to changing conditions.
I learned through failures and missteps.
My military career made me resilient in that regard. Always move forward. Pause for a moment, sure, after every mission or task, but ask your self (and others most importantly) what went right and wrong. What needs change. But always move forward. Adapt and overcome. No excuses. You can't change what's behind you, but you can do things different the next time.
My first job when I got out of the Army was an Engineering Test Technician with an Aerospace company that did all research and development of hydraulic (and eventually electric) actuators. Pretty fancy stuff. I learned new tools, new equipment, and even improved my math. At one point, I got into a bad motorcycle accident and was forced into doing office work for a few months. I learned a whole other side of the business and worked my way into taking over their mismanaged calibrations program. I helped improved processes and even joined the safety committee. It was a good paying job and I worked hard at it, but really though I wasn't happy.
I started my own business (while working the other) selling and installing security equipment. I lived in a small town that was overrun with drug users and had lots of property crime so the there was definitely a demand. I got involved in the community and started going to city council meetings to complain and offer ideas on how to reduce crime - and was asked by the Mayor to reestablish the defunct city block watch program, which I did. I held meetings and took questions. I had local police and other guest speakers come in and talk at the meetings. I created a blog and Facebook group for the town which was extremely active. All of this also helped feed my business.
I got involved with the local VFW. I was the youngest guy in the post and quickly moved up the ranks and my first year became the Junior Vice Commander. The post only had a couple of active members and no online presence, relying on mailers for their marketing. At my request, the members allow me to start social media accounts and a website for the post. Within a year, active membership climbed 70%.
I started to burn out. I was working my full-time aerospace job, running block watch and my side business, and then had the VFW on top of that. There was just too much going on so I began cutting back on activities until it was only my job and the VFW left.
Still I was miserable, professional. I was tired of the hum drum life -- and that's when the unexpected happened.
A job offer. It was a gentleman's offer - nothing on paper. The offer was for a branch management position for a well known equipment rental company. It was a great position and pay, and was it good enough for me to leave a well-paying aerospace gig and move across the country to Texas. My wife quit a job she liked, we put the house on the market and sold most of our stuff including her car, and then packed the remaining things in a U-Haul, loaded the kids in the car, and then left.
Unfortunately, the excitement and opportunity soon evaporated with the Texas heat.
The job offer that I was so graciously offered had been rescinded. I was now stuck there living in my buddies garage with my wife and four kids, a dog, two cats, and a gold fish, and no job. We had spent nearly all of our savings to get down there and didn't have enough to turn around and go back.
Thankfully, our house back in Washington sold not long after, but it would be a few weeks at least before we saw the proceeds from it. I continued to look for work. We lived off my VA disability and our paltry savings but I became severely depressed. Our families weren't getting along and it was becoming a desperate situation living in that garage.
Without a college degree of any kind, I was selling myself on my vast and varied work experience. It wasn't ideal when trying to get in front of hiring manager. After a few good leads and couple interviews, I finally landed a job.
The offer came from a concrete cutting company. They were looking for a repair shop manager - something I had spent years doing in the Army, so it seemed to be a great fit that I was well qualified for. The commute was an an hour plus each way, but it was the means to a new beginning. I did that for the next few weeks while we looked for our own place hopefully finding something that would split the difference in driving but would allow us to keep the kids in the same school they just started.
The money from the house sale finally came in, which made us able to help our hosts financially. Within a week or two, we found an apartment that was 30 minutes closer to work - and one that would let us have our pets. That evening after signing the lease, we packed everything we had in one load (I still can't believe we made it all fit) into our car and truck, and moved everything into a cheap 3 bedroom apartment on a 6 month lease. It was such a relief to have our own place again. I'm sure my buddies family felt the same getting their house back.
I continued to work. It was a busy job where I regularly worked 60+ hour weeks. I was fixing things. Ordered parts and field supplies and safety gear for the workers. Managed the shop budget. Worked with vendors. Responded to field calls. Did building maintenance. Ran errands for dispatch all over central Texas.
Besides all of that, I was working on equipment that I had no experience with. Electric, pneumatic, and gas-powered industrial hand power tools. Walk-behind concrete cutters. Gas generators. It was a lot to handle, but it didn't matter to me. I was going to keep that place running because that was my responsibility. I would do everything I could to be successful, even if it destroyed me. I had a family to take care of.
As you can probably imagine, working 60+ hours a week is horrible for work/life balance and it was taking a toll on my body after awhile. I had back issues from the military and I was dealing with left over trauma from that motorcycle accident I had a few years before. This job was exasperating that.
My boss, could see this was a problem, but refused to hire a second person (something my predecessor had). He called me into his office one afternoon and we had a heart to heart talk. Even though he thought my work was great, he was concerned for my health and didn't think the job was a good fit for me. I agreed. In fact, I had been searching for alternative work for a few weeks by that point.
I was crushed. Again. I hadn't even been in Texas one year and had two jobs fall through. What was my family going to think? I was starting to feel like a real failure.
To make matter worse, we were a week from closing a deal on a house. We had had been searching for months and had found this great old house with a wrap-around porch that just needed some sweat equity. We even had contractors lined up to start work in a couple weeks. Sadly, we decided to cancel the deal because it was the smart thing to do.
Once again, we found ourselves far from family and friends without jobs. It would be okay though. There was a couple months left on our apartment lease, and we had enough money in savings to get us by for a few months at least.
I know I didn't want to keep working in shops as a mechanic. It was draining, thankless, soul-sucking work. I wanted to do something creative. I always had. But, you can't make a living doing those kinds of things (something I recall my dad - a business owner - would say to me when I was young). Regardless, I wanted to try.
I started freelance writing and looked for other work in Texas, but struggled to find anything meaningful. I knew it was time to do something drastic. I decided to go back to school.
Around that same time, family offered us a rental house back in Washington that would allow us to get closer to home without having to have jobs lined up first. We thankfully accepted the offer and moved back to Washington with the remaining money we had in savings, and started over.
For the next three years I would go to school full time to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Media Technology (Multimedia) at the Academy of Art University online.
My wife found a job almost immediately using a temp agency. While going to school, I freelanced on the side, building websites and doing photoshoots (a hobby I picked up a couple years ago). We both blogged. I volunteered and did speaking engagements for a non profit. Tried our hand at running small promotional marketing business. I managed social media accounts for some non-profits and even got involved with the radio station at the school producing a weekly radio show. I built more websites and produced videos. Redesigned the radio station website and took over their social media.
Again, with all of these things I had little to no experience doing it but that didn't stop me. I researched things. Took classes. Read books. Listened to podcasts. I implemented the things I learned, learned from the results, and continued to produce quality content.
Now I'm just a few months short of (finally!) graduating. A professor of mine that I did radio station work for sent me an email over the summer saying he wanted to talk. He told me that he was leaving an executive position at a large well known media company to start his own media production business. He knew my work ethic and production quality, and knew that he could trust me to do what needs to be done. I was one of just a couple people that he wanted to bring in. I was flattered and jumped right in.
I built the website, established analytics accounts, improved the SEO, produced graphic design elements, and created, managed, and made content for their social media platforms. I stayed flexible and adjusted to things that came up. I took the time to learn more about my responsibilities. I'd wake up early and read industry news and listen to podcasts and even take small courses offered online. Now, I supervise another intern and am looking at my position morphing into a paid one.
All the hard work is paying off and I'm excited for what the future holds. There is no doubt that life can be challenging at times. There were moments when things were looking rather bleak and hopeless (even just this last year), but with hard work, tenacity, and supportive family and friends, we made it through.