Work Daydreams and Hearing Voices


I would daydream as a kid about what kind of job I would have when I grew up. When I was younger, I would watch Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, where he looked slick, professional, yet always ready to kick someone's butt. I thought it would be the best thing ever if I could resemble him as an adult. After all, I did spend at least 10 minutes each week lifting my dad and brother's weights (about 1.5 minutes per day, lifting a few times, and then looking in the mirror saying "whew, nice work out"), and by the time I was 30 I thought my 10 minutes a week would turn into 3 hours a day, and I would have huge muscles as an adult like Arnold or Hulk Hogan. I imagined myself going to work, having the trademark Schwarzenegger haircut, wearing a suit, and riding my Ninja motorcycle to work with my slight mullet flapping in the wind. That, I thought, would look cool...and then I would think, "oh, I guess then I'd have to do some 'office-y' work the rest of the day...but then..." and I would imagine myself getting back on my Ninja and riding home with my suit on and my slight mullet flapping in the wind again. I can't think of a more "kid view" of work. You think of what you look like going in and coming home, and there's a bunch of unknown stuff in the middle there. 

I ended up spending the first few years as a teenager making about $400 per summer mowing yards and doing landscaping, and about $200 in the fall mowing and raking leaves. I also did some babysitting and light construction. As I referenced in the last chapter, my dad pushed my older brother and me pretty hard, but he was there each step of the way, showing that it was all intentional and he was trying to accomplish something greater than just mowing yards. 

Intimately connected to these memories are also the memories of him yelling at us to stop messing around, telling us to go faster ("hustle!"), and showing us how to do it right.  Having my own son, I now see the slow-motion and the "what in the world are you doing?" moments my dad was probably observing! I now assume he was feeling a little guilty for pushing so hard, and it was then he would say, "I only push and yell because I love you, and I want you to learn how to work hard. You are going to have people working you hard your whole life and yelling at you as you get older. I want you to be able to look them in the eye while they do it and for it not to break you." I am not the fastest worker, but when I'm doing physical labor, I can still hear my dad telling me to "get moving." While waiting in the car, my wife will laugh at me when I jog back the last 30 steps after putting a shopping cart back (because somewhere in the back of my mind, I hear my dad telling me to hustle). Do you have a parent, a mentor, or your first supervisor's voice pushing you a little as you work? If that "voice" is giving good advice, then let it speak - if it is tearing you down, replace it with a positive, motivating message.  

If you grew up vastly different from how I described, you might think my dad sounds really intense. Well, he was intense back then about work, but he knew something that I didn't at the ripe old age of 13, 14, 15...he knew that much of the working world is run by people who do not care about your feelings, they don't want to hear about them, and just want the job done quickly and accurately. I've had some tough and genuinely unfair bosses who have torn me down, treated me like I was less of an adult than they were, and never said a positive thing to me. While I still don't like being "barked at" by supervisors, I have been able to bear incredible pressure and stress without breaking. Mission accomplished, dad. 

When I think of work, those memories are somewhere in the back of my mind and my soul. I stopped pursuing physical labor as a profession because though I can do it when necessary, I wasn't made for that type of work. I remember the moment this fully set in - I was learning all the "closing for the night" jobs at Chick-fil-A in order to become a shift manager, and this night it was my turn to shut down the back of the store and do dishes all night. I had a mild skin condition that, apparently, was enflamed by having my hands in water for several hours, along with detergent and rubber gloves providing friction. The next day my hands were all red, and large sections of the top layer of my skin had peeled off *Blech*! Not wanting anyone to see, I hid my hands in my pockets most of the shift. When I wasn't paying attention, the store owner glanced at my hands and said, "James, what happened to your hands?!" When I told him what happened and how my hands peeled after work the night before, he looked at me and said, "You are never doing that again. You successfully closed the back; now stay upfront. I appreciate your work but seriously, never do that again." It set in that maybe I'm genuinely not made to 'work with my hands,' so to speak. 

I finished up my job at Chick-fil-A when I moved to downtown Chicago for college. There, I got my first office job, and compared to the medium-sized town I grew up in, Chicago was big, serious, and intense. I got a job at the largest real estate company in town, located in the 100 story John Hancock building, and I now worked for hardline executives whose offices overlooked Lake Michigan. I went from making $6.40/hour to making $10/hour, which to me was a decent amount in 1998. At age 19, I found myself in a foreign land, and I still didn't know what people did in big office buildings, but I was about to find out.  

I wasn't riding my Ninja motorcycle to work, and I did not have hair like Arnold (thankfully). I wore khakis, a dress shirt and had to walk a mile on the downtown streets. I passed about 20 homeless people asking me for money, through a wind tunnel created between skyscrapers that would almost blow me into the road, and then had to pass by security and use a fancy digital keycard to access my elevator. Things were different than expected! It felt good, but it was intimidating.

I will never forget meeting my first supervisor, who was the head of finance, and one of the people with the fancy (several) million-dollar view from his office. He was a short man, full suit, glasses, thinning curly hair on top, with a big pile of spreadsheets in his hand. Throwing it down, he dramatically rolls his eyes, puts his hand on his head, and says, "What a bunch of ******* ****, pardon my French. Oh, sorry, you're the new college kid. Welcome to my own personal hell. Here, grab a stack of these papers, and I'll show you what I need." And it was like that every day. The same first sentence, pardoning his
French, same sized stack of papers, and just like that, my work life was never the same.


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