In chapter 13 of my book Get Back Up I find myself without a plan. After multiple business failures and a bankruptcy, I don’t want to think about anything. Luckily or unfortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, I was in a place where I could do just that.
We didn’t have a place to stay in San Jose (or jobs, for that matter), but Suzie’s parents had a house in Napa Valley that they’d bought for their future retirement. They spent weekends there and told us we could live there until we found a place to live in San Jose and, of course, jobs. We didn’t want to think about that now. We felt as if we’d been through a lot and needed time to decompress, and Napa Valley was the perfect place to do that.
The house we were now staying in was in the hills looking over the valley. The views were fantastic, and 2000 feet below were some of the finest wineries in the world. This was 1989, before all the tourists showed up and the wineries starting charging for tastings. For now, the tastings were free and there was always some nice free food to go with them.
This was the life. Breakfast followed by a trip down the hill to taste wine and eat free food. Then back up the hill for some sun-bathing and a nice nap. Life couldn’t be better, but as soon as the weeks turned to months, Suzie’s father said those dreaded words: “Shouldn’t you be looking for a job?” Of course, he was right, but I reminded him that we had just been through a major ordeal and still needed time to decompress. He pointed out that not having a job or a place to live wouldn’t make things better and again I knew he was right. So, after a nice relaxing three months, it was time to get to work. Suzie’s father helped us get started by finding us a very nice house to rent in San Jose. Now I just had to find a job.
As a part of getting settled into our new home we had things to get done like turning on the utilities, and registering our car and dogs. The first two tasks were very easily done, but the third was a little harder due to some silliness I find humorous to this day. I had to go to the county to register the dogs, almost like going to the DMV. In fact, it was set up in much the same way. You go in, take a number, and wait to be called. When my number was finally called, I went up to the counter and told the woman that I had just moved to town and I wanted to register my three dogs.
She replied, “You just moved to town and you’re already in trouble.” I didn’t know what she meant but then she told me that you could only have two dogs in this county; not three. When I asked what I could do with the third she said that wasn’t her problem. So, I told her I wanted to at least register two of our dogs. But she told me I couldn’t register two dogs if I had three, and I couldn’t register three. You have to love government bureaucracy.
I don’t find fault with the woman. She was just doing what she always did; following the rules whether they made any sense or not. This was the way it was always done and that was the way she was going to keep doing it. Nothing I said was going to change what she was doing, so I had to find the workaround. I asked her how she knew how many dogs a person had. Her reply still makes me laugh as she said, “we know by where they get their mail.” I pointed out that my dogs don’t get a lot of mail, and she clarified by saying where they mail the registration renewal notice. Now we were on to something.
So, I repeated what she had told me, which was only two dogs could live in your house. I then asked her if another dog could visit. After a little confusion she said yes. I then asked her if my two dogs could have another dog spend the night; like kids having a sleepover. She figured out where I was going with this, and repeated that only two dogs could be registered per household. I told her I understood that and that I would like to register my two dogs for my household and a third dog at my in-law’s household, and I pointed out that this dog would be sleeping over at our house a lot. She said fine and handed me the forms.
While this was frustrating at the time, it simply reinforced a number of things I already thought. One was to always looks for ways to do things better. I was never one for blindly following a set of rules; especially when they didn’t make sense. Another was recognizing when a person can or will be flexible and when they won’t or can’t be. If you want to get your way, there are times to hit a problem head-on and there are times to find the workaround. This situation called for the latter approach.
With this distraction behind me it was time to find that job I needed. A big part of my plan in moving to San Jose or Silicon Valley was to find a job in the computer industry. This turned out to be much harder than I thought. As you know by now, I didn’t graduate from college and I had no formal training in computers or software. Sure, I knew how to use all the top products of the day and I could build a computer from scratch, but none of the places I applied cared about that. I was a 33-year-old balding man competing against kids straight out of college with computer science degrees.
I knew that No was just a request for more information, so when I received an objection, I was quick to try and overcome it. When I was told no because I didn’t have a degree, I mentioned all the companies formed in the valley by people without degrees like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but that just didn’t seem to help. I wasn’t ready to give up, though. I knew in time I would convince one of these companies to take a chance on me, but with a wife now four months pregnant, I didn’t think I had the time to do that.
So, with time being of the essence, I went after a job I knew I could get, and that was back in fast food, managing a Wendy’s. At least I thought I could easily get it. Instead I heard a word I had yet to hear in my job search, and that was “overqualified.” Sure, I’d heard underqualified a lot, but overqualified? This was another one of those things that always bothered me. Why wouldn’t you hire somebody who had more skills than you needed? I’ve heard the reasons, like you might get bored, or the second something better comes along you’ll quit, but frankly I think that’s more of a problem with the manager than the employee. I always felt you should hire the best person you can find and put their skills to use. If they get bored or leave the second something “better” comes along, it’s because you as the manager didn’t keep them engaged or challenged. This isn’t a problem with an employee being overqualified — it’s a problem with a manager being underqualified.
Well, I was able to convince the people at Wendy’s that I had a lot of experience, and while I was older than all their other employees, they should consider these things as assets. I would obviously come up to speed quickly and I could act as a mentor to the rest of the management team. They gave me the job, but things did not go well.
During my three-month vacation in wine country it was easy to forget that I had a bad back, but after just three hours on my feet during my first shift at Wendy’s, my body reminded me with some very serious pain. It took all the willpower I had to get through that first day and when I got home, I was in so much pain that I felt I had no choice but to take some serious pain meds to get through the night.
This went on for about a month. I would go to work and suffer through the pain, and when I got home I would take pills and go straight to bed. This was no way to live a life, but I needed this job. I decided to go to the doctor to see if there was anything he could do. There wasn’t, and again I was told that I shouldn’t be working at all. Sure, I was able to handle the shoe repair where I could lie down whenever I needed, but that’s a hard thing to do at a Wendy’s. Something had to change.
I reminded myself that we moved to CA so I could find a job in the computer industry, a job where I’d be seated behind a desk, not standing at a counter making sandwiches or at a grill frying meat. But here I was, in pain and taking pills again. So, I did what I thought was the only thing I could do. I quit the job and I stopped taking the pills. Suzie was very concerned. We had rent to pay and a baby on the way. I was very motivated to solve this problem. I just had to figure out how.
- When you have a setback it’s OK to stop and catch your breath, but at some point you have to get moving again.
- Surround yourself with supportive people. These are the people who will give you a kick in the butt when you need it.
- If you’re trying to get your way there are times to hit a problem head-on and there are times to find the workaround.
- Hire the best people you can find and keep them challenged and engaged. Never turn someone down for a job because you think they’re overqualified.
George A. Santino helps people who want to break down barriers, including self-imposed barriers, to success. Check out his Amazon bestselling book, Get Back Up: From the Streets to Microsoft Suites.