It was a line from a Billy Joel song about a piano player in a bar. The line resonated with me each time someone asked me why I was where I was doing the sort of work I did. Whenever they asked me I felt embarrassed. Certainly, when I was a kid I’d never dreamed of growing up to be a retail store manager. It won’t that the job didn’t have its constant challenges. I dare anyone to say differently. It was just I never intended to be working sixteen-hour days for the sort of pay I was receiving.
People saw me working, breaking a sweat while wearing a dress shirt and dress slacks as was required. At least the company relented on having us wear neckties a couple of years earlier. Maybe I worked a little too hard, doing the manual stuff, lifting, toting and putting out freight. But I was never the sort to stand around and give orders, which was actually what the company expected me to do. Usually I could do something quicker myself than delegate and follow up to ensure it was done up to my expectations. Yeah, I get it that I was not really improving anyone else, training and developing my people to do the work for me but I had deadlines on my work lists that I could never achieve if I relied on others. So, as a manager, I was a hard worker but not really a goo deluder, I guess. That was the way my superiors reviewed me, anyway.
They told me I was the smartest guy in the district. What did that mean? There I was working with people who made more money than I did who were not working as hard as I was and they were telling me how smart I was by comparison. If you ask me I was pretty dumb. During one of my performance reviews when they told me how smart my response was that it was like telling me I was the tallest of the pygmies. I’m not sure they got my point.
Filtered through the perception and expectations based on what others learned about my background, the usual refrain was, “Wow, what are you doing working for…”
“I’m surviving,” was my answer.
A couple of years ago, I actually hit the bottom in terms of my self esteem and confidence. I never want to return to a situation like that. My job was killing me, literally and figuratively. My health was in rapid decline, overweight working a stressful job. The only thing I liked doing was writing for a few hours after I got home from work and on my days off. But my job was demanding more and more of my time. Whatever I did was never good enough. After working my ass off for twelve to sixteen hours a day my supervisors expected me to stay a couple of more hours doing this or that and called me in on my days off as well. I had no life. The only thing I took any pride in was that I’d won a couple of awards with my writing. To me that was progress.
Clearly I was in a hole, not a rut. In a rut there is still a chance for progress even within the same rut. Rapidly I was digging in deeper and the hole was collapsing around me. That’s how it felt they day I resigned. Suddenly I realized that no one had a gusto my head making me endure their abuse. It was the threat of losing my job, my income that they held over me. That was what kept me working. The day was Washington’s Birthday 2012. I quit because they pushed me too far. They infringed on my private imd for writing, the only thing I did that kept me sane.
I guess my problem all along was selling myself short. I’ve always done that to some extent. I was never quite good enough for this or that, always discounting the possibilities of being better than I was or others anticipated. Often I did what others wanted me to do. Like the watch on the Timex commercials of my youth, I took a licking but kept on ticking. No one who knew me would ever have called me a tough kid but I put up with a lot of stuff that maybe I shouldn’t have. Hey, it made me what I am, so in a strange, warped way, I might even be grateful.
Less than a month after quitting my last retail management job, a couple of days before St. Patrick’s Day, I was truly a writer – writing everyday, which was what I always wanted. And what I wrote in daily installments I posted to Fanstory. Otherwise I was unemployed.
Following the positive response to a poem with a childhood theme that I wrote and posted online, I sat down at my old Macbook Pro and wrote about a man dealing with some indecipherable directions to a house. I didn’t have a title for the piece as I wrote it. That came a few hours later when I misread a headline – I really should wear my glass when surfing the news feeds. Over the course of the ensuing month I wrote a number of related stories that became the kernel of Fried Windows (In A Light White Sauce), the book which will be launched on May 30, a couple of years later.
1 thought on “What Are You Doing Here?”
It wouldn’t be called “following your dream” if the act didn’t require dropping other things and changing direction. Thanks for the encouraging, enlightening post!