Part of the journey of being an entrepreneur is the continual walking through of fear gateways that are bigger and more terrifying than any of the fear gateways in other areas of life because entrepreneurship is about the ongoing experience of purposely stretching into the vast unknown. Fear gateways are the place where all of the scary monsters you can concoct in your limited ego-driven mind gather together to snarl and snap at you, daring you to go forward, but mostly scaring the daylights out of you. It becomes a choice about whether you turn tail and run, or crumple to the ground, curl up in the fetal position, suck your thumb, and cry, or walk through the gateway and reach the other side where resides the manifestations of the visions you hold for yourself. Over and over and over.
Recently, the monsters with jaggedy teeth and sharp claws were waiting for me, blocking the fear gateway that is called “what if there isn’t enough money?” This fear was yipping at me and I was incredibly uncomfortable. The visions that I’ve been holding for myself for over a decade now were suddenly dim and getting lost in the fog. I was ready to give up and return to the corporate world and the illusion of financial security and “guaranteed” regular income that is so strongly embedded in the structure of this nation’s economy. I know that it is a false reality and have experienced just how false it is, but it was calling to me like a lost lover’s ghost wandering the beaches of a tumultuous ocean on a dark, stormy night.
I gave into the fear and began looking for jobs. I applied for jobs and nothing happened – as has gone on since 2009, the application and resumé sending ritual resulted in absolutely nothing. Then I went in for the coup de gras – I applied for a few federal government positions. I mean, really, if I’m going to go back to corporate America, I might as well get into bed with Big Brother, aye?
After three different application processes, four rounds of testing, and one meeting wherein I decided that particular job wouldn’t be a match for me, I found myself in another meeting for an entirely different position within that organization.
The night before the early morning meeting, I had the wispy and fleeting thought, “It’s not necessary to go to that meeting tomorrow.” It felt like that lost lover’s ghost, but this time the voice was whispering an entirely different message. I felt a moment of relief, knowing I didn’t have to go to the meeting. That relief should have been a sign that I was actually not on the right track.
I ignored it.
The next morning, I awoke much earlier than I normally rise, feeling well-rested and strong. The monsters had wandered away in the night, no longer interested in testing me because some part of me had decided, the night before, that I didn’t need to be scared. Everything was going to be okay.
Then, even though the voice had whispered I didn’t have to go, I got in the shower and got ready to go to the meeting. Things flowed easefully and it seemed that I was floating through my morning routine. Breakfast was deliciously satisfying. The sky was clear. The sunrise was spectacular. Interactions with my daughter were delightful.
Then, suddenly, I blinked and it was five minutes beyond the time I had wanted to leave so I could arrive on time to find parking at the warehouse facility in the far west quadrant of the valley. Second sign that I was not on the right track.
I ignored it too.
I got in the car and began driving – after scraping the ice off my car windows. Twice. The road was surprisingly devoid of drivers and given that I was going the opposite direction of rush hour traffic, I had a clear and open road most of the way.
I hit every intersection just as the light was turning red. Cars that pulled in front of me seemed to do so willy-nilly and without caution, causing me to slow down and back off. Those who consciously chose to enter my lane were going 10 mph under the speed limit. And at the last intersection, I arrived to turn left just as the light turned red five cars in front of me. We waited three rounds of 2-minute long intervals of signal changes – so six minutes – before the first car finally ran the red arrow light that never turned green for us.
Another series of signs that I ignored but did so with full belly laughter. The signs were ridiculously obvious and I still went forward with my plan. It had become a quest to see just how many signs would show up that told me I had strayed into the left field of the completely wrong ball park in a distant city.
I arrived right on time, with tears rolling down my face because I was laughing so hard.
The next sign was the fact that there were no parking spaces in the first six rows of at least one hundred slots per row. But I found a spot on the seventh row and laughed right out loud when I sighed and heard myself think, “at least it wasn’t the eleventh row!” Yep. There’s a silver lining on every cloud.
After walking across the vast, black wilderness, I found myself at the very end of the line of at least one hundred people who were all standing in single file and talking to no one, unless they had come with a buddy. The energy of desperation and fear was palpable. Several people near me kept looking at me like I had the plague because I could not stop tittering. Judging by the looks they were casting my way, I can guess they were considering calling a psych ward orderly to come take me away.
When the doors finally opened and the well-behaved crowd of humans surged forward politely, I should have turned around when they offered me the bright orange “visitor’s” tag and instructed me to clip it to my collar and then locked the doors behind me.
But I didn’t.
When I saw that we were guided – single file and silent – all. the. way. through the giant facility, I had visions of the long lines of industrial workers in the 1927 film, Metropolis. Those visions led to more giggles, which earned me several shocked stares from possible would-be peers who were on their break in the cavernous and cold cafeteria and stern tsk-tsks and the shaking of heads from their supervisors. I should have turned right around then, but I didn’t. I was committed to seeing this preposterous adventure all the way to the end.
I was nearly the last person to enter the room, which meant the only chair available was front and center. Oh goody! I sat down, settled in, and attempted to talk to the people around me. They didn’t take well to that.
Then Ms. Human Resources Manager stepped up to the podium, looking all prim, proper, and stiff. She reminded me a lot of Miss Gulch in the original Wizard of Oz movie, only prettier. When the theme music from the scene of her riding her bike in the tornado began playing in my head and I giggled, I earned a nasty glare from her.
I should have politely excused myself then, but I didn’t.
“This is seasonal work with no guarantee of hours,” she said. Okay. I can work with that, I reasoned.
“There are no benefits,” she said and I nodded, already assuming there wouldn’t be, given that it was temporary work.
“Before you leave, you will sign up for an interview slot. You must complete an interview and pass a drug test and criminal background check before you can be hired.” Oh good lord! Another test AND a background check AND an interview???!
“You have a specific workload you will meet or be terminated upon completion of your 90 day probationary period. If you do not meet it, you will be let go. If you are let go at that time, you can never work here again.” I… ummm… okay. Wow.
“You will work Saturday and Sundays. No exceptions.” Oh hey… I hadn’t seen that one coming.
“You will pick your schedule and stick to it for the entire 90 days of your probation.” Well… okay… that seems fair.
“We do NOT tolerate tardiness,” Well, that one was expected.
“Any absences will result in immediate termination.” Ouch! That’s harsh, but I can adhere to that. I’m a pretty dedicated employee.
“Work weeks are 40 hours each,” But… I thought you said hours were not guaranteed???
“And when overtime is called for, it will most likely be at the last minute and you will be expected to remain on the clock until the overtime demand is released.” Ummmm…
“Your temporary assignment is for 360 days, after which you will take a mandatory 5-day leave without pay and can return to work thereafter without reapplying.” I’m still confused about this being temporary…
“You can apply for permanency after your probation, which upon being hired will entitle you to full benefits of being a federal employee.” Welllll… that’s nice.
“However, we only hire from within and do so by seniority, so you will have to wait your turn. After being here for nearly 20 years, I have seen that process take as short as six months and as long as six years.” Six years? Wow. That’s persistence.
All of this was said with hardly any pause and I could feel all the brains swimming around me and all of the eyes glazing over. All of the breath had left the room. Or… maybe that was just me. And I was beginning to experience an irresistible need to scream as that voice began whispering, “See. This isn’t the place for you. But it has been a fun escapade this morning, hasn’t it? Are you ready to roll over and play dead yet?”
I nearly was, but instead, I remained seated with back straight, unblinking eyes locked on Ms. HR Manager, and swallowing convulsively so I didn’t burst into fits of inappropriate laughter.
“Your shifts are a guaranteed two hours…” Again… isn’t this temporary, non-guaranteed work??? I’m so confused!
“… with a max of eight hours, unless there is a call for mandatory overtime.” Of course.
“You will work for 50 minutes, then take a 5 minute break.” I’m seeing “Metropolis” in my head again. Cannot laugh. Cannot laugh. Cannot laugh. Get it together, Angie!
“We are set up like a call center, with rows and rows of cubicles. You will not have your own cubicle. You will sit in a new cubicle every day and can be told to move cubicles in the middle of your shift. This is a data entry position. There is no customer service. Only data entry.” Okay, that sounds actually really good. I don’t much care for customer service work.
I was nodding and doing really good at staying quiet until she said, “You are here to work; NOT socialize so there is NO talking on the floor. This is a silent, working floor. You will come in, sit down, wait for your supervisor to approve you to begin working and then you can put in your earbuds and listen to whatever you want to listen to. NO socializing!”
The laugh I had been holding back since sitting down, bubbled to the surface uncontrollably and burst forth before I could stop it. Bad move, Angie! Ms. HR Manager glared at me and I imagined she suddenly knew my name and was mentally marking my permanent record with one gigantic, black “F”!
I stopped listening at that point. It was all too absurd. There was no way I could make myself work in a hell like that. For me, having all those humans around me would be cause to celebrate and play, for goodness sake! Not sit there like an unfeeling, mute robot. Ms. HR Manager continued to drone on, her voice becoming the whaa-whaa-whaa of the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons as I began cataloguing all I would be “giving up” in exchange for the lousy $14/hour.
Suddenly, that “guaranteed” regular income and false sense of security seemed like the worst idea I had ever concocted. Thinking about me being stuck in a Metropolis atmosphere of straight lines and silence for 40 hours – plus one hour of drive time amongst crazy Utah drivers for every single shift – of my 112 hours of wakefulness every week made me instantly exhausted. I knew that exhaustion would lead to loss of ambition and giving up on my visions. I knew that I would, eventually, resent myself for exchanging the liberation I had fought so hard for and my peace of mind for fourteen dollars an hour. The investment far outweighed the return.
I gratefully turned in my orange badge and left that place feeling happy. Back at my home office, I appreciatively sat down in my chair at my desk to work on the latest fiction novel I’ve been hired to write, and the branding package for a friend, and the editing of my latest program. I worked throughout that day knowing that those monsters hadn’t really gone away; they were still there waiting for me at the gate of “what if there isn’t enough money,” but I didn’t have to visit them. I could trust that the Universe really IS my ally and is working for me, bringing me everything I need. Because, if I get really honest with myself, that is what I have experienced. It is only me feeding those monsters and helping them grow.
I thought about the peace I had felt when I had heard the message the night before the meeting. I thought about the silly nature of my journey to the meeting and through the meeting. I really thought about what it would cost me to give into those fears, feed those monsters, and buy into the false reality of corporate security. I thought about that exchange a lot and asked myself if I was giving up more than I would be receiving.
In the end, the exercise in futility ended up being the most powerful excursion I could have taken myself on because I soon realized that there isn’t enough money or “security” in the world that is worth experiencing the emptiness that comes from giving up on myself.
© Angie K. Millgate 2014
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