Ages ago during the start of my professional career I was very lucky to have an amazing, if not slightly unorthodox manager who’s name I will change for purposes of anonymity. Let’s call him Mike.
Mike was a very interesting man. I met him in the late 90’s, but he was something fresh out of the 80’s, and would have made a perfect villain in an 80’s drug movie, or even an NPC in the Grand Theft Auto video games. Mike had ”short guy” energy. Standing a whooping 5`6, he carried himself with the height and confidence of a man well over 6 ft tall.
Of all of Mike’s interesting traits, his most disturbing was the occasional drug use in front of those that had made it into his inner circle and he trusted knowing about it. That being said, other than some occasional pot use in high school, I had never seen any real or hardcore drugs before in person. So to my surprise, seeing actual cocaine in front of me made me feel like I had stepped into a Miami Vice episode. Mike was never crazy with the use of it, and only offered me a “bump” once, which I politely declined. The description of his drug use here is mainly relevant because it was in his moments of lucidity that Mike had some very profound, almost Buddha-like, moments of clarity and inspiration.
One such moment came on a day that I had arrived to the office 30 minutes early, which was was my usual start time. Mike was always in his office at least 45 minutes before I ever arrived oh, and you could hear him pecking away on his keyboard, one finger at a time, grumbling to himself about the events of the day. Occasionally he would begin belting out some old school rock song.
Mike had the interesting habit of referring to me as “Kid”. A moniker I found interesting at the ripe old age of 21. And usually if I heard the name, it was immediately followed by the command to come into his office.
This day, was no different.
“Hey Kid” Mike belted out over the Foghat tune blaring from the radio, ”Come in here for a minute.”
I walked into his office just in time to hear ”Slow Ride” finishing up on the small radio he kept near his machine.
“Yeah Mike.” I responded
”What time is it?” He asked
”Ummm. 7:30 Mike” I responded checking my watch. ”What’s up?”
”What the fuck are you doing here so early?” He asked in a surly manner. ”Aren’t you supposed to be here at 8:00?”
”Yeah Mike, but I like to get here early. That way I can get things like my paperwork started and ready for the day.”
”Huh….” he huffed ”That’s cool”
By this point in my tenure with Mike I had learned that such questions were to be taken with a grain of salt, unless they were followed by 5 special words. If you received those words, you were sure to be the recipient of some sage like wisdom. Today would be one of those days.
”Let me ask you something….” He started……Buddha, Krishna and Christ themselves preparing to come down from the heavens to anoint the next set of words to leave his lips. ”What time do you get up in the morning? What time do you set you alarm to get up?”
“Well I set an alarm for 6:00 am” I responded. Then followed with, ”Then I set another for 6:15 am…..Well then I another one for 6:30, and finally one for 6:45. But that one’s bad because when it goes off it means I won’t get to work early to do my pre-work paperwork.”
Mike leaned back in his chair, putting his hands behind his head at the same time. “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osborne was just starting with Ozzy’s signature “All Aboard!” suddenly being heard coming from the tiny speaker. As he leaned back in the ancient metal chair, he closed his eyes and chewed on the BIC pen in his mouth. The office was eerily silent for a few minutes as I waited for him to say something. Finally after what felt like an eternity (maybe 5 seconds) he suddenly opened his eyes and looked at me.
“Kid you need to quit” he said.
I searched his face, looking for the tell-tale signs of a joke, but strangely did not see the usual smirk that normally followed when he thought he was being funny. Needless to say panic began to form in my mind as I began to wonder if this was his way of telling me I was fired.
“Why, what did I do?” I responded.
“Kid you didn’t do shit wrong…..” he said in his gruff and colorful way.
“Then why should I quit?” I asked.
“Kid….” he began “….you’re at a place for over 8 hours a day….everyday working your butt off. If you are setting 4 alarms each day to wake up, you’re forcing yourself to get up and go to someplace that you clearly don’t want to be. If that’s the case, you should think about quitting and finding something else.”
I didn’t understand what he meant by that, most likely because this was my first real job and like most people, I assumed you were just supposed to go to work, but not necessarily like what you did. Don’t get me wrong, I liked my job at the time, but it wasn’t truly inspiring me to do my absolute best work, or engaging me mentally in a way that made me feel fulfilled.
It actually wasn’t until a approximately 4 years after that conversation, when I had traded positions and transitioned fully into management, that I began to fully understand the gist of what Mike meant. I had finally found a position that not only inspired me, but also excited me enough to get up in the morning and go into work. I had found a job that made me wake up after a single alarm, and nearly run out the door eager to start my day.
Finding a “One Alarm Job” then became one of my primary focal points for any new position. Mike’s wisdom, albeit chemically induced, was surprisingly poignant. When doing anything in this life, especially something like your employment, I believe it’s important to do it with passion. I’m not so naive as to not understand that pursuing passion over a needed paycheck isn’t always possible. We all have bills to pay, and sometimes that means taking a job that will pay them. That job may not exactly be the place you receive your inspiration, but I would challenge anyone in a 4 or 5 alarm job to keep their eye on the long term prize so to speak. Not that I would ever consider Kanye West as a source of inspiration, but I’ve always liked the line from his song “Gold Digger” that reads:
“You go out to eat, he can’t pay, y’all can’t leave
There’s dishes in the back, he gotta roll up his sleeves
But while y’all washin’, watch him
He gon’ make it to a Benz out of that Datsun”
For me, this line was a reminder to keep my long term goal in my mind while of course dealing with the present situation. There was a brief moment in my career where I lost a job and found myself in the role of factory floor worker, dealing with the production of making injected solenoids. Ugh….I can still remember burning my hand on the molds as they came out. But with each piece I burned myself on, I never stopped focusing on what my long term goal was. As others in the break room sat eating, I was checking the classifieds of the local paper (yes this story is that old), looking for the next job that could take me closer to where I wanted to be. In about 4 months, that opportunity presented itself and I was able to take a role that allowed me climb quickly with the company. With each rung of the ladder I climbed, I found my alarms lessening until finally, I was waking up before my alarm ever went off. that feeling has been something of a drug that I never want to stop being hooked on.
I wish I had some monumental conclusion to end this on. Honestly I’m not much of a writer, but that’s a long term goal I plan to correct. But if you’re still here reading this article, the one piece of advice I can truly give you is, find and follow your one alarm job. Find that role that excites you to jump out of bed everyday eager to make a difference in whatever capacity possible. Find that position that makes your heart smile at the end of the day.
That’s just my two cents, and a little piece of advice from Mike.