A Leap of Faith: Part IV – The Career

31 03 2010

There is a common misconception I would like to debunk right off the top. It is the assumption that a career and a job are the same thing… that they are synonyms. I propose that they are very different things, and that confusing them is not only a huge mistake, but that it can often have disastrous repercussions.

A job is temporary. A job is fleeting. You are not in control of it, it is in control of you. Most jobs do not require specific skills, or if they do, often you can learn what you need to know on the job. You show up for a job everyday, but the job goes on without you if you leave. For the most part, you do not control the direction your job takes, the choices you make my subtly affect the way the job goes, but you are not steering the boat. With a job you are usually working for someone else. Being paid by someone else. Dependent upon someone else.

A career is 1000% different. A career is permanent (or at least semi-permanent). A career is long-term. If you have a career, you are in charge. Your every decision and choice affects the course of your career. Generally speaking, in a career your working for a bigger purpose, or towards a bigger goal. A career takes a certain skill set. You can learn many new skills on the job in a career, but the career will falter early if you do not have certain skills.

Once I walked out of that office on the corner of Beverly Dr., and Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills everything changed. I had walked into that office fresh off my realizations in Costa Rica, and the seed money to start my career. I had walked into that office a man with a job… I walked out with a career.

The first week of my new career was a whirlwind. I partnered up with a close friend of mine who was very skilled on the PC. I knew my company would need both Mac and PC technicians, and it seemed to make sense to start with someone I knew. He had strong business skills, and helped me get the bureaucratic blah-blah in line. We needed a name first, then a DBA and a bank account, then a Federal Tax ID#, then we needed a business phone line, and advertising, and a website, and a million other things… but first came the name.

We struggled with the name. I was the creative person, so it fell onto me to throw out idea after idea after idea, only to have each and every one unceremoniously shot down. How about this? Or that? Or this one? Or we could call it… and on and on and on… finally I turned to him, frustrated, “What the hell do you want to call it? 2 Smart Techies?” He laughed immediately, and smiled… and just like that 2 Smart Techies was born.

We quickly got the DBA, and purchased our domain, and designed our logo (again with lots of help from me as the creative guy), and put out some ads… and then we waited. We weren’t sure how long it was going to take. A day, a week, a month, or even longer… but it didn’t take long at all. We soon got a call from a major television production company in Hollywood. They had a dozen and a half PCs, and a huge virus infestation. I will always remember that moment as my Ghostbusters moment. You know the scene… the ghostbusters have put it all on the line getting their headquarters set up. They have their ads running, and most of New York thinks they’re a complete joke, but then someone calls and hires them to catch the slimy green ghost, and Annie Potts, the mousey secretary throws down her hand on a big red button, and screams “WE GOT ONE!!!!!” and alarms and sirens go off all over the Ghostbusters headquarters and they all slide down the pole in their full costumes for the first time…. It was just like that…. Only much much more mundane.

We got on site, and sure enough it was a complete disaster. Some new PC virus had been released and had just wreaked havoc on this office. I saw things that day that I had never imagined as even remote possibilities outside of the Sci-Fi Fantasy films I had grown up on. I was at a distinct disadvantage coming from the Mac side of things… I had only heard of viruses as concepts. I’d never really seen them in the wild, nor did I know what they could do or how to fix them. It was like nothing I had ever seen or experienced before. There were viruses that could shut off your computer, or wipe all the data off your machine, or redirect your browser to unauthorized pages… it was crazy. I let my PC partner guide me, and together we worked our asses off for over 16 hours straight… and then, all of a sudden, we were done. We invoiced the company, and collected a check for over $4000. My partner and I split it down the center, and just like that we were a legitimate company.

I was warned by friends of mine and other technicians, that this business was a sink or swim business. Some weeks you would eat filet mignon, and some days you would be lucky to have enough money and work to buy dog food… but it was never like that for me. It was always filet mignon. On job led to another. One client referred me to another one. Before I knew it, I had more work than I could handle, and more money than I had ever expected to earn.

That’s not to say it was easy sailing from this point on, not by a long shot, but we were over the first hurdle. The second hurdle that would really define me as a leader, and define my business as a whole, came a couple of months down the line. You see, I was already 30 at this point, and had had enough job experiences to know that I never again wanted to work for someone else. This gave me an intense work ethic. This was not just my day job. This was a company that i would build out and cultivate into a career. Something that would feed me and my family not just for the here and now, but well into my future. My partner on the other hand was in his 20’s, still finishing his school career, had no kids, and almost no overhead. Originally we had assumed that we would split all costs up front, and all checks we received, but that soon proved to be a bad plan. I worked every day. I had clients lined up and waiting for my services, and my partner just sat around waiting for someone to call him. I was being proactive, while he was just being reactive. As a result I provided 90% of the clients, and 90% of the income, and yet also carried the full load of the overhead, and paid half of my earnings over. This clearly wasn’t going to work.

My first remedy for this situation was to put my partner on a guaranteed hourly amount. I would pay him a flat rate every week, and keep the rest of what I was making. This didn’t work either because then he did less and less since he wasn’t being paid based on how much he did, just a flat rate. He was clearly in a job mind-set, while I was quickly learning what it meant to be in a career mind-set. I decided I had only one choice, so I bought him fully out of the company, and became a sole proprietor, a business owner, a full-time computer consultant, and most of all the proud new owner of an actual career. Go figure.

Down the line, I would branch out, find a new top-notch PC technician, build my brand and my clientele, and 7 years later I would still be here, fixing people’s Macs and helping them get their PCs working, writing tech blogs and recording a podcast, and thanking my lucky stars everyday that I get to be in charge. I get to be the boss. I make the decisions and choices and I steer my future, for better or worse. I have no one to answer to, and I make my own schedule, and money has never been the same issue it was back in those early days. Now it’s on to bigger and better things, and finding ways to continue to market my Business, and build my roster, and add new technicians, etc… Every day is a new adventure, and every day I learn something new that helps me lift this company a notch higher and a notch higher still. With a job, who cares…. With a career, I better care, because no one else will care for me.


A Leap of Faith: Part III – The Knock

4 03 2010

So here I am, on this gorgeous beach in Costa Rica, fulfilling one of my lifelong dreams… that of learning how to surf, and through it all I am haunted. The thought of returning to that job, to that life, to that identity seems unbearable, and so I worry… and panic… and I stress about it.

One day, I am mid-conversation with my father and his girlfriend, Judy. We are discussing happiness in life, when the question comes up… “Why don’t you want to go home?”

It’s not as easy to answer in that moment as it is today. At that moment I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was all about. I lied to myself and said the weather was too beautiful here, and I wanted to keep surfing, but the truth was that it had been pouring rain (I mean real rain forest rain) in buckets for days now. There was no surfing, and the weather was shit. Finally I said it, “I hate my job and I can’t bear the thought of doing it for a single moment longer.”

“So what would you rather be doing?”

I thought about it. I thought about Kurt Simon, and making $75/hour to teach computers. I thought about how easy it was to fix technological problems. I thought about how much I had learned being in relationship with Kurt, and other clients of mine. And I knew it… I knew what I wanted to do. “I want to do my computer work full-time.”

“And what would it take to make that dream a reality?”

I thought about it seriously. I knew it wasn’t out of my reach… A stretch yes, but not out of my reach. What would it take? Money, pure and simple. Money to pay the bills for at least the first two months while I built up my client roster. Money to buy some parts and print business cards. Money to promote myself. Money for business licenses and DBAs. Money, money, money…

I thought about working at my job day after day, wasting away in an office building making someone else rich. I thought about leaving the house for work at 7AM, and walking in the door with my daughter, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken Bag under my arm at 8PM or sometimes even 9PM. Too tired to do anything but collapse on the couch and turn on the idiot box. Too broke to fix my car, or own nice clothes. Barely making rent. Fluorescent lights and parking cards and frustrated, obnoxious co-workers and short lunch breaks and brown bag or fast food lunches and and and…..

ENOUGH!!!! I turned and looked my Dad and Judy right in the eyes and said “$5,000. For me to make that dream a reality would take $5,000.”

I don’t know what I expected to gain from blurting this number out. At the time it seemed like an unattainable sum of money, $5,000. In retrospect, by today’s standards it’s not all that much, but it seemed like a lot to me then, and I certainly wasn’t expecting what Judy said next:

“I’ll get my checkbook.”

And she did. She got up right then and wrote out a check for me for $5,000. I was just getting to know this woman, and she was handing me a check… and it wasn’t a joke. I knew the check was good. I promised to pay her back as soon as I could and she just waved me off…

“Whenever you can… no rush.”

And just like that I had a lot of things to do and think about and prepare for. Just like that everything looked different. I called my boss and told him I had been unavoidable detained and stayed an extra week.

I enjoyed that last week of the trip the most. I had the best meals, great times with my Dad and Judy, went out to discotheques and danced the night away, surfed, and explored. We even went on a canopy trip riding on ziplines through the treetops of the rain forest… and then it was time to come home.

That first day back at work is seared in my mind. I will never forget it. I walked up the steps, and into my bosses’ office and looked him right in the eye. He said it first.

“You’re done here, aren’t you?”

It wasn’t said in a mean way, or in an angry tone, it was just complete acceptance…. it was clear that something had changed in me. The boy who had left LA 3 weeks early was not the man who walked back off of that flight, or into this office.

His words hung in the air for a few moments. I savored them, heard them echo back in my ears, felt the true power behind them….

“Yes. I’m done.”

“But what about my computers” he asked, “Who’s going to take care of them?”

“I will.” I said, “I’ll just be on the clock.”

And I gathered my things and I left. And that was that.

NEXT: A Leap of Faith Part IV: The Career