So there I was, a 19 year old killer. The first sign of difficulty had crossed my path, and I had no Samwise Gamgee. Can we just pause here for a minute? I want to make sure you get that reference. I know most of you wonderful nerds got it. But for those who didn’t, go find a copy of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or go watch the movies. Samwise Gamgee might just be the true hero of that entire adventure. Frodo never would have finished his journey, he never would have survived, he never would have had the required resilience to throw…well, I’m tempted to say that the spoiler warning halo has lapsed since the book was first published nearly 70 years ago, but I did just encourage you to go experience it…so let’s just say that Samwise and his wonderful po-ta-toes that you can boil, mash, and stick in a pot, were important.
So what happened after I quit art? Well, nothing. The next semester I took a few more classes and finished up my first full year of college. The following fall semester I only took about 12 or 13 hours. The semester after that, I took 3. The semester after that, I didn’t even enroll. I had no direction. I had no idea what I wanted to do. So I turned my focus to the bookstore.
Here’s where I have to give my dad a ton of credit. My dad once told me that he felt like he’d let me down and failed as a father. I’ll have to share that story sometime. But the fact is, my dad did not fail me. He taught me many things, and one of those was a strong work ethic. I poured myself into the work at the store and did everything I could to earn more hours and responsibility.
My work paid off! Soon I was working full-time hours. Then we got a new general manager, and shortly after that a position opened up to oversee the Bibles and church supplies department. The manager challenged me to sell a copy of the most expensive software package we had. I sold two of them! (This is when I discovered my love of setting and achieving goals) Before too long, he promoted me to a key-carrier position. I was now addicted to climbing the ladder!
About a year after our new manager took over the store, the corporate office moved our store to a new, larger location. We were going from about 14,000 square feet of retail space, to over 35,000 square feet. Some time after that, our store manager was chosen to manage our company’s move into the Dallas market. Our assistant manager moved to Dallas as well, and that gave me the opportunity to move up to the assistant manager role.
We got a new general manager, and fortunately, he and I got along very well…but I soon discovered I had a problem. The problem was, I’d grown as far as I could within the company unless I was willing to commit to making the bookstore my career. You see, to move up, I would need to either join the manager in training program (MIT program) so I could be a general manager, or I’d need to somehow be selected for a buying position at the corporate office.
I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in becoming a general manager. I was now 22 years old and the general managers I’d worked with were in their 60s. I peered into the future to see myself as a 60 year old man, and I did not want to be a 60 year old man managing a bookstore. That’s not at all to say I didn’t respect them, the work they did, or the work it took to do their job. I’m only saying that it was not the path I wanted to pursue. It didn’t take long for the district manager to approach me about becoming an MIT. I immediately, but politely declined. In my mind, I was holding off for a buying job.
Several months go by. I’m now a freshly minted 23 year old. The district manager once again approached me about joining the MIT program. Specifically, he said the company was opening a new store in Lubbock, TX, and they wanted me to go help establish the store and train under the store manager there. This time I told him I’d pray about it. Now, I have to be honest with you. When I told him that, what I really meant was, “I don’t want to tell you no right away this time. I’ll tell you no later so that it looks like I actually had to think about it.” But I try very hard to be a man of my word, and I did indeed go home and pray about it.
Have you seen that episode of Friends where Chandler is trying to break up with Janice by telling her that his job is relocating him to Yemen? He thinks that will be enough to end it, but she insists on helping him pack. When he packs so much luggage that she can’t fit into the cab with him, she insists on taking another cab so she can see him off at the airport. She then insists on going to the gate with him, so he has to buy a very real $2,100 ticket to Yemen. He waits until the last call, and tries to hide in the jetway so she’ll leave once he gets on the plane. But that’s still not enough. She tells him she is staying until she sees that plane take off. It’s at that point Chandler realizes he is out of options. He exasperatedly exclaims, “I’m going to Yemen!”
Yeah, so I prayed about the job in Lubbock, and it is one of only two times in my life where I felt God was speaking clearly and directly to me. I did not want to go. I didn’t want to become an MIT, and I certainly didn’t want to move to Texas. But it was clear. I felt like Chandler when I told my friends, “I’m going to Lubbock!”
Unlike Chandler, I was actually quite fond of my girlfriend. So I bought a ring, popped the question, got married two months later, and moved to Lubbock shortly after that. I applied that good work ethic and did the best job I could. The corporate office noticed, and 10 months later, I was promoted to general manager of our store in Wichita Falls, TX. I was genuinely excited by the opportunity. I was genuinely excited to be moving 3 hours closer to home. I worked as the general manager in Wichita Falls for nearly two years. The store saw significant improvements. The store was awarded performance bonuses that were thought impossible for that location. Corporate noticed, and almost two years to the day I started there, I was hired as a buyer at the corporate office. The timing was perfect. My wife and I were now expecting our first child, and we were moving back home where our parents lived. Indeed happiness is Texas in your rearview mirror.
I haven’t yet apologized for my click bait teaser a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure if you thought that I would be telling you a story the next week of how I actually caused the death of another human. But what we see here in this story today is the death of one dream does not mean the death of all dreams. Once I’d killed my dream, it took me a couple of years to sort things out to the point a new dream was formed. But it eventually came. However, as we also saw in this story today, my dream was to become a buyer, not a store manager. While the story today ended with me getting offered the position of a buyer and thus achieving my dream, there’s another part of this story I skipped over.
During that period of time when I rejected the district manager’s first offer to become an MIT, I actually did get a call from the corporate office about an opening for a buying position. One day I got word from the store manager that there was a call for me that I needed to take in his office. That doesn’t happen very often, so my interest was piqued. When I took the call it was one of the lead buyers and he told me he wanted to interview me for an opening as a buyer in his department. I was elated. I was shaking with excitement as I hung up the phone and immediately called a friend of mine from church and asked him to start praying that God would give me this position.
Needless to say, I didn’t get that job. I was dejected and back in that position of not knowing what my future would hold. I didn’t know if I’d get another shot. After all, the job I’d interviewed for was in the book and Bible department. It was THE department I most wanted to work in and those jobs rarely opened up. But it’s clear from today’s story that I didn’t let that rejection allow me to stop moving forward.
Obstacles, disappointments, and unexpected detours are going to cross our paths. Fortunately, by this time in my life I’d learned a bit more about overcoming obstacles and I didn’t allow those obstacles to make me quit. Obstacles couldn’t take away my work ethic, integrity, positive attitude, humble spirit, or belief that better things were coming down the road. I was only starting to realize that obstacles can be just the stepping stone we need to lift us up to the next level in our growth.
I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday episode 566, “I’m Going to Yemen.” Next week the story takes a turn down an unexpected path. A path that has made all the difference. Stuff I Learned Yesterday is part of the Golden Spiral Media podcast network. Join me on Twitter at GSMPodcasts, or Facebook.