Eight weeks have passed since we started this season. The name of that first episode was called Birth of a Dream. That dream was to one day be an animator for Warner Brothers. I then killed that dream and then had no dream for the next few years. Then, after working at the bookstore long enough to see all the opportunities, I dreamed of becoming a buyer within that company. A few years later, I achieved that dream, only to have it smashed when I was fired from it 18 months later.
After getting fired, I once again found myself in a wilderness moment as I wandered around with no clear direction or dream. Then, thanks to my boss, I was inspired to think of and pursue a new dream. That’s when I decided I wanted to become a computer programmer, and I went back to school. Once I got my degree, I found that becoming a programmer within the company was not going to happen. However, that turned out to be fortuitous as the president of the company saw that I had the exact set of skills they were looking for to launch a brand new division within the company.
That job turned out to be more than what I’d dreamed it would be. Well, that is, until it suddenly was not at all what I dreamed it would be. So I once again found myself in a wilderness situation, wandering the halls of my corporate job, trying to figure out my next move, and watching my soul get sucked out of me more and more each passing day. Then, when I finally reached my breaking point, I poured my heart out to God. In an astounding and still-humbling way, he heard my cry and directed me toward the right path. I found a new dream. It’s been a wonderful and challenging dream to chase, but it’s been the most rewarding time of my entire life.
When I look back across my life of dreams, I’m struck by many things.
First, I’m so very grateful that I didn’t turn out to be an Uncle Rico. You know who I’m talking about, right? I’m talking about Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite, GOSH! The Napoleon Dynamite wiki page explains this perfectly:
“When Rico was in high school, he was a popular football star with dreams of going to the NFL. He dropped the winning pass for the big game and lost his popularity soon after. He dropped out of high school, abandoned his dreams, and lived in his orange Santana ever since. He spent his time filming himself throwing footballs.”
What I mean is, I’m glad I didn’t get stuck in time after my first dream didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped. Certainly there’s a distinction to be made in that I killed my dream willingly, versus Uncle Rico who feels like he was never given the opportunity to prove himself. However, what remains constant in both stories is that a point of decision was made. That decision was whether to dwell on what never was, or move forward beyond that moment in time.
I mean, let’s be honest. How many of us actually end up doing what we dreamed about as a child? Regardless of what causes those early dreams to die, allowing our forward growth to die along with them is a completely different decision and it’s a decision that each of us is in full control of.
When I got fired from being a buyer, that was certainly a situation much more akin to Uncle Rico. I could point to the fact that I was a brand new buyer who lost his assistant and was tasked with performing the jobs of two people as to why I failed. I remember a conversation I had with a coworker one day after work in the parking lot where I expressed concern over my boss’ decisions on workload. I told him that either my boss believed in me much more that he was letting on, or he was purposely piling more work on me in order to make me fail so he could fire me. So when I reached the breaking point, subsequently failed, and then got fired, I could have felt like I was treated unfairly and become bitter.
Certainly the way my boss at that time handled the situation was not good, or even right. But firing me was the right decision. I was not the right fit for that job. In fact, when he left the company a few years later, those were my final words to him. I told him that his firing of me and treatment of me was done the wrong way, but his decision was correct. I wished him success in his new job. Even still, doing the right thing in the wrong manner doesn’t make one’s actions just. But I refuse to play the victim.
In the Old Testament book of Genesis there’s an amazing story of a boy named Joseph. Joseph was favored by his father and his brothers were jealous. So one day Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and told his father he’d been mauled to death by wild animals. Through a series of extraordinary events, Joseph ended up before Pharaoh, and giving Pharaoh advice that prepared Egypt for a devastating famine. Joseph’s family, ravaged by the famine, traveled to Egypt to buy food. And wouldn’t you know it, the man they had to ask for the food ended up being Joseph. Later in the story Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers in a remarkable and emotional way, and they are terrified. However, Joseph doesn’t play the victim nor does he respond to them in anger. He tells them that what they intended for evil, God intended for good.
By no means am I comparing my boss at that time to Joseph’s brothers. I don’t think he meant me harm. After all, he didn’t outright fire me from the company. Instead, he simply fired me from his department. He went to the CEO to make sure I still had a job in the company before he told me of his decision. That firing is what finally led me to go get my college degree and give me the programming skills needed for what became my final role with the company. When I sat down at lunch with the company president and he told me about the ecommerce position, he said that they needed someone who knew store operations, buying, and technology. In that moment I realized I was uniquely qualified for the job! It was in that moment that I felt a tiny bit like Joseph must have felt as I realized that all of these years, God had been working this all out for my good.
Last week I started my 9th year as an entrepreneur, and that truth is as clear to me as ever. Remember, being an entrepreneur was never my dream, until it was my dream. My dreams have changed many times over the years, but every single step along the way has given me some level of preparedness for the next step. I am the entrepreneur I am today because of my 18 years at the bookstore. And for that, I am extraordinarily grateful for every single thing that happened there.
Did you know that I have a podcast about The Twilight Zone? It’s called Entering the Fifth Dimension. Back in February, we did an episode about time travel. Specifically, we talked about an episode called, “The Odyssey of Flight 33.” In that episode, a plane destined for New York travels back in time to the days of the dinosaurs. They turn the plane around and think that they’ve ended up back in their own time, only to discover that they’ve arrived about 22 years too soon.
As my co-host, Robert, and I discussed the episode, we pondered the question of what would we do if we found ourselves back in time by 22 years. At the time we recorded that episode, I’d been working diligently on writing this season of SILY and reflecting a lot on my life up to this point. I told Robert that if I encountered my younger self, I would tell him to buy Apple stock and Bitcoin. At that point I would literally have been weeks away from getting engaged, so I would tell my younger self that marrying Kari would be the best decision of my life. And that’s all I would tell myself.
I wouldn’t warn my younger self of the office politics. I wouldn’t tell him about going to Yemen. I wouldn’t encourage him to work on his organizational skills so that he wouldn’t get fired. I wouldn’t even encourage him to be an entrepreneur.
Because if I warned my younger self about those things, they would change my path. Okay, yes I realized that buying Apple stock and Bitcoin would also change my path. That’s not my point. My point is that every single thing has led me to where I am today. Imagine my 23 year old self back in 1999 ring shopping and wondering about the future ahead. There is absolutely no way I could use my imagination to look through time and predict I’d be where I am today.
I’ve met far too many people who are at the starting point of a journey. That journey could be new because they are young, it could be because they’ve pivoted from a job, it could be because of death or divorce, or any number of reasons. But whatever the reason, there they are at the beginning of a journey. They don’t know what to do. In a way, they are paralyzed. Perhaps by fear, perhaps by indecision, perhaps by overwhelm. Perhaps it’s something else.
It is not possible to look forward in time, see the destination, and plot a course to get there. After all, our course is not done, our destination is not reached until we draw our final breath. The only thing we can do is take steps. Just like I took steps and chose not to create a new brand right away, we’ll sometimes take steps and realize they were the wrong steps. But that’s great! Now we know! Now we have knowledge we didn’t have before! Now we have experience we can use to our advantage!
The absolute worst thing we can do is stand still. Every moment of our lives can be a teaching moment. Every experience can bring us growth. Even when people intend to harm us, we can rise above. We’re all one day closer to our ultimate destination than we were yesterday. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be standing still when I get there.
I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday episode 571, “Uncle Rico Doesn’t Live Here.” Next week we reach the end of the season. I know I’m a bit closer to the characters in this story than you, but I’d recommend having a tissue handy for next week just in case. I’d love to hear how this season has inspired you. Please reach out to me and let me know. And if I get enough responses, I’ll put together a bonus episode in between this season and the next one. You can reach out to me on Twitter at GSMPodcasts, Facebook, or our feedback page.