Life Lessons

Work Meant Trading Time For Money

Work meant trading time for money. Simple as that. I didn’t even look for anything I enjoyed, just something I could tolerate. No one ever told me I had the luxury of searching for work I enjoy. I never saw anyone in my immediate family search for jobs they loved. Momma in particular. For the most part, she acquired cleaning and cooking jobs. She worked as a presser in a garment factory, a housekeeper in a hotel, a cook in a college sorority house, a cook in a soul food restaurant and she held some side jobs cooking and cleaning for white folks. She worked these jobs to meet her monthly obligations and “enjoy a little” every payday. 

Momma didn’t drink or smoke or party, she had all her fun before Tony and I was born. In my childhood household, “enjoying a little” meant a family value meal from Church’s Chicken. Momma didn’t drive. Therefore, our family splurges were, most times, limited to neighborhood restaurants that sold fried fish, chicken gizzards, pork ribs, among other cardiac arrest promoting dishes. Yes, we lived in a food desert. In addition, we stayed on that side of town where pizza companies didn’t deliver because you know….

the delivery guy would come back to the restaurant with no pizzas and no money. 

I digress.

In The Beginning

From 1996 until 2021, I’ve had a total of 25 jobs (that I remember). Since my first job in my teen years at Piccadilly Cafeteria as a line server, I liked the false sense of independence that my part-time jobs gave me by making my own money. Exchanging my time for money so I can buy the things I wanted. Momma took care of the necessities and some of our wants but there were some things as a widow of four kids she just couldn’t afford. But she always tried.

I eventually got fired from Picadilly. Only God knows why. I surely don’t remember but my Catholic twin Tony got hired as well (probably on the same day) but kept the job until he graduated from high school. 

After Picadilly’s, I worked at Krystal’s and CVS Pharmacy as a cashier. My entrance and exit to Krystal’s is vague but I do remember a church member putting in a good word for me. CVS Pharmacy was the best job ever. I could wear my own clothes as long as I wore the store apron. No uniform was required.

Later on in life, we moved to my maternal grandmother’s house which was in close proximity to school and work. Remember, we did not have a car. Therefore, I liked the convenience of the job and the fact I didn’t smell like food.

I kept the job until I moved to metropolitan Atlanta which was June 20, 1999, a day after my 18th birthday. My two eldest siblings and one of my first cousins lived there. I was savvy enough at 17 years old to transfer to a CVS Pharmacy in Hotlanta.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

There were more job opportunities in Atlanta so I started to job hop for twenty-five to fifty-cent raises which was a lot to me at the time. In addition, there was always something happening in Atlanta that required money.

Before I realized it, I had multiple trivial, mostly part-time jobs under my belt. Simultaneously taking place at different kiosks lined in front of Macy’s Department Store in Lenox Square near the mall’s main entrance. My eldest brother and I shared a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Clarkston, Georgia where we split $500 rent. I had adult responsibilities and affection for nicer things made possible with my multiple gigs coupled with credit cards. I sold beanie babies to dietary supplements to pagers and contracted as a daycare assistant substitute teacher. In addition, I did brief stints at the Great American Cookie Co, Toys R Us, and Naturalizer Shoe Company.

From all those gigs (I counted eight jobs in two years), I learned I did not want to work multiple jobs or a job standing on my feet or a job that required manual labor. I discovered the people that had some type of certification or college degree normally sat at a desk, usually made more money, and appeared to exert less physical energy than unskilled or semiskilled workers.

During my 10 minute walk before daybreak to the bus stop, two buses, two trains, and a 2-hour commute to the daycare job in Sandy Springs from Clarkston, I saw an advertisement for a travel school. At that moment, I decided I needed a profession and not another dead-end job. 

So I enrolled with a desire to travel the world as a flight attendant. I was rather naive thinking I had to go to school to be a flight attendant. Anyhow, my plan prevailed, sort of. Instead of procuring a flight attendant position, immediately after graduation, I secured a job as a reservation agent with a travel company.

Momma, we made it.

My new profession and work environment gave me a boost in self-confidence. I was selling vacation packages in a cubicle with a computer, a phone, and headphones a far cry from my mall jobs.

A month or so after being hired, my dream profession dissipated right before my eyes. 

September 11 Happened. 

It seemed like a cruel joke. A handful of us had just completed the new hire training and passed a written exam. We had only been out of the classroom and on the sales floor for a hot minute. There was a television in the office and we saw live news coverage of the attacks happening. Even though it felt unreal, people were displaying raw emotions in a conventional work environment for those affected, loved ones, and our country. New Yorkers who migrated to Georgia and had family that worked or lived in the city was trying to contact their loved ones. It was a very sad day.

A week or two later, someone from corporate informed us the entire location was shutting down.

Not long after that lay-off, several others and I from the last company were hired by a competitor.

Momma, we made it again.

The office was bigger, grander, and had more people than the first company. On top of that, the company chartered their own planes and employees could fly to different destinations paying only the flight taxes. 

Things were starting to look up. I got my very first passport. At that time, I don’t think I knew anyone with such a document. I had only flown twice to Detroit, Michigan, and Lincoln, Nebraska as a teenager. 

Allow me to relish on these wonderful work assignments called familiarization trips. The company sent agents on all-expense-paid trips to have first-hand knowledge of the product (flight, accommodations, restaurants, recreational activities, service, etc.) to explicitly explain the amenities to the client. With an expectation of higher sales, of course.

These trips were a far stretch from Michigan and Nebraska. What I saw in the travel brochures in school and at work became reality, palm trees, white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, ziplining and taking mud baths in the rainforest, jet skis, boat rides, massages in spas, all-inclusive resorts, colorful cocktails with miniature umbrellas, international cuisine, adult only resorts. 

In less than one year, my life took a turn for the better. I rented a one-bedroom apartment in a nicer part of the city. No longer did I take public transportation but purchased a 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix Coupe Champagne Gold and tinted the windows. I was living high on the hog. 

Remember, I’m that little country girl from the food desert.

All Good Things Must Come To An End

Only one year into my dream profession, yet again, I was laid off. The economy didn’t bounce back as the company expected it to.

Can a girl catch a break?

After two consecutive lay-offs, I decided it was time to search for another profession. 

Due to the lay-off, I was eligible for government funds to return to school to obtain another certificate.

At this point, I was fed up with being terminated. 

I told the job counselor I wanted a business degree so I could go into business for myself.  She stated business was too vague and the grant would only fund a program with the likelihood of obtaining a job after completion. 

She suggested accounting and I accepted. This time I enrolled in an associate’s degree program.

In the meantime, I needed to pay for the extra liabilities I incurred. For two years give or take, I worked in a sports bar as a waitress and later another glorified kiosk job in a less glamorous mall.

Once again, this certificate/degree idea was panning out. I obtained a position a few months before graduating from the accounting program. 

It was peanuts compared to what I made as a waitress but it was respectable work, definitely no bar brawls here. That’s a story for another day.

I had a larger cubicle than at the travel companies. My colleagues and I meshed very well. Unfortunately, accounting was not my forte. The job was mundane and monotonous. And, they expected me to be glued to a chair all day staring at a computer screen entering numbers. At least at the travel job, I talked to people while I worked.

The audacity. 

I linked up with a colleague from the travel company who went into real estate full-time. She convinced me to get into real estate. After the accounting program ended, I enrolled in evening classes. 

I resigned from the accounting job after a year to put all my energy into passing the state real estate exam. My ex-colleague shared with me her six-figure tax return. I kept thinking about the opportunity cost (a term I learned in one of my accounting classes) of me staying at the accounting job.

As luck would have it after I passed my state exam in 2007, the financial crisis was in effect and the Great Recession was about to emerge. 

Do you see the pattern I’m seeing? It appears every time I start a new profession, a catastrophic event occurs.

Despite the downturn in the market, I stuck it out. I enjoyed socializing all around town, showing properties, meeting clients for coffee, lunch, or dinner, meeting other agents, freedom to come and go to the office as I please, working from home. This was more my speed. I had good paydays but nowhere near the six figures, I was anticipating.

Momma, your check is in the mail.

The new landscape of real estate made the timeframe to the paydays less intriguing. 

There Is No Life Without Progress

Due to the state of the economy, I went back to school but I decided to step it up a notch. I was going to get a bachelor’s degree. As far as I know, I’m the first in my family. I have an older first cousin who went to the University of Alabama. She said she graduated but we’ve never seen the diploma.

Even though I despised my accounting job, I continued the accounting path. I graduated college three years later with two whole degrees, the additional one was in finance. 

Why did I do that? If I didn’t like accounting, why would I get a finance degree?

Short answer….more degrees, more opportunities.

My strategy worked again. A year after graduation, I landed a government career. Yes, career. Everyone knows anyone that gets a government gig retires out the system. The position allowed me to work remotely from home. Therefore, tardiness will not be an issue. Winning. I worked autonomously. No management breathing down my neck. Winning. The icing on the cake, I got paid to travel around the state to train and speak to audiences. Something I thoroughly enjoyed. Winning. Racking up hotel points and credit card points to use during travel on my paid government holidays. Free travel again. Winning. And I got paid a SALARY along with so many other perks. Jackpot. 

Momma, we’re movin’ on up like the Jeffersons.

I did not have the best oratory skills and that flaw led me to the company’s Toastmasters club, a global public speaking and leadership organization. 

The Toastmasters meeting was the highlight of my week when I was not traveling for work. I would burn the midnight oil to write, edit, and rehearse a speech. 

I think I found my dream profession. I’m finally content.

Or so I thought.

Volte-face

In December 2017, I went on a two-week personal holiday in the United Arab Emirates. On my last evening in the country, I crossed paths with an amateur football (aka soccer) player from Ghana at Corniche Beach in Abu Dhabi. We met at a rooftop revolving restaurant with panoramic views of the capital city before dancing the night away to Afrobeats at the club across the street. As we sipped cocktails he told me about his love for football. He’s never worked a regular job other than selling tomatoes for his family as a child.  

With exuberance, he proclaims  “I like football too much, wallah (I promise in Arabic)” in his Ghanaian accent. 

He continues to express his love for the game “when I’m sad playing football makes me happy” and seals it with a click of his tongue.

“Football has given me too many opportunities” he exclaims. 

What I comprehended from our merry conversation, his passion is his provision. Every day doing what he loved. He wasn’t trading time for money but trading time for enjoyment. Eureka!  

Was he a living testament to Confucious’ quote, “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”?

My flight left the next morning for the USA. We communicated through video calls. I was amazed and a little jealous that he only “worked” officially two hours a day. What manner of living is this?

I was both inspired and intrigued by this gentleman’s life. 

Before I gave this dream career the thorough examination required, in a year, I had resigned from my secure and comfortable government career of 7 years (the longest I have ever held a job) and moved over 7,500 miles to the UAE to live this imaginative life of enjoyment. So much for retiring from the government.

In 2019, I struck out to trade time for enjoyment.

I took the entire year to get better acquainted with myself, basically discovering what I enjoy. 2019 consisted of travel to eight countries, 365 days of journaling, thirty-one purpose books such as The Artist’s Way, Man’s Search For Meaning, Seat of The Soul, and my all-time favorite, The Alchemist

I created a speaker’s packet which led to my first international speaking gig in Kumasi, Ghana at a women’s conference. I even had an interpreter. 

Next, I began a blog (www.findingchalandamichelle.com) documenting my life lessons while living abroad. 

I joined an advanced Toastmasters club with seasoned speakers and started working towards Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest achievement in the organization.

When It Rain It Pours

As history would repeat itself, once I changed the trajectory in my life, all hell breaks loose. 

Oh, the amateur football player I mentioned earlier, I married him. He got injured in February 2019. The Ghana Football Association wouldn’t release him as a free player for his first opportunity to play as a professional in the UAE. Later in the year, he signed with another team. The coach got sacked and the new coach brought his own players. Daniel was without a team in January 2020. I had a miscarriage in February 2020. Then a global pandemic. Just to name a few.

So what to do? Retreat back to America? This was no longer long-distance dating but it would be a long-distance marriage. Daniel suggested that I go back to the USA until he acquired another team. But what was I going back to? I packed all my life possessions in two suitcases and one included only books. For this very reason, I “burned the ships” so I couldn’t go back. 

According to the Holmes-Rahe statistical prediction model, my stress score was well beyond 300 points. The model predicted a score of this magnitude has an 80% chance of health breakdown in the next two years. Consequently, I created a system to counter the stress which I still use today. 

As a result, I completed the Distinguish Toastmaster path during the pandemic. I had one virtual speaking engagement that was streamed in the UAE & Nigeria. Also, I was a guest on a podcast that was recorded in the United Kingdom that I have yet to hear.

The Lesson Learned

Two and a half years overseas and four international jobs later, I’m learning to manage my resources so I can stick to trading my time for total enjoyment. Exchanging passion for provision is still a work in progress.

Writing this essay has revealed two things:

  • I need to resuscitate my vigor for writing and speaking by participating fully in my Toastmasters club again. Last year, I was an Area Director so I focused more on leadership than speaking.
  • I need to actively pursue the Accredited Speaker certification. After each certification and degree, I got a pay raise. 

Momma, your big payday is coming soon. Inshaallah (God willing in Arabic)

My New Work Rules

“Enjoy the work you have to do in life. Every time you find work to do, do it the best you can.” 

 “So begin planting early in the morning and don’t stop working until evening. You don’t know what might make you rich. Maybe everything you do will be successful.”

You should enjoy every day of your life, no matter how long you live. But remember that you will die, and you will be dead much longer than you were alive. And after you are dead, you cannot do anything.

“For the vision is yet for the appointed [future] time It hurries toward the goal [of fulfillment]; it will not fail. Even though it delays, wait [patiently] for it, Because it will certainly come; it will not delay.”

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