Ten years ago, I thought my life was pretty good. I moved to Truckee, California a year earlier to escape the madness (both internally and externally) of the San Francisco Bay Area. I managed to arrive in a situation where my income requirements were minimal and my aspirations were equally so. My plan, if it could be called a plan, was to live out my years in semi-retirement in this alpine paradise. My “backyard” was my playground and my boys would reap the benefits. At the age of 36, I had arrived.
My education to that point consisted of a high school diploma, a technical certification from a vocational institute and a number of attempts at other educational goals, each of which were abandoned in an effort to get to greener pastures as quickly as I could. My commitment to education and career was based in opportunity – that is to say that there was no commitment. I would jump ship as soon as the brass ring was within reach. It was all about comfort – my comfort. I could not see nor did I care about the greater good. My concern for humanity was limited to only those close to me, a world that gradually got smaller and smaller.
Although it is true that I worked to a level that could be best described as “good enough,” I paid my taxes and I would be sure to point out the injustices in the world to anyone who would listen, I had no intention of doing anything about anything as long as I had what I needed. Internal gratification was attained externally and if at all possible, instantly. The problem with instant gratification is that it only lasts for an instant; once it is gone the quest begins again – it is both never lasting and never ending. However, despite my lack of initiative and commitment, opportunity serendipitously landed at my feet and it gave me a sense of purpose, for about a year.
Through a series of unlikely events, I landed a job as a cell phone retailer in Truckee in the summer of 1999. I was to open a new store in a chain owned by a Reno entrepreneur who was a dealer for Pacific Bell/Nevada Bell Wireless (soon to become Cingular Wireless and later, AT&T Wireless). In the previous year, I worked in seasonal positions as a mechanic at a golf course in the summer and a ski area in the winter – using skills I had acquired years earlier as I sought fast and easy money (which never materialized because I never committed enough time to reach the expertise those who made “the big bucks” did). It was low-paying, rarely satisfying grunt work, but it paid the bills.
Due to my sporadic but considerable experience with computers (including another never completed foray into vocational education) combined with my experience as an early cellular user (my first phone was housed in a bag), the learning curve was short. I was able to take seemingly remotely related knowledge and combine it to discover capabilities this new (at the time) digital cellular technology had to offer. A convergence of new technology, much of it developed in Europe, enabled me to bring some tools to our group of stores that allowed us to do things that are common today, but unheard of then.
But business was initially very slow. Digital coverage in the Sierras was spotty and we were the upstarts – the analog competition in Truckee was well established. Although I was profoundly bored, I gained a great deal of satisfaction not in selling cellular service, but in providing service by educating my customers on the capabilities of our digital technology. I was also a liaison between the service provider and my customers, using my connections at Cingular to resolve my customers’ issues. After about six to eight months, business exploded and the money started rolling in. I had arrived, once again.
The satisfaction I experienced early on was lost in the aura of success. My emphasis was redirected as my income was directly influenced by my sales and my sales were twice what the owner projected. I was becoming, again, instantly gratified and my efforts again became only “good enough.” Although my run essentially ended with a violent automobile accident on October 17, 2000 – my “commitment” was already waning. I was no longer focused on what gave me job satisfaction; indeed, I never really recognized it when I had it. My mindset was still focused on my comfort and that comfort had a price tag.
Today, ten years after starting that job and nearly nine after my wreck, I have a profoundly different view on the world and my place in it. Comfort today is derived from far more than some physical reality – it comes from within. Throughout the intervening years I have experienced more discomfort (including, but not limited to a three month hospitalization) than I could ever imagine, but from it came a completely different perspective on life. That job as a cellular retailer, as did most every other opportunity that has been placed at my feet, gave me that sense of purpose I always sought. I just didn’t know it and passed right by it, again, for the kind of satisfaction that can be bought; the kind that can be lost just like it can be gained – in an instant.
Although I have finally found what I believe to be my “purpose” in education both as a student as well as a teacher, I firmly believe purpose was present in each and every of the many vocations I have encountered thus far. It isn’t in what I do, but how I approach it. Whether I was wrenching on a golf cart or a snow cat, selling cellular service, working as a technician or in sales and marketing in Silicon Valley, as an educator or any of the various other hats I have worn, it all comes down to a participatory role in the human race. It is not, nor has it ever been, all about me and mine. Paradoxically, by focusing less on my own comfort and more on contributing to the world in general, my comfort, internally, is far greater and, more importantly, lasting.