My Quarter Life Crisis
I walked into it, slowly and unaware that everything was different. It wasn't planned but who plans for that anyway. It wasn't a thing I expected to happen to ME. I was going to make it! I didn't have a single plan in the works to get there but I was going to make it for sure. "I'm special," I would tell myself. I still do. Everyone wants that feeling. The roadmap set by our previous generations to "happiness" wasn't made with me in mind. "I'm different and those rules don't apply to me!" It's an intoxicating frame of mind and everyone is guilty of having it to one degree or another. Not too long after getting my education and entering the working world, I started to realize that the "plan" wasn't exactly working for me. Looking to follow the plan, I knowingly trudged on hoping things would get better. And so began my Quarter Life Crisis.
Last year, by all accords, I had a great job and worked for a great company. I was plucked from college a week after graduation with a salaried position with benefits in a known and reputable company. It wasn't for me. I was living in a small town where the average person had never been out of the country. They didn't know a second language, weren't friends with anyone that wasn't their kind, and they discouraged being different in any way. It's the "OLD SOUTH". At work, I had the distinct pleasure of managing a large import department dealing in the entire company's fencing business. The import department had one employee, me. I was handling millions of dollars of wood each day and dealing with each problem alone. It was a very big position with very entry-level pay. The stress and the 10s of managers I reported to was nearly unbearable. By the standards of my generation though, I was doing better than my friends and I had nothing to complain about. I had heard it all. It made me feel selfish. I was discouraged from looking around. I was told that "your immediate unhappiness is a part of finding your way and it will pass" and that "such is life." "You'll learn to accept this stress" "Welcome to the business world." NO I told myself. It wasn't life as I KNOW IT. It might have been what they are "used to" but I forbade myself from breaking and becoming a product of my environment, THAT environment. I could feel my dreams dying. No one liked what I liked. The ones that did were trying to leave. I wanted culture, excitement, a feeling of contentment and freedom at the same time. I began my search. What did I want to do next? How the hell do I get "there" and out of "here"? I spent half my time on education website reading on MBAs and the other half writing resumes. I was almost desperate to take a job somewhere else, anywhere else. I just had to leave. Then self-doubt kicked in. Was this angst all in my head? Was my search going to end up costing me more that what I stand to gain? I mulled over this time and time again for a few months. I still put out resumes and I began hearing back from places that sounded very exciting. Soon I realized that while everything else looked amazing, it was all perspective and I better get a second opinion. I wanted someone take a look at what I was doing and what exits I was currently considering and poke holes in my plan. For the first time in my life I was planning something that mattered! But, before I did anything drastic, I had to consult with someone that I knew would be able to put me in my place. My father was the perfect candidate.
I had carefully expressed my situation over the past few months so he knew where I stood. He knows how I am. I have two strong people inside me. One is pessimistic and full of self-doubt and the other eternally hopefully. They are constantly in a battle with each other and I spend hours in my head just enjoying the volley. Then there's my dad.
My father is a very logical man. He was never like me. He has never let the wind take his sail and let go of the wheel. Calculated risks, end game drive, and a methodical approach to life was his way. He wasn't dry and heartless though. He never did anyone wrong on purpose and he is a loving man. Endlessly giving and patient, he has watched me fall of the bike of life and been there to pick me up every time. Over those months I came to him for advice more than I had ever before. Silently, he would listen and let me get it all out of my head while I explained THIS is what I want, no THIS is what I want. THIS is the problem. If I fix THIS everything will be different. No, no, I thought about it and maybe I need to change THIS. He waited as I meandered through it all weighing the pros and cons. I waded through the false issues that seemed important until I got really deep down into the ones that mattered. He sat with me on the dock many Sundays and let me play my game again and again asking only the questions that I ought to be asking myself. He felt the same as the others though, not understanding why Im not happy with what I have. Finally, at a point of near depression and constant job search I told him, "Dad, I'm single, living in a town with more animals than people, my job is depressingly stressful and the pay is inadequate. I cant' take it anymore. I'm getting out. I have to get out. All I can promise you is that I won't leave it for anything that's not a better offer and we can agree on it ok?" There it was. I had finally expressed what it was that was killing for so long. This was against his plan for me. This was against the very idea of what it is to be a company man and making life work for you. I had been at this company only 2 years and the last 8 months of it was a new position. His concerns were endless yet he approached them in a kind way. Alas, he knew that just as before, I was going to do whatever I thought was right. He often wondered why I ever went to him for advice knowing that I was looking for justification. I was going to do what it was that I wanted, needed, because it had to be done. I just couldn't help but continually seek his approval. I wanted to know that he approved. He had his concerns and they were understandable.
I tend to learn things the second time around. That is, I massively fail the first go round and apply the lesson learned on the second bout. I'll take a moment to illustrate my means. I went to the University of Alabama where I played like a child and blew money like I was the Duke of Edinburgh. I had to move home before I could get it together enough to graduate from College. I once pledged a fraternity not fully understanding what it meant to pledge and I dropped out without consulting anyone. I later joined a fraternity that was known for being hard to join just to make up for my previous decision. I always tend to seek advice after the fact instead of following it in the beginning. I guess I always thought doing things the right was boring and it would lead to a boring life. I liked to enjoy life as it came at me. I never saved any money, I ate/drank/did whatever I wanted, and I selectively chose to apply my work ethic. As luck would have it, that week after graduation I was presented my first job offer and never thought twice about it before accepting. My parents were glad to see that I had finished school and started a career. Almost immediately after accepting the offer, I didn't feel very satisfied. I was happy that they were happy but I wanted so much more! I knew that everyone dreamed big and you have to start somewhere but I knew that what I was destined for had to be better than a career in treated lumber with the "yella fella". Longing for more from day one, I knew I had set myself up for failure. It worked. It was now well into October of 2013 and I found myself talking to an employer in Memphis. Memphis? Why would I want that? I want to live in a beach town or a port city and scuba dive and surf and eat seafood! "Memphis is the center of nowhere!" I thought to myself. Blues, barbecue, and the Mississippi river were all that I knew about Memphis. Granted I love all three but that's not my "plan." Against my "plan" I flew in for an interview. I had a fraternity brother who lived there and I couldn't help but look him up. I was determined to have some fun while I was in Memphis.
I flew in and went straight into my interview on a Saturday. It was cool fall day in Tennessee, a football Saturday. Alabama would be playing LSU and regardless of how this interview went, I was already having a great time. Then it happened, the interview went too well. I enjoyed these people so much. They were like me! They were talkers and their personalities were exciting. They were NEW and DIFFERENT. They spoke with a normal accent and they were educated and vibrant. After the interview, my future boss invited me for a beer to discuss life at the hotel they had he in for the night. I found myself in East Memphis looking at some modern art and reflecting where I was in my life. I spent that night out with my fraternity brother. He showed me how culturally diverse Memphis really was!
Expectations really are everything I suppose. I expected a southern Detroit that was stuck in the 50s. I was so wrong! This town was experiencing a culinary revolution and craft beer was following suit. The arts community was out in force, ever present in each part of town. Then I found midtown. Renovations on every corner, old homes with hardwood floors, people of all types welcome, musicians too many to count! Oh how it felt like my home already. I quickly found my way around town and decided to discard any previous idea of Memphis I had. THIS place was a very open, free flowing, resonant place, present in time and rich in history. THIS was for me. Me! But I didn't have the job yet…
Back at work that next week, I couldn't contain my excitement. I was a new man. My eyes were OPEN! I knew that my future was out there and waiting on me. I felt refreshed and focused on my current job harder than ever. That Friday, my boss called me into his office. "Come on back when you have a sec." I heard it twice a day, everyday. This time, it felt different. I began worrying about my flurry of resumes going out. "How many people at my current company knew what I was up to?" "I wonder if he knows I've been looking." My mind was racing, but I pushed it all out of my head. "Today is just a normal day." I headed back to his office and took a seat while he ended the email he was typing. We made some small talk and then he asked me to close the door.
"Are you sending out resumes?" Death blow in the first round! My fears are realized he knows something. Now I am faced with a huge decision. Do I tell him yes? He obviously knows something! My body lit up with a swell of anxiety and was immediately sick to my stomach. I had to man up. This man scared me and I was tired of being scared of him. "I have sent out a couple, yea." A couple? HA more like a couple thousand! My words fell on my lips as I swelled with emotion. My head swirling like tornado of angst, pride, fear, and joy. The truth is now in the open but how much does he know? He knew he had me. I knew that running from this was not an option and now the conversation was at my feet. We talked about why and what I was looking for and I bluntly told him that I wasn't happy with my surroundings and even money couldn't change that. We spoke about possible "future" endeavors but we both knew that it was a ploy to keep me around until he could successfully replace me. Then he said, "Let's revisit this in a few days. I need to think on this a bit." We never spoke about the prospect companies or how he found out. We left it that unless a local change was in order, and the pay wasn't increased, it wasn't going to work out. I left to return to my desk and acted normal. I told the people that worked near me that I was looking for another job and my boss now knows. I couldn't help but remind myself that he spoke as if my resume was in his inbox! What a nightmare! I finished work and left for the weekend. I told only a few people about our discussion. I thought that surely I could make this work until something more concrete came about. Work followed on Monday as if nothing had happened. We approached each other differently but the workload and conversations stayed the same. Things appeared to be fine. Wednesday came and by the afternoon, my workload was pretty cleaned up and tidy. I got another call to "come on back. Let's revisit our previous conversation." With an odd calm I walked in, closed the door, and took a seat. My future was going to change no matter how this conversation went. We made small talk and then he cut me off. "You know what, I can't do this. It's just not going to work. I can't trust you now." The hammer dropped. I asked him what he meant and he said that he didn't want to work together anymore thinking that at any second I would leave him for a better offer. "Better to end things here." End things here??? I don't have another job!!! I was escorted to my desk to gather my things, walked to my car to return the company laptop, and turn in my access badge. That was it. In a flash, I was jobless, no certain future in sight and a unclear path. Driving home, I received texts and calls due to the company-wide email distributed concerning my departure. "Effective Immediately, Wade Dickert is no longer employed at Great Southern Wood Preserving." Hours passed as I labored to return all of the calls to concerned coworkers and friends and I chewed on all of the free advice of which they obligated themselves. I even got a few calls from people expressing their discontent with my behavior, yet wishing me well. Taking it all in stride, I decided to keep my peace. Instead of dwelling, I ran through a mental checklist of things to knock out THAT NIGHT. I immediately wrote an email to my now former employer detailing every single thing he needed to do to ensure that the transition went as smooth as possible and I expressed thanks for the job and the experience gained. Then I went so far as to inform my potential employers of the day's events and asked that if they were no longer interested, please let me know immediately. No one seemed to mind, instead illustrating compassion for my situation. I slept very well that night.
I woke up the next feeling very refreshed both emotionally and physically. I had no job and I didn't have a plan for next month's rent but I luckily I had paid this month's a week before. I had three weeks to make some money and get on with my life. Shortly thereafter, I flew to Denver for my last interview. It was quickly decided that this company wasn't for me as it was too similar to my last. I have only one more company that is truly in the works, the Memphis one. It's the one I wanted the most anyway! Picking me up off the ground from my wrecked bike, my father told me to come work for him in the interim as he needed to do some travelling for two weeks and needed someone to go with him. It was perfect! I didn't ask about money, I didn't ask where we were going to go. I just told him "yes of course yes!" I had missed working for my father. Stern in business, he was a great teacher, always illustrating another approach to the topic at hand. So, we were off. The trip was to include previewing sawmills in Mississippi and Louisiana and then ending in an auction of both in Jackson, MS. I was about to experience parts of these two states that I had never seen. Oddly enough, they were similar to the Old South that I disliked so much in south Alabama, yet they were different. My outlook was different. I was only a passerby. I wasn't confined to residence there. I could appreciate the countryside's beauty once more! I drove nearly all of the miles finding that it let my mind relax and decompress. The road was my medicine. I had a chance to rehash, let go, meditate, and get on with my life. I talked more about life with my father than I had ever before. He could tell that I was already happier and I could tell that he was very concerned with my future. From the very break of news about my job ending to my father, he offered to hire me as a traveling salesman until I could find something. I graciously declined wishing not to burden his company with an unjustified salary expense due to my situation. Knowing that he was there for me in every way really helped us grow together. We made sure to schedule in some interesting stops Like Vicksburg MS, the Duck Dynasty warehouse. Not that we were overly interested in any of the stops but it gave the trip a more leisurely feel. We spoke of childhood, marriage, right and wrong, faith, music, eating right, traveling, dreams, and everything under the sun. The highway under the tires merely conduit for conversation.
As our trip went along, I received a call from the employer in Memphis. He said he was considering extending me an offer and needed to know a few more things first, previous pay, insurance information, and desired new salary range. I was ecstatic! The pride swam with the excitement as I explained that I would "like" to have a higher salary range indicating a small bump over my previous however I was willing to take "whatever they could do." Upon hearing the news, my father was very excited and I could tell he had been put more at ease. The deal wasn't done however, and we like everything in writing. I patiently waited for the next sign of contact. My dreams were all pointing to Memphis as my new home. A new area of the country to explore and I'm in just the mind to do it. I was so excited and our travels continued. THIS is the life I was missing out on! Excitement, camaraderie, travel, all the things that I lacked in my current situation, they were all coming together. Finally! I thought as we drove into Jackson, MS. Suffering from the lingering economic lull, it still hosted both signs of recovery and hopeful people. Businesses were closed on every corner yet the city seemed to still sputter along at a comfortable pace. That night as we settled into our hotel room for the night, we talked about the auction and what was in store for the days following the auction. Whatever we did end up winning, we had to go back to those mills and inventory the items. Then I received a phone call from a Memphis area code.
It was the call I had been waiting on. As I eagerly answered the call, I could tell it was good news. "Good evening Mr. Dickert. I hope I didn't disturb you this late in the evening but I wanted to call and inform you that we would like to extend you a formal offer to come work for us in Memphis." I listened intently as I tried not to sound overwhelmingly excited. I can't contain myself!!!! Ahhhh! The wait is over! As he spelled out the larger areas of the offer, he told me I had until Friday to accept the offer that was destined for my inbox shortly. I was to sign and return it as soon as my decision was made. "It's all in the email. Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks!" I was standing on new ground for the first time since I was escorted to my car a few weeks ago. I had an offer in hand, "in writing!" My dad took the news well and I told him I needed to run to the store and that I'd be right back. I came back with one Abita Andygator beer and we split up our bounty, served fresh in paper hotel coffee cups. Not wishing to wait too long but not wishing to sound to eager, I took three days and sent in my reply. "I accept."
The whole story was almost too good to be true. I was now to be employed in the very forward, vibrant, and culturally eclectic city that I fell in love with on my trip to interview. My start date wasn't for another three weeks and I had much to do in the mean time. I wouldn't be back to my hometown to begin the process for another week. That left me two weeks to pack up and move my stuff from my old apartment, travel to Memphis to find a new apartment, sign on something, and get on the way to my new life! Taking my mother to Memphis to look for apartments proved to be an equally satisfying trip as I got to spend three days rekindling our relationship doing things that were exciting to her like shopping and house hunting. The whole process helped me mend relationships in all aspects of my life, family above all. Shortly after we found an apartment and signed, I took my brother to help get my things moved out of my old apartment to Columbus and put an end to my south Alabama life. As I drove away with dreams of a future in Memphis, I couldn't help but smile. This is what it's like when you go live your life. Here's to the end of my Quarter Life Crisis!
Kenneth Wade Dickert