A little constructive reflection can remind you how far you’ve come and help you appreciate all that you’ve learned along the way. It is important, however, to remember to draw a distinction between thinking back and dwelling on the past. The first can be a powerful way to gain a better understanding and appreciation for oneself; the latter can give the shadows of the past consent to cast the present in needless gray.
In a previous post I briefly mentioned my time as a sales associate at Radio Shack. In writing this post, I had an opportunity to reflect upon my past through a positive, constructive lens. I did, however, begin to realize how many times I fell prey to my own pride, back then.
To Paraphrase Proverbs 16:17-18 (King James Bible, 2017), he that keeps his way preserves his soul. Pride precedes one’s destruction, and arrogance one’s fall.
I lost my way so many times, growing up, it was almost a daily ritual. I had a few jobs before I worked at Radio Shack, but whenever the topic of ‘first jobs’ comes up, it is that now-defunct retail outlet that I always cite. In fact, I so often have done this that it was only through the reflection I undertook to consider this blog post that I recalled much of what I did before Radio Shack at all.
One short-lived job involved making deliveries for a local auto parts store. I had never driven ‘stick shift’ before, and the job required it. I was seventeen at the time; hiring me at all constituted a big leap of faith on the part of the store’s owner. My father had reached out to his brother, who owned an automotive collision, repair, and tow-truck company, to help me find work.
I was supremely hesitant to accept the man’s help, at all. He was, at the time, one of my least favorite people on Earth. My attitude toward him likely painted the opportunity he presented me in a harsher tone than it would have, otherwise. It took effort to swallow my pride and accept his help when my father solicited it on my behalf, but as I knew even then, pride didn’t pay the bills, after all.
I should be wary that my pride doesn’t blind me to whatever opportunities that may come my way.
My uncle graciously reached out to the owner of an auto parts store his shop did a lot of business with, and he cashed in a favor on behalf of his drifting, directionless nephew. He asked the man to meet with me, and in that meeting I knew, instantly, that I wasn’t going to like this job… not one bit. However, favors had been cashed in, and now my dad’s name was at stake. This particular uncle of mine, one of my father’s nine siblings (you read that correctly) was not the type to let my dad off the hook if I failed at this.
He had already called me a ‘fat failure’ to my father when both men thought I was out of earshot, and my dad didn’t exactly stand up for me so it must have, I thought, hit pretty close to the mark. I didn’t deserve any better than what I had been given, I believed.
I still, sometimes, do. That’s depression in action.
The man was looking for help making deliveries to repair shops and dealerships in the region, and while I was ambivalent about the work itself, it meant a paycheck, and that did mean a great deal to me. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing, I told myself. It wasn’t difficult work, but more tedious and unfulfilling. I realized even then that the jobs you get early in life are rarely going to be satisfying.
It wasn’t all bad, though. One of the best aspects of taking that job concerned a brief opportunity to grow a bit closer to my father. We lacked common ground in many ways. We were terrible at communicating with each other. I was unable to divine from the heavens whatever it was that he wanted me to do, and he was frustrated that I wasn’t proactive and didn’t anticipate the needs of our family.
And I wasn't. but he wouldn't entertain my explanation as to why. I was informed by his reactions whenever I tried to be ‘responsible’ previously and however I chose to take care of something, I did it ‘wrong.’ There are only so many times a person can be reminded that they are inept, despite their best efforts, before they simply stop trying.
Disappointing my dad was devastating for me, though. I placed him on far too high a pedestal, and I think even he knew it, but he had his own issues with pride and arrogance, just like me. We were both out of our depths, I guess, which is both humbling for me to admit and humanizing to admit of my father.
I respected him a great deal, and always will, but I was quite different than he expected me to have been. My interests and his seldom ran parallel. He was a car man, callouses thick on his palms from years of hard work. I was a computer nerd, and I wore my own callouses not on my hand but deep inside, earning them not from physical labor but rather due to the relentless battering of believing myself a disappointment at home and the damage that high school drama had inflicted upon my self-value.
However, as my dad sat next to me, teaching me how to drive a little Nissan pickup truck with a manual transmission, as I was about to set about delivering the same kinds of parts my dad used to order to the same kinds of people my dad got along with, we briefly enjoyed some common ground and grew just a bit closer for it.
It is important to acknowledge that while my mental breakdown occurred twenty-five years later, I was suffering from the same depression back then that would eventually lead to my March Meltdown this past March. The state I am in was a literal lifetime in the making.
My earliest work experiences served mostly to leave me believing I was somehow deficient or defective. I saw others around me handling everything in stride while I struggled in plain sight.
Every day, for a living, I fed the flames of my own self-doubt and insecurity.
When I quit, it was because I could no longer stand how the job made me feel about myself. It was not that it was particularly challenging work, and never did think myself ‘too good’ for any task that I was paid to undertake, even then. My dad taught me better than that. My mom, too, for that matter.
The fact that I quit, at all, made things more difficult between my dad and me. He was disappointed, openly, and I carried substantial shame and guilt over that. I had a chance to prove, to myself and to him, that I was but I wasn’t quite as different than he expected me to be, after all. I quit, though, because my pride couldn’t take one more day of that job. I accepted that my father would be taunted by his brother about me, and that nothing I could say would make him understand why I felt I had to quit. I was 18. I was convinced my life would go nowhere, and that I would accomplish nothing.
I was convinced my uncle was right. I was a fat failure, after all.
A few weeks later, having wallowed long enough in my own self-destructive malaise, I put together the nicest outfit I could find, went into a local Radio Shack, and decided to ask the store manager how I could go about seeking employment with the company. I had not discussed doing this with my dad, who was not speaking to me beyond a few rushed words here or there at the time. I had not told my mother, who had recently fallen and broke her arm. I blamed myself for that, too… it happened in my bedroom, so of course, in my depressed mind, I broke my poor mom’s arm according to my own flawed perspective at the time.
No, I told nobody of my plans to do this because I couldn’t stomach revealing that I tried and failed. I would rather keep my ideas to myself, and only reveal them if they should prove successful. Even then, after I hit it off with the store manager and he hired me on the spot, as excited as I was to be getting a job with my own steam, and one much more within my computer-nerd wheelhouse, I didn’t want to ‘jinx’ it until I knew, for sure. It had to be certain. I couldn’t look my father in the face as a failure, again.
However, when I got home, my dad somehow knew something great had happened to me. He asked me what I was up to, and it wasn’t in an accusatory tone. He genuinely wanted to know, because I was his son, and he could see that I was happy. We sat and talked about what I had done, and his reaction to this day makes me tear up. He was genuinely excited for me. He clapped his hands and grinned, saying that was a perfect job for me and praising me for picking myself up by my bootstraps and finding my way on my own. I am welling with love for my dad even as I type this sentence. I miss him so much.
He was so proud of me, and his pride meant the world to me. It still does, even twelve years after he passed away. I think it always will.
While I recently referred to my time at Radio Shack as ‘coasting,’ I recognize now, after considering how I got the job to begin with, that there is still much of value to be found in reflecting upon that time in my life.
To paraphrase Romans 5:3-4 (King James Bible, 2017), we can take glory in our suffering because we know that in suffering we persevere, in perseverance, we build character, and in building character, we find hope.
King James Bible. (2017). King James Bible Online. https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/