I once heard a story that went something like this: Jeb and Bubba, were sitting on a porch drinking sarsaparilla on a hot summer’s day. Jeb’s hound dog was lying beside them. Every once in a while, the old hound let out a howl. Bubba asks Jeb, “What’s wrong with your dog? Jeb looks down at the old hound and says, “Oh, he’s just lying on a nail.” Bubba exclaims, “Well, why doesn’t he get up?!!!” Jeb shrugged and says, “I reckon it doesn’t hurt enough yet.”
When you come from a blue-collar family with depression-era thinking, as I did, you’re told to get a good city job with a pension and be happy. Just “do your time” and when you retire you’ll get a check every month for just having done your job for 20, 25 or 30 years. So, when I landed a job as a New York City Subway worker, the celebration was on par with the second coming of Jesus. In my family’s eyes, I made it! My mother no longer had to worry because I’d be taken care of for the rest of my life. Wait…was this a job or welfare? “Do my time” actually sounded more like a prison sentence.
In 1987, as a wet behind the ears, New York City Subway Conductor, the train buff in me was thrilled. I got to open and close the doors and make announcements on the trains. Primarily, the conductor is charged with the safety of 2,000 people on their 10-ton train powered by 6,000 volts of electricity. No wonder I was being paid four dollars more than minimum wage – this was a huge responsibility!
It was all very exciting for me. I was captivated by working in the belly of the beast which was the heart and soul of New York City. I loved being a part of moving five million people per day in the greatest city in the world, but something was not right. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was laying on a nail.
One day I was working a Sunday night shift on the R Line, from 95th Street in Brooklyn to Continental Avenue in Queens. I hated working the R Line because it never comes out above the ground. Almost every other line runs up on an elevated section of track at a certain point. Plus, it was a local – making all of the 44 station stops. Sensing my unhappiness, a senior motorman looked at me and said, “Kid, don’t be down, this is a great job. You will always have a shirt on your back. It will never be a silk shirt, but you’ll always have a shirt.” Screeching train brakes went off in my head! It was a sobering moment. The more I thought about it the clearer it became to me. He was right, my bosses were not wearing metaphorical silk shirts. And that was ok, for them, I suppose, but for me – I wanted a silk shirt. I started looking around and noticed who was wearing silk shirts. It was lawyers, doctors, and business owners. That’s when I decided that I am going to get off of my nail to become a business owner.
Then the head-trash began – you know – that little inner critic that starts talking to you when you contemplate doing something different. “You are a government worker with an Associate’s Degree. You have no business experience, no real education and certainly, don’t have the millions of dollars required to start a business.” So, I set out to learn what I needed to know. Over the next few years, I read dozens of business books and attended a seminar after seminar. I learned that a franchise is a business with training wheels and most importantly – I didn’t need a million dollars to start.
After completing 13 years of my ‘30-year pension sentence,’ I quit my city job in 2000. I left my government benefits behind to own and operate a franchise called Maui Wowi Smoothies. Everyone thought I was nuts. Some probably still do. But I took a stand for myself and my family’s future.
As I reflect on my decision now, I realize that the decision was not about leaving a good stable job versus having a business with no safety net. My decision was really the choice between unhappiness and uncertainty. Now I coach people to do the same. I have discovered that most people will choose unhappiness and never take a chance on themselves. They justify the choice in their mind by telling themselves that they have bills to pay and responsibilities to live up to. Yup, can’t argue with that. However, you’re not on this earth to just make a living, pay bills and not make an impact. I have found that people who don’t take a chance on happiness experience a low hum of frustration and dissatisfaction in their life. If the hum becomes too loud they’ll tone it down by drinking, smoking or some other vice. Sometimes I think settling for “the known” is like breathing carbon monoxide – It kills you slowly and you don’t even know it.
I have had good times in business. I was earning on a monthly basis what I used to earn per year as a government manager. I have also had bad times when I’ve lost a ton of money. But the loss of money is temporary if you keep moving forward and choosing uncertainty. In the words of the immortal Jim Morrison, singer and lyricist of the Doors music group; “Is your life enough to make a movie about?”
I suggest taking a chance on you once in a while. It is where faith lives and magic happens. But, I won’t lie. It’s scary to choose uncertainty which is why only one percent of people do it.
There is a saying that goes; eventually, everyone regrets the things they didn’t do not the things they did do. I promise you, at the end of your life you will not say, “Boy, I wish I gave more to the seven jobs I’ve had in my life.”
I encourage you to take one step out of your comfort zone and experience a little uncertainty. Sign up for a class in something you always wanted to do. Get a Groupon for a flight lesson you’ve always wanted to take. Apply for information from that franchise you’ve always wondered about. Hey, ya neva know what could happen! Just take that first step. Everything else will follow. I urge you to get off of your nail and choose uncertainty because the world is waiting for you.
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