In 1997 I was working for a bill collection agency. I had been making spectacularly good money at it, because I genuinely offered people ways to solve their problems. I also never started off the pursuit being a jerk. When my alter ego called, he was very charming. And, If you let him have his say, attempted to follow the plan, and were polite, he’d move the universe for you – because it upped his commission.
I tried very hard to leave that guy at the office, because if you weren’t nice, or made him chase you down, he was a master of cruelty who would pound on your soul until you handed over the balance in full. Never exactly outside the law, but it was a bit gray where he operated after being screwed with. Those special people would often wind up garnished. Not a good thing.
But as time went by it was clear that the new computer system they’d installed at my place of employment was as screwed up as a left-handed football bat. Collectors who’d been making 50+ a year were now pulling in 20. Why? Because the system was stuck in a rut and wouldn’t let us access the files where the money was. It wanted us to get money from everyone.
Now, if you’ve ever done collections, you quickly learn that the guy who huffed paint and fell asleep with his head in the bag, landing him in a state hospital isn’t coming across with the $12,250 that he owes the state of Ohio for his student loan. In fact, he’s never feeding himself again. Actually, by the time I got it, he owed it to the feds, and it was fully in default. Takes you years to get there – but I digress.
Nope, I liked getting people with money to honor their promise and take care of the bill. Clergy running big churches, Dentists, professionals of all sorts. The system never let us get to them, and so our revenue shrank, and management figured we had all lost interest in eating.
Realizing that I really did enjoy making house payments and eating, I got another collections job with a Fortune 500 company. And I was very good at it. I loved it. I told myself that I’d stay two years while I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d been out of the Navy for 8 years, was not yet 40, and had some time to breathe.
My company, and my union, had a program where you could get a computer science degree online. It was free. They wanted people to grow within the company.
I jumped on that, and worked my butt off. Thank God my wife Kip made me do my homework before I went out to play…I managed to get the degree, with honors, in just under two years of study. First one in my company to pull it off. Kind of a big deal.
It paid off. The skills I learned in that coursework allowed me to apply for better paying jobs just about the time my collections group was getting neutered. No more pushing customers to pay, just avoid complaints with the regulatory agencies.
I moved up several levels, and loved that job. Very technical, learned a lot, and got interested in my current job. Then I got laid off after 9-11 when the bubble burst. I landed with another company for the time being, and went back to the job I had aspired to after a three-year hiatus. But I’d picked up some new skills, and they made my new job with my old employer much more rewarding.
Now, after 15 years back in the saddle, I’m in the geekiest group of them all. I love what I do. It’s very cerebral. I have a good boss and good friends.
Best of all, last week I hit my 20th anniversary. Corporate America no longer hands out gold watches – usually something that looks more like the one below. But I’m even okay with no party to celebrate – my boss would have to drop donuts on my front door and wave to observe the corporate Wuhan Whacky protocols.
Why am I rambling? Hitting that anniversary, at my age, means I can take a pension. It’s not huge. But combined with my 401k I’d be doing okay. My audio book sales help as well, and my VA disability check. Another year and I’ll get social security as well. I’m not leaving yet, but if they throw a buyout package at me, it would cover the difference in income until Social Security kicks in.
This all translates to an amazing sense of accomplishment and freedom. I socked away every penny I could toward retirement, owe no debts, own everything outright, and have a future in front of me with acting – they always need thugs – and voice work, writing, and Santa.
I can walk when I want. No more chains. And to get there I worked a lot of holidays, overnights – 9 years – and evenings. I worked when my family was having Christmas dinner. I couldn’t get to church on Easter. I gave up evenings with my wife to earn a paycheck. But I persevered. Not the phony persevered – the kind where your body pays the price for sleep deprivation, your brain is jammed full of new information every day, and the kind that kept you at that desk, doing your best, when you hated everything about the job for months at a time.
I made it. God gets the glory, because he kept my head up. But Kip gets the retirement because her support was priceless.