Monday, June 1, 2015

A Leap of Faith or Foolishness? Part 1: The Leap


The Leap!

                This is a story about life and how it shapes us, to make us who we are. I recently left my job without having anything lined up on February 20th, 2015. With that being said it is the most uncharacteristic thing I have ever done. I understand life is not perfect, we are not perfect, but we can make moves and choices that directly affect our quality of life! Sometimes we have choices and can make changes; they may not happen overnight. Is our life just the outcome of thousands of daily decisions? How hard we work, how much we sleep, how much we exercise and how healthy we eat? I was told once in college that “Success is the management of our opportunities”; I believe there is much truth in that statement. Others might say “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet” or “Success is where luck and preparation meet.” Everyone has their own definition of success, it is a subjective thing. What does it mean to be successful? I always think about these things at 3am for some reason. There are people in the world that struggle to feed their children, provide income just to pay the bills each month and maybe have enough for extras, but they feel successful! Now and then I hear people talking enthusiastically about their job and want to know where that amazing place is! That’s when I realize that we all have our own definition. Last week I met a nurse that went back to school at the age of 45, because she was tired of working odd jobs and not having stable employment. She is now doing great and much more stable. She said it was hard, but possible. She made a change at 45, why am I so worried about who I will become at 30 years of age? I stay up many nights and think about people from the past, history repeats itself right? Cicero said, “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to always remain a child.” I think about people like Jesus, Alexander the Great, Lincoln, Booker T. Washington, Grant, Louie Zamperini, Marcus Luttrell, Adam Brown, Schindler, Theodore Roosevelt, Napoleon Hill, Mandela, Dale Carnegie, Philip Petit, Sargent York, William Wallace (the real one) and many many more. What made them different? Why are people still learning about them and how did they influence the world? This may be off track, welcome to my mind. I watched a credit card commercial the other day that was called, “The Journey Never Stops”. It explains some of these stories below. My point is that you will fail, and that’s okay. A single trait that can turn failure into success is resilience, the ability to learn from a trial and come back strong.

In our lives we will be tested continually, whether we are being evaluated throughout is up for discussion. We will all face trials, and this is as sure as death and taxes. As much as we might worry and prepare, we can never predict the events that will take place. This is not an amazing story of survival or living in the gutter, but you might be able to relate to my trials. I used to be jealous of my grandpas because they were so sure of themselves. They were so smart and seemed to have made all the right choices their entire lives! This was not true of course. When I found out my grandpa Turnbough dropped a math class, I was floored and thought about it for a week! He was a mathematical genius and he failed at one point in his life? I later realized their life is what made them who they were and the experiences had shaped them into great men. I just turned thirty and am being “shaped” as you read this. One thing I found out in my late teens is that we ALL WILL fail, how we respond can make all the difference. Garth Brooks was told multiple times that he should pursue something besides music. Lincoln failed at more things than he succeeded in. Oprah and Steve Jobs were fired at different points in their career. Bill Gates tried to start a company and failed, the first time. These people were resilient in the face of adversity.

When I was in high school I was unsure of just about everything in my life, except that I had a great family. At the end of my senior year I decided, I guess I’ll take the ACT and apply for the local community college. I had met with recruiters from the Marine Corps and taken tests to see what I might be placed for. My ACT score was a low 18; it seemed my shop, weightlifting and hall monitor classes didn’t prepare me very well my 12th year of schooling. My score from the Marines was pretty sad also. I was voted “Most likely to become a comedian” and “Best Personality” in my yearbook, but the Marines didn’t seem to care about that either. My grandpa Turnbough told me, “go to school for three years and then do whatever you want.” He had seen suffering and death first hand fighting the Germans in the 1940s, he didn’t want that for me. My grandpa Rabbitt on the other hand said joining the Marines was one of the best decisions he made in his life. He fought in the Pacific on some of the most written about islands during the war, including Iwo Jima. I knew my grandfathers changed their destiny by attending college in the late 1940s. My grandpa Rabbitt became a lawyer and provided for twelve children, my grandpa Turnbough became a prominent mechanical chief engineer that travelled North America and Europe. This seemed to be the easy choice in 2003, I joined the masses at St. Louis Community College. It was an easy transition and some of the best teachers I have ever had to this day. My main interests were lifestyle change for the unhealthy populations and wildlife conservation, not exactly similar. I chose to focus on health because the “job outlook” in 2003 was better. After entering the community college with a high school mentality, I dropped my first math class that my grandpa offered to help me with daily; I would lose my grandpa that year. I was 19 years old and something inside me would change forever, I should have taken his help. I joked around less, I became more serious and spent most of my time in the library. I became somewhat of a reader, something my dad always said was extremely beneficial for anyone. He was correct, of course. I pursued school with a relentless vigor and would have a GPA between 3.7-3.9 for the rest of my school years. I finished my college years at twenty-five, earning a Master’s of Education in Exercise Physiology. Losing my grandpa was the biggest tragedy of my life, the biggest psychological trial. It introduced God into my life and changed my urgency and mentality on almost every endeavor. I think about my grandpa every single day and in most things I do. I hope to be a man like him, extremely humble and extremely competent. Although falling short stressed me out there is something I repeated in my head to bring me peace, “If I honestly did my best in that situation, then I shouldn’t have any regrets.”

My master's graduation in 2010.

                I finished my Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology in 2008. I was grateful to be hired full time by Washington University School of Medicine! I was working for Dr. Dennis Villareal, studying the effects of exercise, diet and education on the frail/elderly/obese population. I did testing, instructing, data entry and much more. I prayed about going back to school or looking to get on a different government grant in research (2008-09 were not the best funding years). It was a great experience working with very intelligent people. I said that if a door is opened I will walk through it. I was accepted into graduate school and was chosen for an assistantship at SIUE. I created and taught classes, did anything my mentor wanted and gained many skills in leadership and completing objectives. My path from there was a PhD or to leave academia and work in the field. I had a prolonged period of unemployment and it was a big wake up call. Looking for a job seemed like a full time job, it was challenging and exhausting. It is a feeling between determination, hopelessness and adventure. After much prayer, patience and four interviews, I got a job at a high end personal training facility. I really enjoyed working with my clients and watching their quality of life improve quickly. To be honest I was frustrated that a highschool graduate with a personal training certification could make the same as me, and not owe tens of thousands of dollars in college loans. Many exercise physiology jobs were consolidated and nurses took on the tasks; specifically in cardiac rehab, weight management and clinical research. Rightly so, nurses earn their living I know that for a fact. I was able to observe in an operating room to watch a double bypass, the nurses did about 95% of the work! I personal trained for one year and didn’t feel the schedule fit my lifestyle. I woke up at 4am most days and went home between 7-8pm. There were some mornings I set the alarm off at 4:45am while opening the building. I worked with some amazing individuals that had a unique drive and more energy than most. I was falling asleep at stop lights, overusing energy drinks and struggled to keep Sundays off for myself. A strange fact is that during this time in my life, I had dreams there was a large dark figure standing in the corner of my bedroom staring at me. All I could see was its eyes, then it would jump across the room and put all of its weight on my chest. Every single time I exhaled while lying in bed, it would push further, not allowing a single breath in. I would wake up gasping for air! I don’t ever try to interpret my dreams but that was just a strange period in my life I suppose.

Once I decided that the job was not for me, it was time to make some serious decisions. Up to this point it, I had almost every single job fall in my lap. All my past employers vouched for me and I had a previous boss say that I was nineteen going on forty in 2004. I took all my tasks and objectives extremely serious, sometimes people made fun of me for that. After my first year at SIUE, I was asked how many times I had been to “town” (Edwardsville, IL); my answer was twice. My classmate said, “maybe you need to get out of the library and stop hiking alone in the woods all the time?” Anyways, I interviewed at Washington University via skype with a brilliant doctor in Italy. We kept interrupting each other because of the delay across the Atlantic Ocean! I had an interview at a local YMCA to be the “Director of Fitness”, I had every qualification except management experience.  I applied and had a phone interview with a weight management clinic at a local hospital. I was not chosen for any of the positions and needed to re-evaluate my situation again. I knew I really wanted the weekends off for my outdoor adventures that keep me happy. I knew that I didn’t want the schedule I had personal training and that I did enjoy working with people. Many of my classmates were not using their degree and had either gone back to school or changed careers fields. I thought about every possible option as if I were playing chess. I knew a change is something I had to make.

                I found it hard initially to take rejection because I wasn’t used to it. It seemed that I achieved most things I strived for and most people generally liked me, why not give me a chance? Did I look sloppy or say something wrong? Remember assumptions are an extremely dangerous thing. I later found out that you don’t always succeed the first time. After much prayer and effort, I was given a lead through a friend at church. An industrial rental company needed a service assistant. I felt I was wasting my education, I was letting my family down or going through life aimlessly. When I met the managers, they asked if I was okay with working Monday through Friday 7am-3:30pm, I almost started laughing in front of the director of operations. I had prayed about hours and income, they offered exactly what I wanted to the dollar and hour, it gave me goosebumps. The only thing missing on my resume and something I prayed about was management or leadership opportunities. They said they didn’t care what my degree was in, I was willing to work hard and learn. I was immersed into a work culture I had never seen, people enjoyed it for the most part. My first work function was the Christmas party. The owners of the company stood at the front door with their wives shaking everyone’s hands, then carried h’ordeurves around for their employees like waiters! The bosses were friendly and genuinely interested in their employee’s lives, it was incredible. I found myself going from being on my feet all day to sitting all day at a computer, big change. I balanced that out with 5am workout sessions at the gym, which was one block east. I asked the director of operations for tips on being successful, he then asked if I have read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie? I had read it but not in a completely focused state. I was a bigger fan of Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Both of these books are STILL top selling business books that were written in 1937. When our company was bought by a construction giant from Europe, they offered to pay for tuition up to $2500/yr. I found a Dale Carnegie class in St. Louis and signed up immediately. The leader of the class was Chris Kroeger, an amazing instructor that practices was he preaches. He truly is an example of what Dale Carnegie was trying to communicate.

We all evolve into something better in life, if we want.

                With time I was promoted to service manager. I worked with a lot of great people that worked hard and accomplished more things than I thought was possible. I was slowly introduced into the management role and there was fair amount of corporate steps to take as well. I was nervous and excited to have the opportunity to be in charge of 32 million dollars of equipment and 13 men. This is exactly what I prayed for three years earlier and it fell in my lap, I worked hard to earn it also. We were bought again by a giant merger/acquisition company from California and things changed again. We went through many software changes and process changes, it was a good challenge on learning new things fast. When managing 13 men you are managing time cards, discipline, vacations, injuries and disputes. I’m sure there were things I could have done better, but I cannot say I didn’t try my best. Remember my phrase from earlier? If you honestly try your best you have nothing to regret, keep moving! To mention a few tasks: I was reconciling 5 credit cards, doing daily timecards, processing invoices, taking all customer calls for service, dispatching four mechanics, stocking and ordering RMO supplies, researching parts for repairs, managing open purchase orders, managing all field and billable workorders ,leading the division in warranty revenue, managing the unavailable percentage of 32 million dollars in industrial equipment, implementing new rules and processes daily, managing building repairs, maintaining vendor relationships and pricing, always striving to make my men know they are respected, manufacturer rebates, calming irate customers down and solving everyone’s problems 24/7. I received service calls on my work phone in the deer stand and duck blind. I remember a customer in Forest Park asked, “Is that a duck I hear?” I told him the truth, I was in the middle of Wappapello lake hunting! I called a mechanic and he took care of the problem for me. People would call at 2:30am yelling at me, then I would call to wake my mechanics up. I was once in the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL and playing phone tag with mechanics and customers, it was part of the job. To say that this job was a blessing would be an understatement. To say that this job was beneficial for my character and traits would be a major understatement.

The sun rises and sets on seasons in our lives. "This too shall pass"

                Having this job kept things stable in my life when not everything was, I tend to like structure. If I don’t have structure then I make it. In my last job I attempted to turn chaos into harmony. I went across the world on a mission trip to Kosovo, a vacation in New Orleans/Gulf Shores, went on great hunts, bought new guns and much more. During this time I went through a tragic divorce that I will choose not to talk about. It was another major trial in my life that brought on the feelings of embarrassment, resentment, anger, fear, and more. I had lost a spouse and incredible family also. To be completely transparent, there were days I barely got to work, just to come home and sleep on my living room floor by the front door to stop thinking so much. I have seen people respond to this many ways and with many different circumstances. There are things that I don’t think we will ever forget or heal from, we just choose to learn and keep living. My personal goal is to not have any amount malice toward her, and I am there. Thank God. I was able to independently pay for my two bedroom apartment, pay off all my credit card bills and two small college loans. Blessed. While it was one of the worst years of my life, in many ways great things happened also. I wasn’t feeling the position was for me in the service department because of many variables. Yet another fork in the road of life! What to do now? I knew I wanted to work hard all day, I wanted responsibility, I wanted to build relationships with people and lastly wanted to keep my outdoor hobbies that bring me internal peace. I was working 10-13 hour days and realized I stopped dreaming when I was divorced. Insomnia took a hold of me in bouts. I was tired all time and knew I had to make a change. At this point I thought about people that worked jobs they hated their entire lives because they didn’t think they could make a change. Although I didn’t hate anything, I knew I needed to create a change.

I was focusing on being financially responsible and was looking for a way to cut my costs dramatically. I chose to move back in with my parents at 29 years old, with their permission of course. (I can write an entire blog about what it feels like to move back in with your parents after college, marriage, divorce and managing good men 10-25 years my senior. Someday I might just do that.) Fortunately my family has been the biggest blessing in my life. My support system. They practice unconditional love and know that I don’t plan on living with them forever. They know how much it bothers me, but they also know it was the logical and responsible decision. I try to do repairs on the house and not be in anyone’s way. After many conversations with God, I felt my situation pushing me to make a major change in my short life I was given. Three decades are gone, there is no going back in this life.  I hit a point at work where I felt in my very specific situation, it was best to look for something else full time. I’m not saying that I recommend it, I’m just telling you what I did. I called my mom and then my girlfriend Jessi. I told Jessi, “Hey it’s just me, if you are dating me for money then you might want to change your mind.” I was half joking, but she reassured me that I made the right decision and she was not basing our relationship off of my income. So that was one thing I had going for me. She had two great jobs within 2 miles of where she lives, yeah she is sharp. I know that not everyone will have the opportunities I did, and I am thankful. I respectively turned in my two weeks to my employer and chose to go out into the world without a designated plan. I felt it was something I had to. This is not a story about bashing an employer, I was grateful for the opportunity they provided for me. This is a story about finding my way in this life, finding something that can use my traits to be productive and successful. This is not a story about getting rich, making millions or becoming famous. If we make a leap, we must land; in much the same way as “what goes up, must come down.” This is part one or what I call “The Leap”, part two will be “The Landing.” Follow me on my journey. In Part two I will talk about job hunting, networking, and tips on things I experienced.
- Austin

Remember the path of our lives will have peaks and valleys, sunshine and rain; even forks in the road. Keep moving, crawl if you have to and don't give up. A new journey begins every single day.

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