Thursday, July 11, 2013

Failing Forward: My Turn As The Employee From Hell

Life isn't always full of rainbows and unicorns.  In fact, sometimes it is downright uncomfortable.  With that in mind, let me share an experience from my youth:

When I was 15 and living in Texas, my father had a self-employed friend, Mark, who needed some help around his business.  It turns out he had a multi-level marketing business that sold shampoos, lotions, and other cosmetics.  Since my father was eager to get his sons out the door and being productive in the world, he connected me with his friend.

Mark was a single guy who drove a Jaguar.  For my first assignment, I was dropped off at a storefront he rented in a strip mall.  He instructed me to move a giant pile of boxes into a van parked in front of the store.  It was August in Houston.  The humidity was 100% and the temperatures were around 100 degrees...and we were at sea level.  Mark gave me the keys to the van and said, "Go turn the A/C on so the van stays cool."  This sounded simple enough but I was only 15 and had little experience with cars.  I turned the keys until cool air blew out of the vents.  But, I neglected to turn the engine on (not knowing that it was an important part of the process).  Mark quickly left the scene to run some other errands.

Three hours later I was done loading the van.  Mark arrives and say, "Why isn't the engine running???"  I replied that I had never turned it on.  At that point Mark had a flash of disbelief run across his face quickly followed by panic and then sad acquiescence.  He reached in the van, and turned the ignition.  Click-click-click-click-click.  The battery was dead.  He gave me $20 and told me to walk across the street and purchase some jumper cables.  I came back, jumped the van and drove to a warehouse.  The original plan was to unload the boxes and stack the contents somewhere.  However, given what had just happened he told me to just throw the boxes in a pile and go home.  When I asked what was in the boxes, he replied: "$5000 of lipstick".  Oops.

A couple months later Mark called and wanted me to do some work.  Given my first experience I was apprehensive to go.  My father encouraged me to go and thought things would go more smoothly this time. At that time, I had just received my drivers license.  Mark announced that he had borrowed a truck from a friend of a friend and he wanted me to drive it to a warehouse.  But first we needed to load it full of metal shelves.  We put six shelves in the truck, Mark tied them down, and I proceeded in a caravan to the warehouse.  Along the way we made a wide turn through an on-ramp to a feeder road.  We drove down the feeder road about a quarter mile and the car I was following in our caravan turned on their hazard lights.  I thought they had car trouble.  The driver stopped, walked back to my car, and asked me how many shelves we loaded.  I told him six and then turned around to count only 5 in the bed.  Just then, a Ford Taurus pulled up behind us missing its windshield.  A middle aged lady in a Sunday dress stepped out with little bits of glass all over her and shaking terribly.  She was ok but shelf Number 6 made a big mess of her car.  Mark arrived to cut the lady a check for her windshield and paint job.

Several months later Mark called again and wanted me to work.  I strongly resisted this time but after some strong persuading from my parents, I capitulated and agreed to go.  This time Mark wanted me to do some work around his home.  He instructed me to clean some of his floors.  He also instructed me to fill up his waterbed located on the second floor of his home.  The bedroom was located just over his photography studio which was full of all kinds of camera equipment.  Mark showed me how to hook up the hose but the water was flowing incredibly slow.  I asked Mark if he had any other chores he needed done while the bed filled.  He instructed me to rake his yard (1 acre) and burn the leaves.  Mark then left.  Three hours later, I had finished the the yard work.  It was then I realized I had forgotten to turn of the water to the waterbed.  I ran into the home to discover that the waterbed looked like the Astrodome.  It was an unnatural sight and I panicked.  I called my mother who arrived and as soon as her eyes caught sight of the bed she panicked.  She called Mark and when he walked in the room he panicked.  This bed became a water time-bomb that was holding us all hostage.  We tried emptying the bed but the hose only trickled out water a the same painstakingly slow rate that it had filled.  I went home.

The next morning, Sunday, I got a call from Mark that the bed had burst.  He requested my help pulling all of the carpets out of his home, which I kindly obliged.
A few weeks later Mark called again and wanted me to do some work.  I was adamant that I did not want to work for Mark anymore.  Nevertheless, my parents persuaded me to give it one more try.  When I arrived, Mark told me that he needed me to repaint his camera room since it was severely watermarked from the previous disaster.  He gave me two buckets of white paint and a brush and then left.  It took me a few hours but I got the room painted.  I used one bucket of paint to do most of the room.  When I ran out, I opened up the other bucket and started doing touch up.  However, I noticed there were spots where the paint wasn't drying.  It was only then that I realized I had painted the room with flat white paint and then had touched it up with glossy paint.

Mark called me again several weeks later and this time I knew what I needed to do.  I met him at his house and told him that my self-confidence could not endure anymore experiences working for him.  He expressed his regret and we parted ways.  But, I do have to give him credit for paying me for every job.

The moral of the story here is that life is full of uncomfortable experiences that cause us to grow.  In this case, Mark learned to supervise his youthful employees more.  In my case, I learned too many things to list.

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