I want to tell you the story of one person’s struggle to find his work soul mate and the journey that took him there. This is my story on how I fell in love with my job.
The story begins in the halls of George Walton High School. Picture a gangly teenage boy who was growing up much faster than he was growing out. His skinny figure is awkwardly crammed behind a public school desk in chemistry class. The teacher in the front of the classroom is lecturing on the payattentionatomic weight of such and such. The boy’s arms are crossed across the desk and his head is securely planted in the middle. He is fast asleep. This was high school for me – one long dream. I slept on the bus, slept in class, slept during lunch, returned home and slept some more. On more than one occasion, I was hauled off to the doctor’s office to determine what medical condition I had clearly contracted. After a battery of tests, the results were always the same – inconclusive. Despite my propensity for sleep and an overall lack of motivation, I managed to graduate and attended Vanderbilt University the following Fall (chalk it up to either good test-taking or a sympathetic admissions officer). While the environment changed the story did not. I was, without a doubt, the walking definition of an “un.” I was unmotivated, unengaged, uninspired, undisciplined, and unfocused. After waiting to the last possible moment to declare my major, I settled on “communications.” After four years, I continued my journey of “un” into the world of work and life.
Like any good communications major, I was unemployed at graduation. I eventually took a job as an assistant manager for a small chain of family owned retail stores. On my first day of work, my boss, the son-in-law of the founder of the business, told me to go in the back room and fire the incumbent assistant manager. If I was successful in my firing, I could have his job. I woke up. Having a world-class horrible boss can do that. I quickly became a store manager and rotated from store to store. Regardless of the location, I worked diligently to run my stores in stark contrast to how my boss managed. The results showed. Something I was doing as a naïve and raw 23 year old was working. At the same time, after being forced to fire more than my fair share of undeserving employees, I realized the world needed better bosses and leaders. Inspired, I drafted a 10 year plan designed to eventually set myself up to becoming an executive coach (I think I just liked the sound of “executive coach”) and builder of future managers / leaders. It was time to break up. I delivered the news: “It’s not you, it’s me.” I packed my bags and headed out the door.
I enrolled in a graduate program in clinical counseling and soon after began working in an inpatient facility helping individuals to overcome some of life’s biggest curveballs. From addiction to mental illnesses, from behavioral disorders to dementia, I counseled individuals in an effort to help them overcome the obstacles that prevented them from having the lives they wanted. It was a cool job that paid in peanuts. And while the work was meaningful and it leveraged my natural strengths, I realized that if I couldn’t also impact the systems that people were in (work, family, etc…), I could only do so much. They would be back in no time. I left to explore the system that we spend most of our waking days – work. This break-up went pretty smoothly (“Let’s stay friends”). I don’t think this was the first time they had been dumped.
I transitioned into the corporate world and got a job as a corporate trainer for a global multi-billion dollar insurance and financial services corporation. My job was simple – work with our North American clients, banks and credit institutions, and help them to improve their internal performance and sell more of our product. I travelled around the country conducting training classes on topics ranging from selling to coaching direct reports. One day, my boss let me know that she had just been fired as had everyone around me. I became the department, yet my title didn’t change. A promotion later, I realized I was never going to be able to accomplish what I wanted to in that organization. Upon offering up my resignation, they countered by offer me more money to stay (“If you stay I’ll change”). I declined. They were pissed. I left to pursue my MBA and continue down the path of finding the “one.”
While completing my MBA, I quickly targeted “human capital consulting” as the ideal next step for me in my journey to improve workplace health. After overcoming being one of the world’s worst interviewers (I lost track after 10 failed interview attempts during my first and second years), I was fortunate enough to get an offer from a large global consulting firm to join their Human Capital practice. When my phone rang with the news, I was standing outside of a hospital room just a few hours after my wife had given birth to our second child. After soul-searching, I changed course, turned down the offer (“I think it’s best we don’t get serious if we never plan to be together long-term. We both know this won’t go anywhere”), stopped interviewing and decided to pursue my dream after graduation. Two kids, one supportive spouse and no job.
The first four years were particularly challenging. I tried on all different kinds of clients from small family owned businesses to large non-profits. I coached individuals and I consulted entire organizations. My income steadily grew as did my family (today we have three beautiful kids). Then the economy turned and my income dropped 40% in 2009, but none of that mattered, I had found my dream job. My work soul mate. I knew I could make it work.
One summer day in 2009 I was asked to sit in as a guest expert on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s radio show @Work. They asked me to come back the next week and I never left. While I was on the show, I had the surreal experience of sharing the microphone with someone who was my mirror opposite in every way, yet this called himself an executive coach just like me. One day in an attempt to explain the difference between him and I (I like to refer to him as “Bizarro Brandon”) I blurted out, “I’m like the workplace therapist.” The person’s eyes lit up and the brand stuck. Today, as The Workplace Therapist, I get the opportunity to fight workplace dysfunction each and every day. For better or for worse, no two days are alike as I juggle between coaching leaders, consulting organizations, teaching classes, speaking at conferences, writing blog posts and combating dysfunction weekly on the radio. My job fits like a glove in a way only a friend can, fires me up with passion like any ideal soul mate, and honors and meets my needs like a true partner by challenging me with new opportunities daily and providing me enough to support my family. I would want nothing less for you and your life.
But this post was really never about me.
I was never the point.
You are the point.
What’s your story?