by Joe Merkel
As a young man of 20, I truly believed I was in my prime. I had a job at Taco Bell, a roof over my head, and enough friends to keep me perpetually occupied. Boy, was I living the life!
The thing is, at the time, I was perfectly content with taking orders from both customers and my managers. Sure, you get the occasional customer from hell, but nothing you can’t brush off your shoulder. As long as I showed up and did my part, I’d get my whopping $300-400 twice a month. In hindsight, I never really thought or cared much about my future.
I worked at Taco Bell for 13 months which, for most people, is an eternity in fast food. Having virtually no responsibilities outside of work, I began to become entrapped in a comfort zone that should never have existed in the first place.
Then one day, my parents drop the bomb that they’re moving and I am NOT coming with them. They needed the extra room for storage.
I wasn’t upset, though, and had no right to be. In the back of my head, I knew this day would come. Luckily, my mom had been saving the “rent” money I’d been paying for this very occasion.
“This is it,” I thought to myself, “In a few short months, I’m going to have my very own place!” And it’s true. I did get my own place.
But you know what that place was?
A trailer… with a broken AC… in a trailer park dozens of miles from anyone I knew in the height of a particularly hot summer. On top of that, I’d quit my job and was living entirely off of savings.
Fortunately, it wasn’t too long until I took up residence with a friend who was to become my roommate. I still had to pay for the lot at the trailer park, but at least I was near my people.
Fast forward a few months. Said roommate and I are now on a lease together but I’m still unemployed and my savings are depleting fast. I’m able to get a few jobs here and there but nothing I could stick with. The last job I had in that period of my life was Taco Bell… again.
I’d come full circle. However, this time around was far worse than the first. Not only were the managers rude and unfair, but there was also a severe language barrier between us.
I remember one particular night it was just me and two managers on shift. Business had been pretty slow following a minor rush. Rather than completing register duties (i.e. clean, stock, etc.), they made me do the dishes. That’s no problem in itself but every time I looked up, they’d be leaning on the counter, poppin’ the poop. They literally just talked and laughed for over an hour while I did all the work.
After that shift and my four mile walk home at 3:00am, I decided to check my email which was something I seldom did back then. Much to my surprise, I saw an email from an old friend, Dennis Yu.
“Strange,” I thought. We’d done some work together in the past but hadn’t heard from each other in years.
Curiously, I opened the email and see that it’s a career invitation. Considering what I’d seen at work just a few hours prior, it didn’t take much convincing for me to accept. I didn’t even put in my two-week notice.
Within a few days, I’m working from home making more than double my previous wage. As long as I’m consistent, I get to choose my own schedule and can work extra if I so choose.
Three weeks later, I’m on a business trip in Vegas, staying in some of the nicest hotels I’ve ever seen. I get to eat whatever I want, whenever I want. All of this is paid for by the company. Compared to my previous life, I felt like royalty.
Since my mentor is a renowned speaker in the industry, I get to attend conferences that many people would gladly fork over $3,000 to attend, all free of charge.
From Vegas to Dallas to San Diego and so on, I’m able to get more travel under my belt than I’d ever imagined. All the while, I’m participating in workshops, learning valuable skills, and connecting with great people and other professionals.
I traveled more in two months than I had in my entire life prior to joining BlitzMetrics. I even left the states for the first time!
On top of these wonderful perks, my saving’s account was starting to look quite attractive. My skills have become a lucrative asset. For the first time in my life, I had genuine confidence. My ambitions became apparent and stopped seeming like a pipe dream. Rather, they’ve transformed into realistic, achievable goals.
It was around this time I looked back and realized just how one-dimensional my working life had been. Every job I’d had previously was just that: a job. But now, I have a career. I have confidence. I have exponential room for growth. Everything I need to continue achieving my goals is lined up for me.
Do I regret working at Taco Bell? Hell no. That experience taught me social and psychological skills I would’ve otherwise never acquired. It taught me that you really can’t judge a book by its cover. It taught me humility and teamwork.
But I’d never go back, that’s for sure.
Yeah, I may have been content with those fast food duties but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed doing them. My passions don’t include taking orders from strangers and cleaning toilets but that doesn’t mean it’s not someone’s passion. As they say, “Get a job doing what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I’ve always loved writing. So I became an editor. I can flip burgers or pump gas (yes, that’s a job in Oregon) but who can’t?
That’s the difference between being valued rather than merely being acknowledged.
If you’re over 20 and making minimum wage, there’s a certain stigma about you being “lazy” or “uneducated” and whatnot. Obviously, that’s not always true but people don’t see that. People like judging yet nobody likes being judged.
My decisions ultimately helped me break away from the clutches of modern day slavery. And it took making a lot of bad decisions and suffering their consequences for me to realize that if I was ever going to get anywhere in life, I needed to change my thinking entirely.
It’s so easy to remain dormant, make excuses, and operate exclusively from your comfort zone. But if living in your comfort zone doesn’t provide comfortable living, it’s time to take that first step out.
About the Author
You can find him quoted in major publications and on television such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR, and LA Times. Clients have included Nike, Red Bull, the Golden State Warriors, Ashley Furniture, Quiznos-- down to local service businesses like real estate agents and dentists. He's spoken at over 750 conferences in 20 countries, having flown over 6 million miles in the last 30 years to train up young adults and business owners. He speaks for free as long as the organization believes in the job-creation mission and covers business class travel.
You can find him hiking tall mountains, eating chicken wings, and taking Kaqun oxygen baths-- likely in a city near you.