February 2013 was a downright terrible month. In retrospect, I suppose 2012 was just a precursor to the wretchedness that would surround St. Valentine’s Day of the following year.
Perhaps I should back up a moment to shed some light on the subject for you.
In the summer of 2011, I was flown to Fort Wayne, Indiana for three days. My flight, rental car, hotel, and meals were all paid for as I interviewed for my dream job: a coveted position as Sales Engineer for the world renowned Sweetwater Sound. It was a job I had lusted over for nearly a third of my life. No, really. Ten years earlier, right out of college, I had applied, interviewed, and failed to ever hear back from them again. Ten years later, it was still my goal in life to get that job.
The second time was the charm. I woke up one morning a week after coming home, checked my email while getting ready for work, and literally freaked out. I got the job. I was right all along: it was the career I was destined for. And so, with a smile on my face and the future looking spotless, I uprooted my small family – a wife and two young kids – and moved from Texas to northern Indiana.
It was a dream come true. Well, for a while, I should say. Within a few months, the rigors of a 100% commission job began to take its toll; especially as soon as the inevitable stress-inducing forest fires began to occur. $5000 guitar doesn’t ship out on time? Overnight shipping paid for by me. Customer calls in to complain about an issue while I’m out of state on vacation? “Robert will pay for that,” says the unaffected coworker. One of the most disappointing occurances was when a new customer called to order a $4000 keyboard. Our website clearly stated that the synth had built in speakers. It didn’t. So it was either take the keyboard back – and the commission that came with it – or send him a pair of $400 speakers on my own dime. Farewell, decent paycheck…
What started as a dream come true slowly morphed into the most stressful job I’d ever had in life. To make matters worse, I kept convincing myself that it was the job I would retire from decades down the road. I will work through it, I said. I can handle it. Then came February 2013. A host of unrelated problems reared their heads – including a company-wide system crash that prematurely shipped a $10,000 order out and lost me a high-dollar regular customer – and the dreaded timer began to count down my eternal demise with the job I considered to be my life’s destiny.
Soon enough, the T-Word was uttered. Terminated (That’s the nice way to say You’re fired. Neither one sounds any better when the hammer drops, in case you were wondering). My bosses were disappointed with how I handled irate customers (I’m too nice) and February was not the month of love between myself and some of my customers. Two weeks later, after repeatedly asking when I could come and get my stuff, I took the final walk of shame with my box through the large, cheerful building. Making it all the more worse, two guitars and $800 worth of other gear had just arrived with my name on it. None would be going home with me.
D-Word. Depression. What’s an unemployed former ESL teacher/banker/sales guy to do these days? I begrudgingly applied for a finance position within a large company despite repeated warnings from my family that it wasn’t the right job for me. “I don’t have anything else to do,” I answered. It was a terrible feeling. To make matters worse, I then started hearing voices in my head:
“If you write it, they will read.”
Yes, it was pretty much just like a Field of Dreams moment – well, minus the corn field, old-timey doctor, and sentimental game of catch with my dad – as the ancient story of Pompey the Great refused to release its grip on my daydreams. It was a tale that had intrigued me for five years, especially since it was a story no fiction author had ever attempted to write. Sure, the Roman Alexander was always featured in books taking place during the last century B.C., but a novel that was 100% devoted to him? Nothing but crickets. Not a big deal, I suppose…merely an unclaimed, fascinating true story that’s a few hundred years overdue, is all.
MAGNUS. It means Great in Latin. The story of Gnaeus Pompey’s life really is an undeniably great one when you consider it. For weeks, I thought it was too great for a guy like me – a guy who had recently failed when given the chance to fully embrace his dream job – and so I ignored the whispers in my head calling “You can do this! I’ve given it to you!” And so, on a bright Sunday afternoon in 2013, I set my course for the positive voice and set out on a journey to pen the tale of Pompey the Great in three volumes. I called it MAGNUS.
Soon enough, a revelation hit me. All that I had been through, all the failures that had piled up in my recent life, had led me to that Sunday. I was a writer. A storyteller. I had been since I was about six years old. I wasn’t a sales guy (although the tools of the trade are necessary for any author, believe me!) and banking was behind me. I wasn’t a disappointment to anyone, including myself. Sometimes purpose is found through failure. Sometimes you have to shatter the mirror to find the secret passage hiding behind it.
I return to my old stomping ground across town on a semi-regular basis. It’s weird, I know, to show up at the place that fired me on a cold day in the Winter of 2013, but I still play guitar and I still have friends who work there. The picture on the back of my first book, Rising Sun, was taken there almost a year to the day of my now-appreciated demise. The last time I stepped in for a visit, I saw the man who hired me during the Summer of 2011 and fired me nearly two years later. We made eye contact. I smiled and waved. He stared at me for three seconds, averted his eyes, and ignored me. I laughed. How can I be bitter when you helped make my life better?
I’m sure he has no clue that I’ve just finished my second book. He probably wouldn’t even care, to tell you the truth. Nevertheless, I still feel gratitude for the man who just kept walking. Thank you, sir, for tossing me overboard. I can admit that I wasn’t a good enough sailor. Thankfully, though, as the waves threatened to pull me under, I learned my strength was in something I never once expected while rowing along in your boat.