Sometime in the mid eighties I had a mind change. I wasn’t aware of on a conscious level and really can only recognize it in retrospect but the seeds of an idea were sown and grew. A butterfly had flapped its wings…
By 1985, my career (if you could call an accidental bounces from pillar to post a career) had already been tumultuous,
It began when I was hired fresh out of a copper mine into the management training program of the FW Woolworth company. My first boss was West Virginia sharecropper’s son, as hard as superman’s knee cap and chock full of country sayings. He lived and breathed retailing and he worked me like a rented mule but at the end of my four year training, I could run most any retail operation.
I was on the road to make something of myself.
Unfortunately, all that training, while superb, was out of step with the times. The retail sector was moving from downtown to the suburban mall; towards specialty stores with limited inventories and low paid managers who were little more than clerks. After a stint trying to compete with Kmart, the company changed with the times and the dime store was soon a thing of the past.
Well crap, now what do I do…
So I switched careers from retail to wholesale food products and started again at the bottom. Except now I was in sales… and I sucked as a salesman. Pretty tough on my overblown ego, but I learned and worked my way and became somewhat of a fair haired boy for a national produce company. I was set I thought. My career was once again on a fast track.
As I patted myself on the back, more changes were in the offing…
The seventies and eighties were the time of mergers and acquisitions and the newspapers were talking about things like green mail and poison pills. My company like many others was merged (acquired) with another to create a bigger company. When you’re mergee instead of the mergered in a company, you’re a second class citizen. Once more I started at the bottom.
Crap there I was again…
At the same time inflation of the seventies and eighties (7 to 10% a year) like a corrosive acid ate away at any salary gains I thought I had made. It was to be years before I made anything like what I was paid as a contract copper miner. (In 1971President Nixon had initialed a wage and price freeze to stem the spiraling inflation, as its effects echoed through the 70’s, it didn’t have much an effect on prices but it sure worked on wages.) Although I didn’t realize it at the time my salary in real terms was far below what I made as a contract copper miner at eighteen years old, (in 1969 for example, you could gas up a car for under $5.00. You could buy a pretty nice house for $15,000. Some weeks in the mine I made $100 a day!)
I was starting to get more than a little disillusioned…
Several years ago, I picked up James Gleick’s book, “Chaos- Making a New Science”. In it he wrote about Edward Lorenz’s theories on weather and chaos. Lorenz proposed something called the “butterfly effect”, suggesting that in nature small causes can cascade into huge effects. He illustrated it by the story that a butterfly flapping its wings in China could eventually be the root cause of a typhoon thousands of miles away if conditions were right.
For me, Beverly Potter’s book “The Ronin- Riding the Waves of Change” was the breeze off of a butterfly’s wing.
Her premise (as I understood it) was that the top of a company’s pyramid was a very small place. And the journey toward it was uncertain at best. She proposed an alternate strategy. Her example was a “Ronin”, in ancient Japan, a masterless warrior who decided his own fate instead of living in the safety of a Lords household.
She held the same route could be more satisfying and rewarding for the organization man in the twentieth century. She showed the rewards of instead of upward movement as a career goal, a self directed sideways movement toward acquiring skill and experience through different jobs. Although companies want specialists to fill their need niche, she said, choosing to be a self-directed generalist would prove to be much more successful and liberating in the long run.
I decided to go ronin.
Wow… That was a big change to a guy who had worked under the impression that a company had your best interests at heart and would carefully groom your path to success.
So I was on my way again, only this time with a new way of thinking. I started to think of myself as Pete Young Inc. instead of a name and a title on a business card. Even though I was an employee of a company, in my mind I was tending my services as an independent agent with body of skills, strengths and experience for a fee called a salary.
And with that same attitude and all the experience gained, it proved easy to make the shift several years later to my own business
I never again saw myself as a victim of circumstance but a volunteer embracing opportunity.