Un-Scenic Turnout

May 2, 2009

I took a break from my journey on the Twisting Road this past Wednesday to get a bagel and cream cheese at Einstein Brothers’ Bagels. Turns out it’s near a busy entrance ramp to the controlled access lanes of the Rat Race Tollroad. Apparently it’s also near a point where the Fast Track passes overhead and people on the Rat Race try to figure out how they can get on that other highway.

I walked into Einstein’s that morning to pick up a shmear (bagel with cream cheese) after dropping my son off at school. It’s a Montessori school, so it’s a little way from the Rat Race, sitting on Off-The-Beaten Path. I had my morning planned out, with my coffee and bagel at the computer in my home office. I was thinking about my day, and mostly thinking about what kind of bagel to choose. I wasn’t eavesdropping. Honest. At least not intentionally.

But the four people at the table right against the rail where the line passes along the counter were practically commanding an audience. At least a couple of them were. One was quiet, because he was eating a coffeecake. The other was talking with some urgency, at a pressured pace. She wasn’t loud, but I could hear her once my attention was drawn by the really loud one.

Three of the people were looking at copies of a resume. They were two men, the loud one and Coffeecake Guy, and a woman. She wasn’t loud, but she took up the slack when Loud Guy slowed down. Their poor victim was a woman being peppered with questions about how she typically handled different situations and how she would handle a couple of imagined scenarios. It was intense, and without the extra time waiting in line I might not have noticed that, although they looked polite, the three interviewers were definitely not concerned with putting their quarry at ease. And the tag-team approach made the pressure relentless.

Loud Guy took a break from testing the lady being interviewed to tell her about the position and their business. This is where he couldn’t help himself. Enough about how she might handle things for his business. It was time for him to talk directly about his business. I memorized as much as I could and wrote it down as soon as I got home. The following is a very good paraphrase with some exact quotes. It is not exaggerated for dramatic purpose. Loud Guy did that pretty well himself.

“You’ll probably be able to get out each week after putting in just forty to forty-five hours. I wouldn’t have said that three to six months ago. Then fifty to sixty hours was the norm for everyone. We had a lot of infrastructure issues we had to manage for a while. I called on everyone, not just the go-to guys. I asked the people who weren’t in positions crucial to the situation to step up and work extra because we’re a team. I said everyone’s got to start shoveling here. We need to get the water out of this boat (honestly, that’s the mixed metaphor he used, plus several other clichés my brain thankfully refuses to remember).

“I don’t want to sound dismissive here, but this is going to be harder than anything you’ve ever done. It’ll take you a month to six weeks just to get your sea legs. You’ll start out feeling overwhelmed. Everybody does. We (indicating himself and Coffeecake Guy) felt overwhelmed for about three months when we started. It’s just a faster pace than anything you’ve ever done. Everybody who starts here tells me it’s harder and faster paced than anywhere they’ve worked before. I’m not bragging. I’m just telling you how it is. If you look for that sort of challenge you’re going to love it.”

He then offered to show her their office, which was apparently nearby, if she had time before she had to get back to her current job-box. Being close to Einstein Brothers’, he explained, was why they chose it for the meeting. Since they were sitting at a small table crowded with their folders and resumes, with Coffeecake Guy being the only one bothering to eat anything, in a fairly loud and crowded place, next to the ordering line, I doubted their judgment. Why not meet in the office? Why not meet in a quieter public place?

Then I remembered: driving on the Rat Race isn’t about planning out the trip you want. It’s about believing that everyone is going where you want to go, without ever making a real choice. It’s about following cars in front of you and looking for ways to move into the lanes of faster moving people. It’s about seeing the Fast Track swoop overhead every once in a while and wondering how to get on it.

I wanted to find a way to talk to the woman and ask her, “How desperate are you?” Actually, I thought about the character Hiro in Heroes, who can stop time, and wished for a second I could freeze everything and help her escape.

I’m pretty sure she was looking for a way to shift into a different lane on the Rat Race, thinking it would give her that elusive access to the Fast Track. The median is always greener in somebody else’s lane.

I would have told her that there are many exits to the Rat Race that lead to better places, and many take you far from the Fast Track. Some take people on a scenic route to places the Fast Track drivers only dream of seeing at the end of their trip.

I might have even tried to explain to her that some of the exits are hard to see, because they’re not paved, wide-lane roads. They’re gravel drives or even dirt paths. Some were built by people who ditched the car and hopped on a four-wheeler or a bicycle.

I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have believed the last thing I would have wanted to tell her – that she herself could pull over and start looking for a way off the Rat Race at any point and create her very own trail to wherever she wants to go. I could have told her there were thousands and thousands of such trails off the Rat Race that were blazed by people just walking, so you don’t see them until you hear their stories and learn where the trail markers are.

I could have told her the key to blazing her own trail is figuring out where she really wants to go. But that would have probably scared the hell out of her.

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey
Authentic Life Work & Self-Employment Coach (Yes, I’m trying out that title again)


2 Responses to “Un-Scenic Turnout”

  1. Darcy on May 3rd, 2009 8:22 am

    Wow, a powerful moment. I wish you had slipped her your card!

  2. May 8, 2009 : On The Twisting Road on May 8th, 2009 12:05 pm

    […] Un-Scenic Turnout […]

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