“Gentlemen,” I said, shaking hands and introducing myself, “I’m Ronn McCarrick. It is a pleasure to meet you both.”
I found myself in a room with two men. The first was a man who went to church with a man I hadn’t talked to in eight years. He was mid-fifties, tall, and fit with a runners build. He looked comfortable in his polo and khakis. I wished immediately that I was wearing his outfit. The other man was from one of the Carolina’s, he was a big man with a sunburn highlighting his deep tan, he too was dressed in business casual with a button down shirt, no tie, and khakis. I was feeling a little over dressed.
I had talked to each of them a single time on the phone, and even then only briefly, prior to this meeting. I didn’t know them. They didn’t know me. We were, each of us, looking for something from the other. They wanted someone to fill an open position in their company, and I wanted a new job and a chance to start over someplace new. This meeting had been years in the making.
“We’ve heard a lot of good things about you,” the bigger man said, and motioned me to a chair opposite the two of them at the large conference table.
Once I had settled into my life, with a wife, a child, and a house payment added to my list of lifetime accomplishments, I had become respectable in the eyes of my family. No longer a miscreant youth, but still needing to be polished into full adulthood. I went to work for my uncle, who had a Heating and Cooling company. My mother worked for him, and for the longest time, she thought it would be a bad idea for us to work together. Or maybe she simply thought it was a bad idea for me to work for my uncle. My track record wasn’t great, and I imagine that she worried for the potential damage that might be caused if things didn’t work out. But I needed a trade. So I went and talked to my uncle. He gave me an opportunity and I stayed with him for nine years.
In those years, I learned a lot. I enjoyed the work, the sense of accomplishment at seeing what I had built, and that worn out feeling at the end of a hard day. I moved up the ladder as my skills improved. As I learned more and more of the trade, I became a useful and productive member of the team. I taught the younger guys the basics and helped them along. I taught them the tricks and tips I had picked up to make their jobs easier, I told them how to get along with the senior guys, and I made myself available to them in a friendly and open manner. When I worked with the more experienced guys, I made a point to learn what they were teaching, I asked questions and listened to the answers, and I deferred to their years of experience. I worked to build bridges and relationships wherever I could.
I don’t know if they liked me, or if they merely assumed that I would succeed my uncle in the business, but either way I was given the training and the opportunity to carve a spot for myself in the company. I was being groomed for something, but what I was being groomed for really depended on who I worked with. I didn’t see the signs then, but looking back they are as obvious as the rungs on a ladder.
It was a good trade and I enjoyed it, but those years were hard on my body. It was hard work and I felt it in my back, my knees, my hands, and especially in my feet.
My doctor said to me during one of my more and more frequent visits, “I can keep fixing you up. We can manage the pain a couple different ways. But you’re not getting any younger and the work isn’t going to change. You might want to look at your options.”
Talking to him made me realize the real truth of things. My twenties were behind me and despite evidence to the contrary, I was still approaching the work like I was indestructible. I knew I needed to move on or move up. So getting out of the tough physical work of furnace replacements seemed like the thing to do when a couple of friends called with a new opportunity.
My friends had worked themselves up into management positions at an Internet Service Provider, and they called to say they were hiring and thought my troubleshooting skills would more than compensate for my modest computer skills. The work sounded interesting, the pay was great, and I would get to work with my friends. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. But I knew how good I had been treated by my uncle and his people, so I did the right thing. I didn’t want to burn any bridges or leave anyone thinking that I didn’t appreciate all that had been done for me. I made sure the guys I had been training knew how to get a hold of me if they had questions and I thanked the senior guys for everything I’d learned. I gave plenty of notice and continued to give it my all right up until I moved on to start a career in network support.
While I was at the ISP, we were bought and sold three times. Each time becoming a bigger company and taking on more responsibilities. I made friends and developed relationships in this new field and with my new coworkers. I was recommended to a support position by one friend for the skills that I had learned from others. Layoffs came around with each change of ownership and then the company ran into legal problems. Most of us were let go. The layoffs weren’t a surprise, the company’s troubles were on the news every night, and they had given us a full month’s notice beforehand.
I found myself without a job and looking for work. The skills, systems, and procedures I had used were proprietary and did not translate directly to the positions for which I was interviewing. I had no degree. Employers did not want to take a chance on a skill set they couldn’t verify and probably didn’t need. I had my references, but most of them had been cut loose during the layoffs. Everywhere I went, they wanted a bachelor’s degree. I didn’t have one, and there wasn’t a lot I could do to prove my skills to a new employer. Just as my unemployment was about to run out, my phone rang. One of those two friends who had taken a chance on me the first time had kept his job. He was being asked to start a new team and he had thought of me.
I went back to work for the same company, now with a new name, in a new group, and with a new focus. Again, I cultivated relationships and learned what I could about the processes, technologies, and procedures. Again, when the opportunity came about, I was promoted to a support role. But it was not to last, more layoffs rolled through and I was out.
I had done my tour in the corporate world of cubicles and computers. I had stayed long enough to know it wasn’t for me. The decision not to go back was an easy one.
I had done my time working with tools and done an equal amount of time doing work on a screen. I wanted to combine both, but didn’t see how to make that happen without going back to school. And so I made the decision to go back to HVAC. It was harder work, but I found it more satisfying and I could not go back to sitting in a cubicle.
Having been out of the field for eight years, I needed a refresher to get my skills back up to speed. I signed up for a HVAC certificate program and I made arrangements to work part-time for the man who bought my uncles company. Combining the experiences of school and work paid dividends in both. In no time I was able to ramp up to my previous skill level, and coupled with the additional education, I became better than I had been.
At the school, I was a superstar. I was the guy who knew it all. The guy who had been there and done that. The guy with the field experience. The other students had questions, some wanted help, and others just wanted a peek into what their future profession would really be like. I could have simply basked in this attention. I could have ignored them all, imagining that they had nothing to offer me. But instead, I tried to do as much for each of them as I could. I answered questions. I related stories. I made myself approachable. I made friends among my fellow students and my instructors. I built bridges and cultivated relationships.
So as I walked into the interview with two men I had never met before, I was taking advantage of fifteen years of friendships, respect, and hard work. A man I had gone to school with just a month prior thought of me when he saw a job opening and told the two men that I was just what they needed. And while it is a lucky coincidence that my future and former managers would go to the same church, the result is rather telling. A man I hadn’t worked with for eight years sang my praises to a fellow congregation member.
The interview was short and I feel like the decision had been made before I arrived. The position was mine to lose. In the end the choice was Detroit, Lansing, or Grand Rapids.
I am where I am today, because there is value in cultivating relationships and working to help others.