Member Rara Avis
Strangely enough, this actually happened to me, in spirit if not in exact detail.
I was 29 years old, running a chain of nine restaurants in San Diego, 11 years into a successful career in the food service industry. And bored out of my mind. A man I knew hardly at all offered me a job, fifty dollars a week plus twenty percent of the profits, to run his small weekly newspaper, the San Diego Chronicle. The newspaper had existed for seventeen years, seldom going over eight pages, surviving entirely on "legal notices" and a few classified. "Put together some good special-interest articles," Steve urged me. "Hire a sales team and fill the paper with display advertising." It was a long shot. I knew that going into it. There wasn't even the potential for a big payoff, all risk and little gain. But I was young, cocky, and filled with dreams.
I worked twenty hour days, sleeping in our plant most nights. I was the writer, the graphic artist, the photographer and, at times, our only salesman. From early Monday until the issue was put to bed Tuesday night was a nonstop flurry, a mad rush to fill columns, meet deadlines, with always the real possibility the out-sourced presses would run with huge globs of white space. It was the most exhausting time of my entire life. And, without a doubt, the most exciting.
Eight months later, after several larger issues that lost money, after paying salesmen's draws without accompanying sales, Steve told me he could no longer afford to pay me the fifty bucks a week. I had already gone through my savings. When I was 19 and sold my photo studio, the only thing I had kept was a Mamiya RB, a large-format camera costing $1,200 when cars still went for three grand. I pawned it for $75. I was broke, but still stubborn. I worked for another two months after Steve stopped paying me entirely. To this day, I don't know how. And I won't attempt to explain why.
But, finally, I had to admit I had failed. Worse, it seemed I had dug myself into a hole from which there seemed little chance of recovery. I no longer slept at the plant just because the hours demanded it, but because I had given up my apartment. My car payment was four months behind. I hate frankfurts because a package of 10 cost only $1.19 and would last for two days. My family was 2,000 miles away, in Michigan, and every other soul I knew in California was friend or family to my estranged, soon to be ex, wife. And I still had pride.
I drove to Orange County, 90 miles North, all but exhausting the last of my gas. Partly that was to get away from those I would have to admit failure to, partly it was to hide my car from those who wanted to repossess it. It took me three days to find a job, assistant manager at a small Mexican dinner house. For three weeks, until my first paycheck, I ate burritos and tacos, sleeping in my car (moving it from time to time, though never far because I had no gas), washing and shaving each morning in the restaurant bathrooms before any of the crew arrived. I used that first paycheck for a very tiny, one-room studio apartment - and took the most luxurious shower of my life. Fortunately the apartment was close to work, because a month later the bank caught up with me and took the car. It took nine months of solid work and deprivation before I really got back on my feet again, enough to buy a used car and look for a better job. It was two years before I stopped counting the change in my pocket every night before going to sleep.
To this day, I don't think going to work for the newspaper was a mistake. Never before nor since have I really enjoyed life as much. My mistake, of course, was in refusing to admit defeat and cut my losses. I paid dearly for that mistake, but I survived it. Twenty years later, I look back on those days and realize how very much I really learned from the experience. I've never looked at money the same since, and I think I came to understand the difference between necessitates and luxury. The confidence I gained from that survival gave me the courage, not too many years later, to start my own business - knowing that if it failed I would, again, survive.
Perhaps most importantly, I learned the only real security we have in this world is our own abilities and skills, and the willingness to put them to work. The world (or our own foolish mistakes) can take away everything else we have. But what we have learned, what we can do through skill and work, will always remain with us.
No one can take that.