Work Meant Trading Time For $
Work meant trading time for money. Simple as that. I didn’t even look for anything I enjoyed, just something I could tolerate. No one ever told me I had the luxury of searching for work I enjoy. I never saw anyone in my immediate family search for jobs they loved.
Momma in particular.
For the most part, she acquired cleaning and cooking jobs. She worked as a presser in a garment factory, a housekeeper in a hotel, a cook in a college sorority house, a cook in a soul food restaurant and she held some side jobs cooking and cleaning for white folks. She worked these jobs to meet her monthly obligations, and “enjoy a little” every payday.
Momma didn’t drink or smoke or party; she had all her fun before my catholic twin, Tony, and I were born.
In my childhood household, “enjoying a little” meant a family value meal from Church’s Chicken.
Momma didn’t drive.
Therefore, our family splurges were most times, limited to neighborhood restaurants that sold fried fish, chicken gizzards, pork ribs, among other cardiac arrest promoting dishes. Yes, we lived in a food desert. In addition, we stayed on that side of town where pizza companies didn’t deliver because you know….
the delivery guy would come back to the restaurant with no pizzas and no money.
In The Beginning
From 1996 until 2021, I’ve had a total of 25 jobs (that I remember). Since my first job in my teen years at Piccadilly Cafeteria as a line server, I liked the false sense of independence that my part-time jobs gave me by making my own money. Exchanging my time for money, so I could buy the things I wanted.
Momma took care of the necessities and some of our wants, but there were some things as a widow of four kids she just couldn’t afford.
But she always tried.
I eventually got fired from Picadilly, only God knows why. I surely don’t remember. Tony worked there as well and kept the job until he graduated from high school.
After Picadilly, I worked at Krystal and CVS Pharmacy as a cashier. My entrance and exit to Krystal are vague, but I do remember a church member putting in a good word for me. CVS Pharmacy was the best job ever. I could wear my own clothes as long as I wore the store apron, no uniform was required.
Later on in life, we moved to my maternal grandmother’s house which was in close proximity to school and work. Remember, Momma didn’t drive, so we did not have a car. Therefore, I liked the convenience of the job and the fact that I didn’t smell like food.
I kept the job until I moved to metropolitan Atlanta, which was June 20, 1999. It was the day after my 18th birthday. My two eldest siblings and one of my first cousins lived there, and I was savvy enough at 17 years old to transfer to a CVS Pharmacy in Hotlanta.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs & More Jobs
There were more job opportunities in Atlanta, so I started to job hop for twenty-five and fifty-cent raises which was a lot to me at the time. In addition, there was always something happening in Atlanta that required money. Before I realized it, I had multiple trivial, mostly part-time jobs under my belt.
My eldest brother and I shared a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Clarkston, Georgia where we split $500 rent. I had adult responsibilities and an affection for nicer things, made possible with my multiple gigs coupled with credit cards. I sold beanie babies, dietary supplements, pagers and contracted as a substitute-assistant-daycare teacher. In addition, I did brief stints at the Great American Cookie Co, Toys R Us, and Naturalizer Shoe Company.
From all those gigs (I counted eight jobs in two years), I learned I did not want to work multiple jobs, a job standing on my feet, or a job that required manual labor. I discovered the people who had some type of certification or college degree, normally sat at a desk. They usually made more money and appeared to exert less physical energy than unskilled or semiskilled workers.
During my 10 minute walk before daybreak to the bus stop, and the two buses, and the two trains, totaling a 2-hour commute to the daycare job in Sandy Springs from Clarkston, I saw an advertisement for a travel school. At that moment, I decided I needed a profession and not another dead-end job.
So I enrolled with a desire to travel the world as a flight attendant. I was rather naive thinking I had to go to school to be a flight attendant. Anyhow, my plan prevailed, sort of. Instead of procuring a flight attendant position (which is great because I told myself I didn’t want a job standing), immediately after graduation, I secured a job as a reservation agent with a travel company.
Momma, we made it.
My new profession and work environment gave me a boost in self-confidence. I was selling vacation packages in a cubicle with a computer, a phone, and headphones. A far cry from my mall jobs.
A month or so after being hired, my dream profession dissipated right before my eyes.
It seemed like a cruel joke. A handful of us had just completed the new hire training and passed a written exam. We had only been out of the classroom and on the sales floor, for a hot minute. There was a television in the office and we saw live news coverage of the attacks happening. Even though it felt unreal, people were displaying raw emotions in a conventional work environment for those affected, their loved ones, and our country. New Yorkers who migrated to Georgia and had family who worked or lived in the city were trying to contact their loved ones. It was a very sad day.
A week or two later, someone from corporate informed us the entire location was shutting down.
Not long after that lay-off, several others and I from the last company were hired by a competitor.
Momma, we made it again.
The office was bigger, grander, and had more people than the first company. On top of that, the company chartered their own planes and employees could fly to different destinations paying only the flight taxes.
Things were starting to look up. I got my very first passport. At that time, I don’t think I knew anyone with such a document. I had only flown twice to Detroit, Michigan, and to Lincoln, Nebraska as a teenager.
Allow me to relish on these wonderful work assignments, called familiarization trips. The company sent agents on all-expense-paid trips, to gain first-hand knowledge of the product (flight, accommodations, restaurants, recreational activities, service, etc.). This ensured that we could explicitly explain the amenities to the client. With an expectation of higher sales of course.
These trips were a far stretch from Michigan and Nebraska. What I saw in the travel brochures in school and at work, became reality. We’re talking palm trees, white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, ziplining and taking mud baths in the rainforest, jet skis, boat rides, massages in spas, all-inclusive resorts, colorful cocktails with miniature umbrellas, international cuisine, and adult-only resorts. I was barely an adult.
Someone pinch me, I must be dreaming.
I was green to tropical vacations. I only had the textbook version so to have all these experiences, on multiple occasions within a year brought me immense joy and happiness.
My life took a turn for the better. I rented a one-bedroom apartment in a nicer part of the city. No longer did I take public transportation but purchased a champagne gold, 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix Coupe and tinted the windows. I was living high on the hog.
Remember, I’m that little country girl from the food desert.
All Good Things Must Come To An End
Only one year into my dream profession, yet again, I was laid off. The economy didn’t bounce back as the company expected it to.
Can’t a girl catch a break?
After two consecutive lay-offs, I decided it was time to search for another profession.
Due to the lay-off, I was eligible for government funds to return to school to obtain another certificate.
At this point, I was fed up with being terminated.
I told the job counselor I wanted a business degree, so I could go into business for myself. She stated business was too vague and the grant would only fund a program with the likelihood of obtaining a job after completion.
She suggested accounting and I accepted. This time I enrolled in an associate’s degree program.
In the meantime, I needed to pay for the extra liabilities I had incurred. For two years give or take, I worked in a sports bar as a waitress and later at another kiosk job in a less glamorous mall.
Once again, this certificate/degree idea was panning out. I obtained an accounting assistant position a few months before graduating from the accounting program.
It was peanuts compared to what I made as a waitress but it was respectable work. Definitely no bar brawls here; that’s a story for another day.
I had a larger cubicle than at the travel companies, and my colleagues and I meshed very well. However, accounting was not my forte. The job was mundane and monotonous. It required me to be glued to a chair all day staring at a computer screen, 10-keying numbers.
A Jamaican woman from the travel company became a close confidant and we remained friends after the lay-off. She had a thick British accent but would easily revert to patois, her native language, when talking to the indigenous people. She dibbled and dabbled in real estate part-time but went full-fledged after the lay-off.
“Mich, you need to get into real estate,” she urged me.
“You would do so well and the money is good.”
My ex-colleague shared with me her impressive financials.
After the accounting program ended, I enrolled in evening classes.
I kept thinking about the opportunity cost (a term I learned in one of my accounting classes), of me staying at the accounting job. Eventually, I resigned from the accounting job after a year, to put all my energy into passing the state real estate exam.
As luck would have it after I passed my state exam in 2007, the financial crisis was in effect and the Great Recession was about to emerge.
Do you see the pattern?
New profession….catastrophic event.
Despite the downturn in the market, I stuck it out. I enjoyed socializing all around town, showing properties, meeting clients for coffee, lunch, or dinner, meeting other agents, freedom to come and go to the office as I pleased, and working from home. This was more my speed. I had good paydays but nowhere near the six figures, I was anticipating.
Momma, your check is in the mail.
The new landscape of real estate made the timeframe to the paydays less intriguing.
There Is No Life Without Progress
Due to the state of the economy, I went back to school but I decided to step it up a notch. I was going to get a bachelor’s degree. As far as I know, I was the first in my family to do so. I have an older first cousin who went to the University of Alabama, she said she graduated but we’ve never seen the diploma.
Even though I despised my accounting job, I continued the accounting path. I graduated college three years later with two whole degrees, the additional one was in finance.
Why did I do that? If I didn’t like accounting, why would I get a finance degree?
Short answer….more degrees, more opportunities.
My strategy worked again. A year after graduation, I landed a government career. Yes, career. Everyone knows anyone that gets a government gig retires out of the system. The position allowed me to work remotely from home, therefore, tardiness would not be an issue. Winning. I worked autonomously. No management breathing down my neck. Winning. The icing on the cake, I got paid to travel around the state to train and speak to audiences. Something I thoroughly enjoyed. Winning. Racking up hotel points and credit card points, to use during travel on my paid government holidays. Free travel again. Winning. And I got paid a SALARY along with so many other perks. Jackpot.
Momma, we’re movin’ on up (like the Jeffersons).
I did not have the best oratory skills and that flaw led me to the company’s Toastmasters club, a global public speaking and leadership organization.
The Toastmasters meeting was the highlight of my week when I was not traveling for work. I would burn the midnight oil to write, edit, and rehearse a speech.
I think I found my dream profession. I’m finally content.
Or so I thought.
In December 2017, I went on a two-week personal holiday in the United Arab Emirates. On my last full day in the country, I crossed paths with an amateur football (aka soccer) player from Ghana at Corniche Beach in Abu Dhabi.
Later on that day, we met at a rooftop revolving restaurant with panoramic views of the capital city, before dancing the night away to Afrobeats at the club across the street. As we sipped cocktails, he told me about his love for football. He’d never worked a regular job, other than selling tomatoes for his family as a child.
With exuberance, he proclaims “I like football too much, wallah (I promise in Arabic)” in his Ghanaian accent.
He continues to express his love for the game “when I’m sad playing football makes me happy” and seals it with a click of his tongue.
“Football has given me too many opportunities” he exclaims.
What I comprehended from our merry conversation, his passion is his provision; every day doing what he loved. He wasn’t trading time for money but trading time for enjoyment. Eureka!
Was he a living testament to Confucious’ quote, “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”?
My flight left the next morning for the USA. We communicated through video calls. I was amazed and a little jealous, that he only “worked” officially two hours a day. What manner of living is this?
I was both inspired and intrigued by this gentleman’s life.
Before I gave this dream career the thorough examination required, in a year, I had resigned from my secure and comfortable government career of 7 years (the longest I had ever held a job) and moved over 7,500 miles to the UAE to live this imaginative life of enjoyment. So much for retiring from the government.
In 2019, I struck out to trade time for enjoyment.
I took the entire year to get better acquainted with myself, basically discovering what I enjoy. 2019 consisted of travel to eight countries (which included a 10-day meditation camp in India and one month in France), 365 days of journaling, thirty-one purpose books such as The Artist’s Way, Man’s Search For Meaning, Seat of The Soul, and my all-time favorite, The Alchemist.
I created a speaker’s packet which led to my first international speaking gig in Kumasi, Ghana at a women’s conference. I even had an interpreter.
Next, I began a blog (www.findingchalandamichelle.com) documenting my life lessons while living abroad.
I joined an advanced Toastmasters club, with seasoned speakers and started working towards Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest achievement in the organization.
When It Rain It Pours
As history would repeat itself, once I changed the trajectory of my life, all hell broke loose.
Oh, the amateur football player I mentioned earlier, I married him. He got injured in February 2019 and the Ghana Football Association wouldn’t release him as a free player for his first opportunity to play as a professional in the UAE. Later in the year, he signed with another team. The coach got sacked and the new coach brought his own players. Daniel was without a team in January 2020. I had a miscarriage in February 2020. Then a global pandemic. Just to name a few.
So what to do? Retreat back to America? This was no longer long-distance dating but it would be a long-distance marriage. Daniel suggested that I go back to the USA until he acquired another team. But what was I going back to? I had packed all my life possessions in two suitcases and one included only books. For this very reason, I “burned the ships” so I couldn’t go back.
According to the Holmes-Rahe statistical prediction model, my stress score was well beyond 300 points. The model predicted a score of this magnitude has an 80% chance of health breakdown in the next two years. Consequently, I created a 6-step system (which has now evolved into a 9-step program) to relieve stress which I still use today.
As a result, I completed the Distinguished Toastmaster path during the pandemic.
I had one virtual speaking engagement that was streamed in the UAE & Nigeria.
Also, I was a guest on a podcast that was recorded in the United Kingdom that I have yet to hear.
The Lesson Learned
Two and a half years overseas and four international jobs later, I’m learning to manage my resources so I can stick to trading my time for total enjoyment. Exchanging passion for provision is still a work in progress.
Writing this essay has revealed two things:
- I need to resuscitate my vigor for writing and speaking by participating fully in my Toastmasters club again. Last year, I was an Area Director so I focused more on leadership than speaking.
- I need to actively pursue the Accredited Speaker certification. For the most part, after each certification and degree, I got a pay raise.
Momma, your big payday is coming soon. Inshaallah (God willing in Arabic).
When I think about succumbing to trading time for money, I reflect on advice from a 5th-century king in his search for wisdom about the meaning of life; and a 7th-century clairvoyant’s advice to exhibit faith and patience as I persist to exchange passion for provision.
“Enjoy the work you have to do in life. Every time you find work to do, do it the best you can.”
“So begin planting early in the morning and don’t stop working until evening. You don’t know what might make you rich. Maybe everything you do will be successful.”
“You should enjoy every day of your life, no matter how long you live. But remember that you will die, and you will be dead much longer than you were alive. And after you are dead, you cannot do anything.”
“For the vision is yet for the appointed [future] time, It hurries toward the goal [of fulfillment]; it will not fail. Even though it delays, wait [patiently] for it, Because it will certainly come; it will not delay.”