While roaming the internet, my girlfriend Marci had stumbled across a video that made her cry. She sent me a link to the video while I was at work. On that day, I really needed the distraction, so I clicked it immediately. The link took me to the website of a local not-for-profit raising awareness about living conditions in a city I had never heard of. Watching that video would change my life.
A few hours earlier, the vice president in charge of sales had been sitting across from me, looking over my files for the annual performance review. After five years with the company, I had grown accustomed to being told that I had room for improvement, but to keep up the good work, and I expected nothing different this year. But my boss surprised me when he said, “This is impressive, Brian.”
“I came across your five year plan from when you first started out. I see that you have exceeded every one of your goals. You must be very pleased!”
“Well, thank you, sir,” I replied, trying to sound as pleased as I was supposed to be. The truth was, I had forgotten all about those goals. On my second day working for Agrimode, I had sat down with my boss to talk about a five year plan. I regurgitated a few objectives I had made up for my second job interview, and he seemed impressed. Of course, at that point, I was just grateful to have a job and didn’t much care about anything beyond that.
“So what’s next?” the VP asked eagerly. “What do the next five years have in store for you?”
A prickling sensation spread across my skin as I contemplated that ominous word: future. “I…uh…I think I’d like to move more into the management side of things,” I said, making it up as I went, “but I don’t really have any specifics at this point.”
“Why don’t you work on that,” he replied, “and get back to me with a plan by the end of the week.”
I spent the rest of the day typing and deleting phrases on a dauntingly blank document. Every time I came up with something, I thought of what my boss said about how pleased I must be. Except that I wasn’t. The only part of my job I actually enjoyed was getting to travel (something I would have to give up with a management position), but the actual job was somewhat depressing.
By the time I had graduated college, I was already a bit cynical toward the “job market.” I had been sending out resumes my entire final semester as a student without securing a single interview. Meanwhile, my peers were securing careers and internships left and right. In August, I ended up jumping on the first job I was offered, selling structures and equipment to mega-farms for a company called Agrimode. It was one of those giant corporations I had learned to criticize as a student, and the clients they sold to were the ones making it hard for farms like my grandfather’s to stay in business. I may have been compromising a few ideals, but at least I was making a paycheck. I could afford to move out of my parents’ house, and the significant commission rate meant I could secure a few extra comforts as well. So, I had been content for a long time. I even got a couple of promotions so that I was working with farmers to plan long-term developments on their property. I was very successful. And very unhappy.
Reflecting on my “achievements” forced me to confront how much I hated the pressure and demands of my job, the corporate greed and dishonesty, and even the simple act of working in sales. Going off to college, I had hoped to someday change the world for the better, and ever since graduating I had only worried about cashing checks. What did that say about me? I couldn’t imagine how miserable I would be after five more years working for this company.
And then I watched the video Marci had sent me. It was very touching, like many similar videos floating around in our highly social justice conscious culture. I didn’t cry while watching the video—that’s not really my thing, but I did glance at the bottom of the page and see the word Jobs. Following that link revealed just one posting: Director of Programs.
The job description was everything I had hoped for without realizing I was hoping for it. There was good pay, opportunities to travel abroad, and I would be making a positive difference in the world for once. I might even get to do a little photography, something that had always been a hobby, but which I had never expected to be relevant in my professional life. Seeing the possibilities of what I could become and dreading the bleak future that seemed to be closing in all around me, I filled out the application right there at my desk.
And I waited. My entire existence was suspended for the next nine days. Then I got the call.