Do you spend time daydreaming about getting a really great new job? You know, one that will give you all the opportunities to grow and shine and fulfill all of your potential. Of course, it will also pay you way more than the job you currently have and that means success and security for you and your family. That’s one good reason that you get up every morning and go to work in the first place. Financial security and job fulfillment all rolled up into one big ball sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it?
That’s what I always thought and let me tell you this, it doesn’t always quite work out that way. Sure, earning a bundle and getting a title, a company car, perks and prestige sounds like a dream to you, but keep in mind a big key word here: work! They don’t call it “vacation” for a good reason, so while you may dream about some pie-in-the-sky opportunity, it might lead to you getting the “best job ever” and you might wind up hating it!
My True Story of Success Creating Failure
Today I am going to shatter that lens you may see me through when you read my sage words of advice each week.
I like to tell people about my successful career in life, and although I had a pretty good one, it wasn’t always as advertised. In fact, I think I can say honestly that the best job I ever had actually played a large part in why my long first marriage failed and ended in divorce. Why? Because I put my career and earnings ahead of my family and got caught up in a real pressure cooker of my own doing. I became the job and was no longer “Gary”, the person I used to be.
Am I being too rough on myself? Maybe just a little, but I’m not that far off the mark here. Your job is very important, but it’s not all that’s important and I can attest to it.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying!
No, it’s not just the title of a book, play, and movie from the days of my youth. It actually happens, although the “not really trying” part may be a fantasy. I became successful, but I did try very hard to get there. I thought that I had the right smarts to do it and I found out that there is actually a few little secrets to getting there. Now, I am going to reveal some of them to you.
If you try these steps to success that I used, you have a better chance of getting your “dream job”…if that’s what you really want.
Step #1 – Know What You Really Want
When anyone ever looks back at their life, one of the big questions they always ask themselves is a simple one. It goes like this: “Why the F did I ever do that?”
I can tell you without question that people who know what they want and focus on it from an early part of their life (in this case work life) wind up achieving more and doing it so their bottom line translates into happiness and security. Those without a clear goal and plan usually wind up with the WTF mentality and questions. Don’t believe me? As Lizzo says, “Baby, how you feelin’?”
I will grant you that in the beginning of your work life, you always have to make concessions. Even if your dad is your boss, it happens. There are dues to pay, for sure. But having a plan and focus will come into play pretty quickly, so best be prepared.
Step #2 – Project Self-Confidence
Don’t just be the reliable “go-to guy” all the time. Be the guy who has ideas and doesn’t wait for opportunities, but creates them. It’s a good idea to be aggressive when you see daylight. I liken it to a running back in the NFL. Which ones do you remember: the guy that plows straight ahead and is gang-tackled for a gain of two? Or the one who sees the blocking and sweeps around the sidelines and heads all the way into the end zone? Really, football metaphors here and I am not even a fan, go figure.
Step #3 – Find a Mentor
I swear to you that most successful people love to talk about it and tell you how you can do it, too. (Isn’t that what I am doing here?)
If you follow step 1 and 2, then getting to step 3 is actually easier. The mentor you want and need will seek you out because you are attracting their attention. Having a mentor is like having those blockers on the football field making your road to success and the end zone easier, if that is what you really want. That is exactly what happened to me.
Harry (not his real name) was the guy that found me, and damn, did he teach me a lot. He taught and I listened and he did “good” because to this day I keep all those lessons in my head and sometimes share them with others in a payback moment. Here’s just one of those mentor lessons that has stuck with me like glue.
The A-and-B Principle
Did you ever have a great idea, but when you proposed it to the powers that be, they just didn’t jump on it and embrace it? I am betting that has happened way more often than not and have you ever wondered why? After all, your idea is a winner, isn’t it? But here’s the catch and the gem that Harry taught me.
If it’s your idea and decision and you are some upstart inexperienced kid touting it, it has about as much chance of seeing the light of day as a snowball in hell does of surviving more than two minutes.
Managers, executives, and owners love being the ones who make all of the decisions, mainly cause they are in control and it’s usually their money, business, and reputations that they are most concerned with (more on that at another time). That’s where A and B comes into play.
Harry taught me that whenever presenting some new exciting idea to senior managers, always give them a choice. Never just say “here’s how I think we should do it”. The way to present it is to come up with two ways that actually work and that you are happy to present, and let them pick one. Hence present A and B and no matter which one is chosen, you are still a very happy guy!*
*You can even try this one with your spouse, although I can’t claim it has ever worked at home, just at the office.
OK, Why Did I Want a New Dream Job?
Back in the early 1990’s, I was doing pretty well at the department stores where I was a successful general store manager. But I also saw that department stores were going through tremendous changes back then, many being acquired and transitioning with culture changes, and my company was going through it almost every year or two during that time frame.
I also saw that the malls (you remember malls, don’t you?) were changing and that specialty stores were becoming much more important in the 90’s and growing tremendously. You might not remember this, but brands like 9 West which had been just a few shoe styles in our shoe department before now were becoming full stores with dozens of styles located right next door to us in the mall. That pattern was growing and repeating everywhere. I could see the light heading right towards me and it was a train heading our way. So I made a big decision. I was going “specialty” and wanted to find my dream job!
How Did I Get My New Dream Job?
Once I decided I wanted to change jobs, I did my homework. I found that there were some categories growing and growing, and they were and have become known as “category killers”. Stores that are overwhelming a particular business and back in the 1990’s they were everywhere. That’s when stores like Bed Bath & Beyond had its beginnings, just to name one giant.
After my idea hatched, I found that pet food stores were a coming specialty store trend. Just think of PetSmart and Petco today and you get the picture. But back in the early 1990’s, there were a ton of pet specialty stores around like Pet Stuff and PetValu and even local chains like the one I eventually wound up at in the Philadelphia market. It had six way underperforming low-profit stores that had all the potential to be the next market superstar in the USA!
Now, I take no credit for the concept here, but the founder of the company was a guy who really had no idea of how to grow his business to the next level and that’s where I came into the picture. His six stores, some of which were converted gas stations, were producing about $6 million a year in sales and profits of about net 2%, an astoundingly low number when you consider the potential. I saw this as a huge opportunity when I found that the company was looking for a new COO to grow the business. Oh and by the way, I was inexperienced in operations and totally unqualified for the job, but I didn’t let any of that stop me!
Step #4 – The List of 100 Ways to Improve the Business
After finding out about the job opening through a business connection, I decided to take a tour of the stores and see what was up. I found them to be badly in need of some professional advice and changes.
The stores were run by pet lovers and although that’s a wonderful quality, it just doesn’t fly when it comes to running a retail business. “Love Hurts” as the song says.
I took along a pad and a pen and starting writing down a list as I toured around the Delaware Valley locations and came up with, wait for it…
The list of 100 ways to improve the business
I’m not kidding, 100 ways. I actually had to cut the list down because I didn’t want to look like a smart ass, LOL.
When I went for the interview, it was going just alright until I mentioned my tour and my list. That’s when I hit pay dirt. I mentioned I had come up with 100 ideas and gave up 3 gems in the conversation (which of course conveniently featured the A-and-B principle) and I had the owner hooked. In fact, he pressed me for more relevant ideas, but here was the catch. I told him he only gets them when I am hired as his new COO.
I got the job and got what I thought was a sweetheart deal including a huge pay increase, company car, and bonus opportunity based on increased profits (which I knew was a given if we implemented my plans). But unfortunately, three years later I was unhappy and going through a divorce and my dream job was essentially to blame. I had put my obsession with money, success, and ego ahead of my children, wife, and friends.
I Thought I Knew What I Didn’t Really Know
Success doesn’t come from just a good idea. It comes from very hard work, sweat, and sacrifice unless you are some very unusual, very lucky person or your name is Aladdin.
I wound up working 50-60 hours a week, six days a week, and driving over 140 miles a day back and forth to work during my tenure as the COO. Every day was worse than the day before. Earning big bucks wasn’t worth it at the cost of my family, but it took three years to undo the damages done and by that time it was too late for us. Let that be a lesson and…
Step #5 – Don’t Be Stupid and Make Money the ONLY Priority in Your Life
I learned that one the hard way.
You can use my five steps at work and in life. In fact, steps 1, 2, 3, and 4 work in just about anything you do. Step 5 is a little different though.
It’s great to learn life lessons from others so you won’t have to experience the bad and the ugly. Maybe the good is better without those experiences.
Are you ok with good rather than great (with major damages)? I hope so. It took me almost ten years to recover from my wounds and that’s why I‘m passing this info on to you. Here’s where Lizzo comes in again, “Baby, how you feelin’?” right now.