In 2007, a Washington, DC cab driver inspired me to quit my job to find my purpose.
I can still hear the menacing dial tone in my brain to this day and the advice, oh God, the advice. “If you keep your hand on the button in the phone cradle and don’t put the handset down you can make almost 10 more cold calls in an hour,” they’d say. “Swallow the frog, Zach, and just make the call,” they’d repeat. “If you throw enough %&^@ at the wall something will stick!” “Hey, Are you leaving for the day already?”
It was 6:00 p.m.
Remembering it now, that back wall of the anonymous grey cubicle, in that anonymous Washington, DC suburb seemed dirty, almost stained. Probably worn out by the four or five radio advertising salespeople promised high commissions that had come before me; probably in that same year.
My mornings went something like this:
“Hi this is Zach from [DC Radio Station], are you looking for – [click].”
“Hi this is Zach from [DC Radio Station], are you looking for – ” “%^*& you, don’t call again.” [click].
“Hi – [click].”
Not exactly the type of work that shakes you out of bed in the morning.
I literally sold air.
But hey, this is what I was supposed to do. Put it my time, work my way up the ladder, buy a new car, get a big house, have a family, and retire. People told me this was a good job. My parents were so proud I had even gotten a job. The guy at my college career center got to add me to the job placement statistics, and the girl I was dating at the time thought it was so cool I got to work at a radio station. At happy hours, I could tell people, “I’m in advertising.”
I even got to wear a suit!
Screw that suit.
It was wool and I had to wear it every damn day, even in the middle of July, in DC. What’s the problem with that you might be asking? Well, the problem was I was driving a 1998 Jeep Cherokee with the added recent-college-graduate feature of no air conditioning and driving inside, outside, and around the beltway to sales calls all day.
Ironically, when I was in college, I virtually picked my career in advertising based on the idea of wearing that suit and driving around to sales calls – it sounded cool. It’s funny how when you idolize something material, when you actually acquire it, you realize how stupid it was to ever idolize it.
For any graduating college students out there reading this blog, what I am about to tell you next, I do NOT condone! I was so drained in my job that sometimes I would leave for two to three hours at a time, go to a sales call, and then go sit at a park – Gravelly Point right near Reagan National Airport. I would just sit there on the hood of my jeep and fantasize about what all of the people coming and going on those planes did. Were they happy? Fulfilled? Did they all really have jobs like mine? Is this really what it’s all about?
Gosh, I loved that park. If there is one thing I miss about the hairball that is the beltway, it’s that park. You can be nobody and everybody there. Just get lost in watching those planes come and go.
That’s exactly where I was the moment I woke up and realized that there was another way to live and work: An alternative to the drudgery, a different outlook, and a different perspective.
One day, just like all of the others, I parked the old Jeep and watched the planes. That was when a cab pulled into the park (which they normally did if they were picking up at the airport). The driver got out, lit up a cigarette, looked up at the sky and grinned. I tried not to make eye contact for the fear of having to do small talk, you do NOT make small talk in DC.
He had other plans.
How’s work today?” I remember him asking.
“Okay.” I grumbled. “Almost the weekend.” (It was Monday). “How about you?” I obliged back.
“Great,” he said, genuinely. I was perplexed. He continued, laughing, “I get to drive a car around and talk to new people every half-hour. Can’t beat it.”
He was serious. For some reason, I expected this cab driver to absolutely hate his job. He loved it. You see, he wasn’t just a cab driver. He never said “Hey, I get to be a cab driver!” He said that he gets to drive a car around and talk to new people every half-hour. It just happens that he was a cab driver.
He understood the purpose of his work. Why didn’t I have that? I wanted that. Could I have that?
I went back to the station and quit my first job out of college before a year was up. “Just stay at least a year, it will look better on your resume,” they told me. But in that moment, I decided that my soul is far more important than a PDF file with a list of accomplishments.
And yes, I am okay. A bit obsessed with the idea of living and leading with purpose, but I’m fine.
Ever since that small, anonymous moment talking with that cab driver I have been engrossed with the idea of how meaning and purpose can transform our lives and our work.