Believe it or not, I wasn’t always a superstar employee. Not that you’d know I ever was, but go with me on this. In truth, my history as an employee is rather spotty. This is why I started and ran my own business. It’s much harder to get fired when you’re the boss. And believe me, I tried.
Growing up, the jobs I excelled in the most were those where my contributions were valued. When they weren’t, well, I had about a 12-month track record before “moving on.” Interpret that how you like. It’s not that I planned it this way, but looking back, the longest I stayed at any job, with few exceptions, was about 12 months.
One of those exceptions was being my own boss, a job I held for 20 years. More than once, I wished I could have fired myself, but alas, it paid the bills.
Another exception was shortly after high school and before I left for college. Back then, I was an all-star employee… and still almost got myself fired. All because I played the wrong station on the radio.
Well, sort of.
I Wasn’t Always This Way
First of all, you have to know that young me was, well… hyperactive. Rambunctious, some would say. Others would say annoying.
After graduating high school, I went to work for a friend’s dad. I’ve known his family for years and, more importantly, they had known me. I was a good kid, always staying just shy of getting into big trouble. I knew the limits and only sometimes crossed them.
My friend’s dad had recently purchased my parent’s company. I knew a thing or two about some aspects of the business (the delicate art of folding cardboard boxes), so he hired me to help out. I think it was no secret that he did so with some trepidation.
Initially, I didn’t get to work in the factory. I was his gopher. I mowed lawns, washed cars, and ran whatever errands he gave me. For whatever reason, I made an impression. A good one, if you can believe it. It seemed not a week went by that he didn’t give me a raise, a quarter of a dollar/hour at a time.
Moving up the Ladder
It wasn’t long before I was no longer his errand boy, and he brought me to the factory, doing the things I knew how to do so well. And that went swimmingly. Most people started in the factory’s woodworking area, but I got to work in the main office and finishing building.
Within just a few months, I was the key player on this side of the business. I wasn’t running anything, but I quickly moved to the top of the food chain when it came to the job roles. I moved from box-folder to poster-cutter to board-mounter and then on to pouring the resin finish onto the plaques.
Depending on the time of year, I was often the only one in the resin room, working by myself with the radio blasted. Other times, I’d have a partner helping me. We’d play word games as we worked and listen to the radio.
On the rare occasion, my boss would be in the resin room helping out. Sometimes he’d play the games too. Sometimes he wasn’t in the mood. And sometimes, I didn’t know the difference.
Turn Up the Radio
It turns out that the radio station I liked wasn’t the station my boss liked. But hey, it was my resin room, so I get to choose the radio station, right? Apparently, my 20-year-old self didn’t know better.
One day in particular, I already had the radio playing the station I liked. We were in the rush season, so my boss entered the resin room to help. He promptly changed the radio station to some adult-contemporary snooze fest. Now, keep in mind, the radio wasn’t blasting–he was too old for that (though probably younger than I am now.) It was quiet, so we could easily talk over it without yelling.
When my boss stepped out for a second, I took the opportunity to change the station back to the one I liked. Surely he wouldn’t notice. And for a while, he didn’t.
Until he did.
The music played softly in the background, and, for whatever reason, he realized I had changed the station. He changed it back. The next time he stepped out, I changed it back back. We went on a while longer before he noticed it. This time, he wasn’t so nice about it. He told me to knock it off.
I took the next opportunity to change it again when he wasn’t paying attention. Then I got yelled at. He changed it back to his station, and, well, I snuck it back to my station at the very next opportunity.
Well, I Thought it was Funny
Turns out, while I thought we were playing a game, my boss was deadly serious. This fact dawned on me when he noticed it for the last time. He was so mad, he kicked my boombox across the room.
Yeah, I guess I deserved that.
Oh, and he broke his toe in the process.
Yeah, he deserved that.
I almost got fired that day. Good thing I was such a stellar employee because otherwise, I would have been. We soon learned to laugh about that day. Well, I did. I’m not sure he ever did.
Nonetheless, he kept me on as a valued employee, and we continued to have many good days together. He even demanded that I give him a year’s notice before quitting, which I did right then and there. And literally left one year later.
In all, I managed to learn a valuable lesson… sometimes people are not joking.
Okay, so, I haven’t really learned that lesson. But I like to tell myself I did.