The late, great Jimmy Valvano said, “You gotta know where you started, where you are, and where you’re gonna be.” The words from his 1993 Espy Speech have always kept me motivated, but they’ve also kept me grounded. With that being said, I thought it would be good to look at where I started…

I had things all figured out. Ever since I was a little kid, I knew I wanted to be a businessman.  From first grade all the way through high school, I always found a way to make money: chalk statues, reselling airheads, hemp jewelry – even dream catchers. Equipped with this entrepreneurial spirit, it seemed only logical that college would help me to really thrive in business.

I went to college at the University of Oregon, busting my ass to graduate in three years with an honors business degree.  I had Cum Laude distinction, I was involved in tons of extracurriculars; in essence, I was the best thing since sliced bread. Honestly what company wouldn’t hire me? In my mind, I’d be making six figures in no time.

It’s funny how reality has a blunt way of slapping you right in the face.  The job market looked bleak.  My naivety soon turned to despair. I remember offering to sweep the floors of a commercial real estate firm just to get my feet in the door.  That was a no go…

It was a random e-mail that caught my attention: one of my friends in Boston was starting a clothing business and wanted to run the business plan by me. The word document attached was nothing more than a bulleted list of to do items, including “Rent a Delorean for Trade Show.”  Needless to say, they needed some help.

A week later, I found myself selling most of my life on craigslist. From my Jeep to the living room coffee table that a man insisted on smelling before buying, I was soon surrounded by the bare essentials and ready to trek cross-country in a minivan with my dad.

Within one month of being in Boston, I had written a full 35-page business plan accompanied by a 20-page marketing plan. Within two months, I had developed an online store, multiple social media accounts, and a sales plan to approach boutiques.  (Plus I moonlighted as a bartender, worked with my town’s government, and painted houses to pay the bills.)

Within three months, I was asked to leave the company… Probably because I felt 10 AM bong rips and closing down at 3 PM weren’t the best choices for a start up company…  the owner tended to see it a little differently.

So I did what any 22-year-old would do in that situation, I took the first job that came my way.  I got a huge salary bump from probably $15,000 a year to $30,000 a year… before taxes. In translation, I was job rich and cash poor – – far from that six-figure salary I dreamt of.

The job was horrible. My boss was a nice guy, and he meant well, but I think we both knew this was only temporary.  My coworkers looked like the soul had been sucked out of them: the most exciting thing was getting the first cup of hot coffee from the 1980s percolator. It was a sad, miserable existence.  Not to mention, the creepy kid with the big eyes and deafening cackle that would stare at me over the cubicle as he spoke on the phone. Best of all, he ate with his mouth open and had a wonderful way of moaning as he chewed his smelly turkey sandwiches. It was a real-life “Office Space” without Lumberg.

After the first three weeks of working in this office, I started looking for another job.  One month passed, two months, three months, and before I knew it, the creepy kid congratulated me on nine months at the office.  Over those nine months, I learned some great tricks:

  • How to take an hour and a half lunch break
  • How to fake sick or “lose a relative”
  • How to make all the roads in your town “unsafe” for driving
  • How to pretend you like sports so you can make friends in the office
  • How to milk a $25/day travel stipend by frequenting happy hours
  • How to use the manager’s Keurig when he leaves the room
  • How to play games on your iPod in the bathroom until your leg falls asleep
  • How to change from a suit into your work clothes in a Dunkin Donuts bathroom

The list goes on, and I kid you not when I say that this was quite an educational experience.  But like all horrible things, this tea party had to end. If only I knew what I was beginning…

Stay tuned… It gets better.

Jake Burns