Somewhere in the background cue balls shattered another intricately racked 8-ball formation while tipsy chatter veiled hushed conversations like so much smoke from so many cigarettes. Sometime during the night, the bartender switched every glass holding alcohol into cheap, red plastic cups. It was a not-so-subtle tell that last call was coming soon. Somewhere in the background, the jukebox wailed a Van Morrison tune.
Three out of the four of us were packing up our equipment while the fourth, our intrepid leader, talked business with the owner of this establishment over in the corner. Our home base was one block up so there was no car pack. Some of us smoked and played air hockey waiting for our fourth to arrive. Our leader was probably lining up future gigs and getting a clearer picture of where we would play next. Our band was hard working, loud and melodic, completely occupied by drunk idiots and had, on several, fleeting occasions, the potential to become a mainstay on the local circuit. In a few minutes we’d be on our way to an all-night diner to soak up an evening’s share of cheap keg-beer rotting our stomachs. We’d eat, we’d laugh, we’d commiserate because tonight was a special night. Tonight was our official first paying gig as a band.
“Alright guys, let’s head out,” said our leader upon his return. That last little bit of warm beer still swirled in my cup. “Dude!” I said as we collected ourselves, “We got paid, right?”
“Dude,” he countered, “you’re drinking it,” glancing down at the red cup in my hand. No actual money exchanged hands.
In the short time that we were together, I caught a small taste of what it was like to work independently and have it be meaningful; to be a contractor of sorts. Up until and even years and years afterwards, I have always blindly burdened myself with the notion that in order to become successful, you needed to work for someone else. Perhaps that’s what my motivation was when I decided to become an actor (although I would probably never admit it at the time)? I went to school to learn acting as a craft, even headed to New York, only waking up many years later finding myself floating from one dead end job to another and moving further and further away from what I set out to do. In the short time that we were together, I knew what it was like to love what you do. A few months later, we disbanded.
Years later, you call me up out of the blue to catch up. It was a welcome surprise. It was also a welcome surprise in the years that followed where we’d talk as if decades haven’t passed. The first time we caught up, you told me that you made a break for the west coast. You said you started out working in a coffee shop but you couldn’t see yourself lasting as a barrista and you made that leap into the unknown and formed a band. A band that stayed together for a while, went on tour, released a few albums, achieved a measure of success. But that wasn’t enough for you, you started another band, even went solo for a while, and eventually started your own company. Every step you took brought you further into happiness and well being and every time I thought about this, I could not help being slightly jealous.
I was jealous of the fact that you got your life together. I was jealous of the fact that everything seemed to work out for you. But here’s the real kicker, it’s not just you. I cannot help but feel at least slightly jealous of the people I know that had the bravery to step off of the treadmill. Of which there are quite a few. I only bring this up now because I think I figured it out.
I have always blindly burdened myself with the notion that in order to become successful, you needed to work for someone else. Up until recently, this is an infallible rule for me. I have discovered that this is not necessarily the case. Success is not measured by loyalty. It is measured on what you do you with the time that is presented to you. I am in my mid-forties now and the echoes of our band are still noticeable these many years later. For my birthday this year, I got laid-off. This would be a bigger shock to the system if this hasn’t happened to me before, or if I was younger and more ambitious to take over the world. But, I’m much older and wiser than that guy in that band. That time you called me out of the blue, you said, “if I don’t do this now, I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance again.” It’s been many years since you said that to me. It just now finally started to sink in. Now, I realize that I might be better off being my own boss rather than spending most of my life trying to find one. Now I realize that following your dreams and doing what you love aren’t just catch phrases to sell self help books and greeting cards, it might be a viable alternative. Because as it stands right now, it might be my only option. If I don’t do this now, I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance again. I get it now.
And I am no longer jealous.
Fear would destroy me every time I lost my job because I didn’t see any alternative to punching a time clock. It was either work crap jobs for crappier pay or oblivion.These days, I will gladly take that fear and have it motivate me to do the things that I love because now I see the alternative from a different perspective. The jobs are more scarce, they say companies are hiring but it sounds like folklore, like myth. I woke up recently and decided that I still have a craftsman’s heart. I have the drive and ambition, the money will come later once I figure out how to get paid from it. I get it now. I thank you for planting that seed in my head years ago.
Namaste, old friend. I hope all is well with you. Look me up sometime, these days I have plenty of time to spare.