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I looked down to the auditorium floor between my feet. I could see the silhouette of my upper body and head but not a clear reflection. The floor was shiny but scuffed by the plastic chairs used for many occasions and the sporting events held here. I continued to stare for a while. The speaker/teacher was reading out last names beginning with K and granting them diplomas; I was an N, so I would be called soon. I was lost in my thoughts as I looked down at my shadow on the floor.
I do not know if it was the roast beef dinner prepared by the culinary students, the humidity of the gymnasium, or my nerves. It was probably all of the above with an asterisk beside nerves for emphasis. I began to think, or perhaps the better way to say it would be to say that I began to question what I was to do once this ceremony was over. Is this what I really wanted? I failed my first year of university and thought that I’d better try college and get my marketing diploma. What other choice did I have? Upgrade my high school? Maybe business was not for me, I thought, and I had overlooked the subtle hint of that truth that failure at university should have been for me. I blamed that failure on independence, on being nineteen and away from home for the first time, with no father dictating what I should do and how to do it. I preferred beer and pizza to books and tests.
I was starting to get scared about going out into the working world without the protection of school. I complained about this place while I went, but now it seemed like I wished I could be back in my first year. I had to accept the fact that I could not turn back time and that I was getting older. The expectations I held for myself had to be fulfilled with the passing of time, but before too much time had passed. By twenty-five, I hoped to have a wife, to be thinking aboutstarting a family, and have a home — the “picket fence” thing.
I quietly belched into my fist and quickly lifted up my head. I had brought up some of my dinner and hoped that it was first year students who prepared this decadent meal and not graduates, because they still seemed to have much to learn. I took a drink while waiting to start my walk up to accept the pieces of paper that gave purpose to my life for the past three years, four if you counted the fun at university.
“Along with his Business Administration Marketing Diploma and Human Resources Certificate, Greg Noack is also the recipient of the Student Leadership Award.”
“Hmmm,” I muttered to myself as I stood up and made my way through the maze of people sitting at their tables. I was surprised by the award, and proud of myself, I think. I climbed the four stairs to the stage and shook the speaker’s hand.
“Congratulations, Greg, and good luck.”
I turned away and began my walk back to my seat with a smattering of applause echoing in the large auditorium, mostly Mom and the people at my table. While walking I was perplexed by two things, the good luck comment by the speaker and the unexpected leadership award. What had I led myself into?
I graduated from college in 1995 at the age of twenty-three and set out to find a job in Windsor, Ontario. Unlike the majority of my classmates, I decided not to go on to university and get my bachelor’s degree for business in the fall. I took my chances in the competitive job market with a diploma but no degree, a chance that did not pay off. This was yet another key decision I made in my life that backfired.
When the leaves on the trees started to change colour, I was still without work. I was becoming frustrated but continued to beat the pavement for work. My persistence finally paid off, however, and after a series of interviews, I became the manager in training for a discount department store. But my satisfaction would quickly turn to anger, stress, and frustration.
The three months of training to become a manager were like boot camp. Hour-long commutes to different stores and unloading freight made me question the title of manager. I did become a manager eventually, but it was short-lived because three months was all I could take. My salary was 28,500 Canadian dollars per year. When I signed my contract, it seemed like a large amount for the forty-five to fifty hours a week I expected, but it was not enough for the seventy to eighty hours I actually worked.
After quitting, I doubted my quick departure as I was back in the job market with my working ability in question. Explaining why I had left this job after six months was a hindrance and even seemed to ruin my chances of getting other work as future employers made sure to question that fact and to point out that I was only a manager for three months.
“So Greg, why did you leave?” a prospective employer would ask.
“Because they worked my butt off and treated me like crap” is how I wanted to answer, but instead I would reply, “Lack of upper management support.”
The interviewer then would wince and show me the door, which was something I would grow accustomed to over the next three months. In my four years of post secondary schooling, I was never taught how to respond to such a question. The college, I assume, did not want to give the impression that you could fail when you graduate.
Job opportunities were not the only things I was having difficulty finding. My girl hunting, in chauvinistic terms, was at a low point. It had been three years since my last serious relationship. Though this was on my mind, employment was still my major concern. Not having a paycheck did not allow for too many dinners, movies, and gifts. So a good job was something I thought was essential to finding a partner in life.
In spite of this lack of success, however, my life after graduation was starting to pick up speed somewhat like an avalanche. Time was moving very fast and I was swept up in it. Minutes were like seconds, hours like minutes, weeks like days, and months like weeks. The end of June rolled around, and still I had no direction in my life. My mother, on the other hand, did. She had re-established a connection with her high school sweetheart and got married in May. I guess the third time was a charm as Brian was my mother’s third husband.
Brian is a wonderful, caring man whom my mother certainly deserved. The only drawback was that he lived in British Columbia. My mother had planned to move out West at the end of October, and through her plans, I derived one as well. Since I was having no luck with the job market and relationship department, why not go out West myself?