How I Broke Through the Glass Ceiling, Quit the Rat Race, and Put Myself on the Path to Financial Freedom (And How You Can, Too)
When I graduated from Mid-State Technical College in May 2003 with an Associate’s Degree in Marketing, I intended to apply my education to a career in music. As I’d already been recording in studios all around Wisconsin since age 17, had multiple live gigs under my belt, and become a “triple threat”, in terms of my ability to produce music, write lyrics, and perform well on stage, I figured there was no way I couldn’t succeed—except for one small (and by small, I mean BIG) problem: Like most college graduates, I had no money.
With that fact in mind, and a mind to change it, I did what most people in my situation would have done, which is apply for a job, and it wasn’t long before I landed my first full-time gig in a customer service call center, resolving cell phone insurance claims.
That job paid about $10.00/hour, which was more than I’d ever made working at McDonald’s and as a dishwasher during college, plus it offered benefits such as health and dental insurance and a 401K, and so I thought to myself, “This will do for now”, and committed to the idea of only staying at that job long enough to save up enough money to move out of my parents’ house and into an apartment of my own, where I could record my music any time I wanted, start my own record label, and pave the way for me to eventually get signed by a large independent label or maybe even one of the big ones, like Atlantic.
But then a funny thing happened: A friend of mine who I worked with said to me, “Hey, this place in Wausau called WPS Health Insurance is hiring, and they pay more than this place and have better benefits, too. Apparently they just won some kind of military healthcare contract and are on a hiring spree, and I’m going to apply. I think you’d be a great fit for them and you should apply, too.”
At the time, my friend had been working two jobs; the call center gig with me and another, part-time gig as a Coca-Cola merchandiser, and he’d recently had a child, so he desperately wanted to cut himself down from two jobs to just one, so he could spend more time with his family. That made perfect sense to me, and after I gave what he said to me some serious thought, I thought that me applying for the WPS gig and relocating to Wausau (which was about 50 miles from my then home) made perfect sense for me, too.
And with that, I went ahead and made the same colossal mistake that most college graduates, nay, most people, in general tend to make, when I left one shitty, low-paying, dead-end job for another shitty, low-paying, dead-end job that paid just slightly more than the previous one.
ONE OF THE BIGGEST EMPLOYMENT-RELATED MISTAKES OF MY ENTIRE LIFE
I bought wholeheartedly into the vague promises that almost all employers make to their hourly wage earners; the promise of the potential for overtime to make extra money on the weekends, the promise of the potential for annual wage increases, the promise of unlimited upward mobility, or the ability to be promoted within the company quickly, and, of course, the promise of wonderful benefits such as a 401K with company match, a pension, and all the insurance for me and any family I would start that so could ever need. “Sign me up!” I essentially said, with zero hesitation, and “When can I start?”
It turned out that I would start on 11/08/2004, and I remember that day like some people remember the day JFK was assassinated or the day 9/11 happened, because, for me, that day would turn out to be one of the most game-changing moments of my life, because on that day that I took a seat beneath the “glass ceiling”, inside of a 6′ by 6′ cubicle with a phone strapped to my head and my leg shackled to a desk, and officially began trading my time for money, while simultaneously putting my musical aspirations on the back-burner.
If you are unfamiliar with the “glass ceiling”, it is an invisible, albeit widely acknowledged, barrier to personal growth and development that exists within a workplace which stifles one’s ability to gain influence, be promoted, or increase his/her income. When I started working full-time straight out of college, I’d never heard of such a thing, and I, unfortunately, wouldn’t become fully aware of the consequences of acquiescing to one until after I’d wasted 7.5 years of my 20’s—what could have been (and should have been) some of the most productive years of my life—slaving away at WPS, never being promoted beyond my initial 30-day probationary period (despite my best efforts and multiple internal applications), and living paycheck-to-paycheck, despite having gone from about $10.50/hour to, I believe, $15.84/hour.
By the time June of 2012 had come, I’d spent about 5.5 years at the company answering incoming phone calls 90% of the time, with paperwork making up the remaining 10%, and my last two years on an all-female (except for me) “dedicated written” team that did nothing but paperwork all day, every day, and I was burned out.
I routinely fell asleep at my desk in the middle of the day, despite getting a full night’s sleep every night, propped myself up, energy-wise, with sugary drinks, caffeine, and high-carb, salty junk food like potato chips, and went home every night thinking about how I was wasting the most productive hours of my days doing work that didn’t matter to me; that didn’t inspire me, instead of making some kind of a difference in the lives of others that the world would actually remember me for when I die.
Eventually, me and my nervous system couldn’t take it anymore and I “snapped”—literally.
THE “GLASS CEILING” WASN’T YET BROKEN, BUT I WAS
I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I was at the gym one morning in June 2012, doing dumbbell rows, when I suffered a severe neck spasm which sent me to urgent care and earned me a bottle of prescription painkillers and several days off from work—days that I would spend thinking long and hard about my future and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Although I had no idea where I would go from there, I knew one thing for certain, which was that I couldn’t stay at WPS; I couldn’t keep doing slave labor for slave wages, earning just enough to survive, and holding myself back by working for people or a company that clearly didn’t appreciate my loyalty or all the hard work I’d put in for them over the last 7.5 years.
A few days later, I returned to WPS, but just for one day, during which I had a very candid conversation with Human Resources whereby I informed them that that day would be my final day at the company. When asked for specifics as to why I was leaving, I was blunt. I told them that I’d spent 7.5 years working for them and had never once been promoted or even, I’d believed, seriously considered for a promotion, despite the fact that my work had been top-notch since day one and that I was at least as skilled, if not more so, than the majority of my co-workers, as well as one of the most ambitious people in the call center. Simply put, I was too good for the company; I had outgrown them long ago and it was time for me to move on, even if moving on meant jumping off a cliff with no safety net, which, as it would turn out, is essentially exactly what I was doing by quitting with no notice.
You see, when I left WPS, I had no backup plan. I hadn’t applied to any other jobs, hadn’t even begun looking for other work to do, and, frankly, hadn’t been interested in looking for other work, at least not the kind that would involve me being stuck in a cubicle for 40 hours a week again. But I wasn’t concerned about that, because at the time I was broken, and I knew instinctively that the only thing that could fix me was an extreme amount of change; a “new lease on life”, if you will, that could only be achieved through me setting fire to everything I thought I knew about the way the world worked, in terms of how we earn a living and provide for ourselves, and building something new—and, I hoped, beautiful—out of the ashes.
As “luck” would have it, it didn’t take long for me to experience the change I so desperately needed, as my twin brother had recently gotten involved with door-to-door sales of an online marketing service and mentioned to me that I should give it a shot, as I had nothing to lose, being that I was unemployed (or as I liked to call it, a “free agent”), and it was nothing like call center work. I could make my own schedule, he said, meet a lot of new and interesting people, put my Marketing degree to good use for once, and help small businesses make more money themselves. It was an excellent opportunity, he thought, for me to make the kind of difference in the lives of others that I wanted so badly to make, and I agreed.
Needless to say, I gave the door-to-door gig a shot, and I am glad I did (and forever grateful to God for giving me the opportunity), because even though it ultimately didn’t last long (only three months) or work out the way I’d expected it to (I didn’t make any money doing it and, in fact, lost money doing it), I came away from the experience with a clear understanding of what I truly value most in this life, which is freedom; the freedom to work as long and hard as I like, to make my own schedule and come and go as I please, and to put my own price tag on me and my time, which I, by the way, consider to be my most valuable asset.
That understanding—that freedom, and not money, is my number one priority—is worth more than all the money and all of the 401Ks and benefits packages in the world, because it bought me something that no amount of money could ever buy: The desire to avoid the “glass ceiling” at all costs and to never allow my history at WPS to repeat itself.
Now, I’m not going to lie: Post-WPS, I did end up going back to work in three different call centers for three different companies in three different cities as I struggled to determine which direction I wanted to take my life in and eventually relocated to and settled down in my first house in Green Bay, Wisconsin with my wife (who I met in April 2014 and married in August 2016), but never again did I approach such work with the same mindset with which I’d approached my work at WPS.
Never again did I look at those jobs in call centers, the longest of which lasted only about 21 months, as my desired end in and of themselves (as in, jobs I would hang onto until I would “retire” sometime after age 65, assuming I’d live that long). Instead, I saw them simply as the means to my desired end or stepping stones on the way to the entrepreneurial, financially-free lifestyle that I’d always believed I deserved but could never quite figure out how to attain previously.
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To be honest, I still don’t have this whole “achieving financial freedom” thing figured out, and despite me having quit my last full-time call center gig in February 2016 to focus on the release of my first book (Breaking Away: Book One of the Rabylon Series, now available as Kindle e-book, in paperback, and as an Audible audio book) and the development of this blog and my Manifestation Machine personal growth and development brand, and despite me having earned nearly three quarters of a million dollars between October 2014 and April 2016, I’m still not sure that I won’t ever be compelled to take another call center job, or some kind of day job, to support me and my family until my ultimate freedom finally arrives.
But one thing I am sure of is the fact that I will never again accept the presence of a “glass ceiling” in my life. And you shouldn’t, either, because such a thing prevents us from spreading our wings and flying, or from reaching our full potential. And on the off chance that we do become airborne, if only for a brief moment in time, it will place a firm (and artificial) limit on just how high we can go, and that, my friend, doesn’t sound like freedom; it doesn’t sound like happiness; it doesn’t sound like success.
So in conclusion, if the next time you look up and see a “glass ceiling” staring back at you, don’t just “fake it ’til you make it”—in other words, don’t just accept such artificial and arbitrary limitation in your life as if it were normal or just because everyone else seems to be doing so—because the truth is, no one “makes it” by “faking it”; they “make it” by breaking it, and the sooner you understand and adopt this philosophy, the sooner you’ll stop running in the rat race and the sooner you’ll find yourself running the rat race.
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