Well, the phone call i was waiting for came in. We’re ready for you to hit the floor. Come in tomorrow at 8:30 am. I told them i’d be there and hung up the phone. I stood up, went to the shed, and retrieved my bin of old shoes. I found a pair of tennis shoes a former coworker had given me that were a little too big. Then i wrapped my toes in ace bandage, put a sock on, fastened my ankle brace, let out all the laces, slipped my foot into the shoe, laced it up, and folded the sock down to cover the brace. I practiced walking around the yard with a straight face, focusing on making my gait pattern symmetrical. My ankle felt much better while sitting still. I wasn’t sure how it was going to react to me literally running for an 8 hour shift. Logically, it didn’t seem like there was going to be a way to get through two 8 hour shifts of running around non-stop, with a time quota, in order to keep this new job i had landed. At the end of my cognitive ability to control the situation, i stopped thinking it through. I was not going to lose this job. It was mine. I had fought for it, earned it, celebrated the receiving of it…i needed it to pay the mortgage so that my family could pay my tuition to return to school. Me having this job was part of the whole operation. Without it everything fell apart. So, that morning i got up an hour earlier than i usually would have and put arnica, emu oil, ice, ace, brace, and shoe on my foot. Then i practiced walking normal around the yard a few more times without making a face. I loaded the car and drove to town. I sat in the car, listening to one of my podcasts on my phone and going over the items on the aisles in the store one last time. Five minutes to go time i turned the car off, turned the phone off, and had a chat with God. I said, “God…i don’t know how i’m gonna do this, but i can promise you i will do my best. I’ll do my best, and you do with that what you can.” I thanked him for bringing me this opportunity and asked him to guide my actions so i didn’t mess anything up horribly on my first day (like that episode of the office where michael drives the forklift into one shelf that then knocks all the other shelves in the warehouse over like a string of dominoes). I got out of the car, climbed the stairs to the second floor, placed my lunch box, water bottle, wallet, and keys in a locker, took one last advil, and clocked in for work.
When i was 20 years old i started as a cashier at a grocery store making $7.75 an hour. A lot had changed since i was twenty and groceries were now a hub of technology. All data was collected and analyzed by computers. This was a whole new world for me and i was no longer a young whipper snapper. I was in my thirties while most of my coworkers were in high school. I took comfort in the fact that a few of the bakery and deli employees were more towards my age or older. I felt a great need to keep up. I was not a “full time” employee. Instead, hours would be assigned based on employee speed and accuracy. The faster and more accurate you were, the more days the company would schedule you. I knew this and i kept it in the back of my mind but i was more worried about hitting the quota than beating it. I knew if i was consistently under, i wouldn’t survive. I’d talked a lot of stuff about being underestimated for my ability to meet the quota for another position…so now was my chance to prove myself. If i couldn’t hit the quota in the position i’d landed…i had no business fussing about being overlooked for more demanding and fast-paced positions. During the morning i was all eyes and ears. I was trying my hardest to learn from the more seasoned whipper snappers putting my time to shame. I watched everything they did; from where and when they picked up or stored the tools they used to what position they laid the smart phones in…from how they pulled out the metal carts to how they organized the work space…when they would switch from one activity to the next, and how they would respond when the bell dinged signifying the arrival of a new customer. I picked out three or four veterans of the system that clearly knew what they were doing and studied their every move. I asked questions whenever i had them. I focused on being thorough and quick, although my time was dragging and i was not hitting that impossibly small quota of minutes i could spend on each order from start to finish. I had been informed upon arrival that i would be expected to hit the time quota by the beginning of day 2. Half way through the day i remembered my policy on sobriety. I had 3 years and then i fell off the band wagon. I had the hardest time getting back on, because i knew i had to start over with counting every time i relapsed. It would be three years before i got to where i had been before i did something stupid and threw it all away. That thought was full of shame and wrapped in depression and it was not helping me get and stay sober again, so i stopped counting. As soon as i stopped counting it was like the weight and shame had been lifted and it was just about the act of being sober, not the act of counting days. So, i quit counting the minutes. I focused on retrieving the orders, using my tools correctly, placing items in correct positions, reading the data correctly, running the order out, connecting with the customer, and closing the order as fast as i could. At some point it became apparent to me that i was guarding my ankle and not using my broken toes to grip the floor when i wanted to pull or shove a metal order cart or run through the parking lot with a basket. I was worried that my ace wrap and velcro brace wouldn’t be enough and i was guarding. It was costing me valuable seconds and throwing off my speed. At lunch i took another advil and realized i had to pull out all the stops if i was going to make this job work. I had to push my body to its limits because only my best time would do to keep my employment longterm. I watched the board. The others hit their quota times consistently. Running was a requirement here, and i was fast walking. I made sure my wrap and brace was nice and tight. I redid it secretly in the women’s bathroom stall. Then i pulled my sock over it to cover the brace. I returned to work and i ran for the remainder of my shift. It was a gradual process. At first i was getting near the quota time but not hitting it. I then began to get into a groove. Once i recognized the repetition of the patterns and started memorizing some things it became less cognitive and more instinctual. I tapped into something left over from my childhood, a complete willingness to ignore pain in order to get something i wanted very badly. By the end of the day, i wasn’t only hitting the quota…i was getting some of the smaller orders done faster than we were required, which was necessary to balance out some of the larger orders that ran over, but also necessary to place on the schedule the following week. When all was said and done my cell phone recorded that i had walked (more like jogged) 7.4 miles. I drank an entire bottle of water and never really had to pee. It all leaves the body in the form of sweat. I made it to the end of my shift, thanked the coworkers that had helped or taught me on my first day, returned to my locker, retrieved my items, walked to my car, and drove home. Once home i did all the chores on the homestead, took care of the dogs and chickens, cooked dinner, and then was able to sit down. I got my arnica, emu oil, advil, and ice pack ready and sat down in the rocking chair. When i lifted my pants leg the left leg was twice the size of the right one. When i took off my shoe my toes were bent downward in the middle and pointing towards the ceiling. I quickly reset them, taking advantage of the flood of natural chemicals my body had just released into my veins out of shock at seeing them facing that way. I got the ice pack out and elevated my leg the rest of the night and the swelling retreated. I kept staring at that number on the phone. 7.4 miles. Somehow God had allowed me to jog 7.4 miles despite the stupid and injurious thing i had done to my foot, that i wasn’t quite ready to admit that i had done.
The next morning i had an 8.5 hour shift. Again, i got up an hour early and fixed myself up. I packed the car and drove to town. I put my things in the locker and clocked in. This time i knew how to collect and deliver orders. The challenge would be making a seamless transition between doing that and returning to other activities in between times when customers were arriving for pickup. In between collecting and delivering orders i would need to engage in other necessary activities. Then when an order came in…abandon the activity that i was working on, memorizing where i left off, pick up and deliver the order, and return to the point where i left off in the previous activity. It was fascinating to me. It was like a well oiled highly-organized machine. Everyone was kind and supportive of one another. The company had bakery items and produce brought up to the break room daily to feed us for free…even peanut butter. It was a very pleasant environment to work in. The only two understandings were that you had to be fast and you had to be accurate. I wanted to be a part of this well-oiled, highly-organized customer-service focused machine. So, i tackled day 2 with a new determination. When all was said and done the cell phone app showed i had walked (jogged) 7 miles. Every muscle in my body burned because you had to pull the metal cubby carts with force in 1 motion instead of 3 to make those seconds count. You had to carry many bags at once instead of making many trips to shave down your time. So i prayed to the lord and hit the floor with my best attempt at doing well enough to stay. Throughout the day, the supervisors teaching me gave me a couple compliments. One said i was doing really well and the other told a coworker i was good at a specific task i had been assigned and had picked the routine up fast. I realized that in my 7 year career in healthcare no one had ever told me i’d done anything well. I didn’t realize how motivating a small compliment could be until i heard it. I think the healthcare field is probably focused on all the wrong things and wired kind of screwy but that’s a whole tangent on its own for another day. I couldn’t believe how nice these people were being to me. In healthcare, the newby is always harassed until they’ve earned the right to harass the new newby. You cant just walk in day 1 and have people treat you like a person. You have to pay your dues. Day 1, these people treated me like a human and were ready to teach me anything i wanted to learn. I was proud to be a part of such an environment, grateful that God allowed me a shot at being part of this company, and for the first time in my life, i was happy to go to work. I loved it. I wanted to be a part of that well-oiled fast-paced machine for the rest of my days. Of course…eventually i would have to go back to school and get another degree, but that would come later. Right now, i was going to enjoy being content and fulfilled where i was at and not worry about time or numbers…just push myself, do my best, and thank the Lord for always setting me back on the path. I had been so wrapped up in trying to control things and make things work…when i couldn’t…i had to let it go and turn to God. It was the first time i truly learned the lesson that i’m not in charge down here. I’m not waving the conducting wand and making everything work. Sometimes you gotta think less and have more faith. So i finished my second day. I made it up the stairs and to the locker. I sat on the couch in the break room and checked next week’s schedules on my phone. There, in beautiful black numbers, was my schedule. I had full shifts for four whole days. It was the most wonderful thing i’d ever seen. I would pay the bills, get a chance to work on my speed and accuracy, maybe the team would teach me some more tasks, and i would have an opportunity to whip my muscles back into shape. I was elated. In the back of my brain was a neon red warning sign “get home” “get home”. I knew i had pushed myself and now was running on empty. I got the dogs fed, the chickens put up, inhaled some food like i’d never eaten before, and fell asleep in the rocking chair. I didn’t get the chores done. I didn’t get my teeth brushed. It was one of those heavy sleeps that comes on like a weighted blanket and the more you fight it the sicker you feel. I started feeling nauseous and hollow so i closed my eyes and felt better. That was it. I woke up in the rocking chair at midnight with both dogs staring at me as if to say, “aren’t you gonna crate us?” I made it to brush my teeth, crate the dogs, and i was out again. Yes! This was the job i wanted! Absolutely full of repetition, teamwork, cooperation, customer service, speed, multitasking, and the physical workout of a lifetime. I loved my new job with a passion. I would show up each day scheduled ready and willing to learn and apply myself and with any luck, keep up with the whipper snappers. 🙂