After 4-5 months of a Minnesota winter and a spring that felt just like winter, I decided that tonight was the night to give my car a washing. My luxurious Pontiac has been screaming for attention in recent months, but lately, I’ve been finding myself riding bike to work and walking to the local dollar store when they have what I need. Only having washed my car twice since last summer has been a definite change for me. Priorities are shifting in my life and Mr. Pontiac is losing rank every day. In fact, it’s up on Craigslist right now and if I get a buyer at the right price, I’m willing to let it go.

My plan of attack at that point is a normal car of less luxury. I’d like to take an $8,500 surplus of cash and use it to invest in my future freedom and entrepreneurial endeavors. And if it doesn’t sell, I’ll continue to heat my butt in the winter, cool my head in the summer, accelerate ridiculously faster than necessary and carry myself from point A to point B in a luxury ride greater than my ancestors could have ever imagined.

I like to wash my car at a local car wash about a mile from my apartment. I go there because it’s hardly ever full, due to it being off the beaten path, and because there is an area out back where I can park, crank my tunes and clean my car out. I love the peacefulness of playing some music while I clean my car, especially on such a beautiful night as tonight. As I was on my way to the car wash tonight, I realized that all I had was twenties and remembered that the car wash machine didn’t give change. After being a little upset inside, I decided to stop at the gas station on the way and pick up a treat so I could get change.

The 15 Cent Banana

I walked in the overly busy gas station and found the candy aisle. “I’ll get myself some Mentos or something”, I thought. Then, as I looked at the price, which read $1.09, I reconsidered. A dollar and nine cents for what used to be 50 cents when I was younger, then went up to 85ish cents in my high school and college days was just too much to spend on something that would just rot my teeth. Suddenly, I remembered I had to use the bathroom. I figured, as long as I’m going to overpay for a treat, I’m going to at least use their bathroom.

After that, I walked by an aisle with bananas. “Now there’s an idea”, I thought. And right there was a single banana. “I’ll get a healthy treat and it will be much cheaper than candy”. I brought it up to the cashier, she weighed it and gave me a price that almost made me burst out laughing. Fifteen cents, the cashier said….. Oh, my…… I almost felt like I shoplifted, except the feeling was of great joy. I paid fifteen cents for something incredibly good for me and very tasty when the cheapest thing in their store other than that was over a dollar. Wow, I played those guys. Anyway, I got my change and walked out of there feeling on top of the world.

Thoughts on Regular People

Something else happened in that gas station tonight, which has happened to me quite often lately. As I walked into the bathroom, a young man, in his early twenties, was drying his hands. He had a name tag on and a polo shirt with a logo. He was an employee at the gas station. He had taken his short break in the bathroom to escape the nightly lameness of working at a gas station, but now it was over. It was back to work for him, making minimum wage, for the rest of the night.

I couldn’t help but feel bad for him. Why I felt bad, I’m not sure. I mean, maybe he’s also going to college, studying something he is absolutely passionate about, and is working there to help offset his savings to pay his way through. Or maybe he is a college graduate who’s got a full time day job where he makes good money but wants to make and save even more so he can invest it for the future. Or maybe he’s an entrepreneur who is building a business from the ground up, but needs to work part time to pay his bills as he lives cheaply, spending only on essentials. But the reality is, none of these are likely the case.

This past Sunday night, I stopped at the new Walmart down the road to pick up groceries for the week. As I checked out, I was greeted by a friendly woman in her mid forties who checked me out. She is one of the better cashiers at Walmart because she had a smile on her face, was very friendly and did her job well. Walmart is a lucky company to have an employee like her working for them. And here’s the saddest part of it all. She probably makes $9 per hour. And this woman is a pleasure to spend the two minutes it takes to check out at Walmart with.

My guess is that she works full time. She probably has a family back home, has a mortgage to pay and a vehicle or two. This is life for this woman, spending 40 hours a week or so at Walmart, checking people out. Do you know what’s freakishly familiar about both of these people I’m mentioning? I use to be both of them. When I was 16 years old, I worked at Walmart as a cashier doing exactly what she’s doing. It was the worst job of my life and to this day, I remember how miserable it was and how badly I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.

And then there is the gas station clerk. I’ve been there too. That job was better for me, but I got paid even less there than at Walmart. The thing about these two jobs is that the pay is crap for the time and effort you’re giving up. Gosh, if I, likely making over 3-4 times what these people do (and I guarantee that my job is 10-20 times more challenging and rewarding than theirs), have a hard time wanting to continue this for the rest of the prime of my life (through 60 years old), dammit I feel sorry for those two people.

These people work a shitty job, get paid even shittier, and most likely aren’t going to see their situations improve anytime soon. Yes, I know there are children starving in Africa, but dang, we’ve got people missing out on their potential and giving their lives up for a few bucks right here in this country. I feel sorry for these people, not because they are starving, but because they’re in a crappy situation that they most likely have no clue how to get out of.

So, What’s the Answer?

My answer to get out of it is to work smart, not hard. If you’re at a job where you get paid to physically do things like stock the shelves or sweep the floors, you’re in a bad spot. You want to be in a job where you get paid for using your brain, not your body, that’s number one.

Number two is, if you don’t see yourself loving every minute of having a job and working a 40 plus hours a week from now until you’re 60 years old, you’re like me. I won’t be working a job full time until I’m 60, even if I do get paid 3-4 times more than a Walmart or gas station employee and am 10-20 times more challenged and rewarded than them. To the majority of today’s highschoolers and college students, my situation likely looks ideal. I have a job and make good money. What else is there in life, right?

I believe that there’s more. I want my time back. I see retirees and think, “Yes, that’s the life I want, and soon.” I see businessmen in a suit and tie and think, “I don’t want that, at all”. Hey, I went to school for business and I love business. The business I want to be in is one that fits my life, one where I’m doing something that I absolutely love, and one where I call the shots. I’m just tired of being unhappy, even if I do have it better than these people above.

All in all, tonight, I’m going to say a prayer for these two people. Maybe someday, I’ll change the world enough that I’ll help just a few people out of situations like that and into ones more like where I’m at or at least hope to be at someday soon. I don’t thank God enough for how ridiculously blessed I am. I have a wonderful family, a great girlfriend and awesome friends. I also have over 4 years of living expenses socked away which gives me incredible peace of mind, motivation and options for my life. And… I’ve got a great job and income for the time being, and it’s a place where I love my co-workers and can get excited about things from time to time. If I was going to choose a situation to be in today as I continue to work towards my future goals, I couldn’t really think of a better one than the one I’m in.

Tonight’s a story about being thankful and a story of noticing others as real people. They are no different than me and they are quite intertwined with my life, yet I rarely think about them.