I wish I were a better man.
I’ve always liked to think of myself as a good man. I went to church every Sunday and Wednesday and tried to live by the Golden Rule. I tried to treat others as I wanted to be treated by them. I was a faithful husband and a doting father to my children. I went to almost every ball game, cheer, and karate practice—I even signed up for myself. And found I liked the way it made me feel.
I was a family man. I loved the gatherings with my family. When I was a young adult, my grandmother died. When I was middle-aged, my sister died. When I was in my 50’s, my mother died. After our mother passed, my brothers and I tried to hold the family together, having a family get-together at least once a month. We would meet at one of our houses, have food, play games, or at a restaurant. Then, after a few years, a job change happened, and I was forced to move away from home to make a living.
During the first 11 months, it was pure hell. I lived in a town I hated, eight hours away from my closest family. We were isolated, and I was working 60+ hours a week. I never saw my wife; my family was too far away for those short monthly visits. I went to a dark place, mentally. I carried a lot of ambivalence toward my former employer. I had no family close to lean on mentally and spiritually. I became bitter and had no outlet for what I was feeling. I experienced depression for the first time.
I was a man who had equated my worth to the career I had built and then lost. In my mind, I was now worthless. I tried to get a job elsewhere but kept failing. I soon equated my lack of finding a great job to my age (and I still believe it is partly true), and I became bitter. With the bitterness came more feelings of depression and worthlessness. It became a vicious cycle. Loneliness, a lack of self-worth, and being turned down for job after job. Depression.
My wife and I had enough after 11 months, and we decided to take a gamble. We went on vacation, and while there, she applied for and received multiple job offers in Florida. We took the plunge, and she accepted an offer. We went back home, and I turned in my notice, and two weeks later, we were residents of Pensacola, Florida. A week later, I received an offer of a job doing what I had done for years at a better salary.
For the next year, I lived in Pensacola and commuted between there and Panama City Beach and Montgomery, Alabama. I was living in a hotel five days a week. While I enjoyed the job better than the last one, I detested living on the road, away from my wife.
The job, though, did offer financial stability, and we bought a new house in Pensacola. I had hoped that the Pensacola market would open up one day, and I would get that market. However, when the market did open up, I was not offered the area I lived in, but the company brought in a man from California, and I had to continue commuting and living in a hotel. A few weeks later, the company fired my direct Supervisor, and the owner took over running the company with his son.
I had never worked for a micro-manager before, and it quickly became apparent that the owners, living in California, wanted to run the business in Florida and Alabama as if they were onsite. Every morning, we would take two hours to review the numbers, and then he would give me a laundry list of chores to accomplish as if I were just a manager of one store rather than a Market Manager over 30 stores. We clashed because he refused to allow me any input over the business, even though I had successfully started turning around the Montgomery market, which had been floundering. They insisted that I and all my District managers use the Life 360 app so that they could track our every movement. They questioned why I went a less-than-direct route from my hotel to one of my stores. They calculated the time I spent in the store and even when I arrived back at my hotel. It became so stifling that I finally asked why they were paying me to run a market but not letting me run it. A month later, we mutually agreed, and I left the company with a small severance check.
At this time, I decided to return to school and finish my degree in HR. I worked as an independent contractor with Shipt and started working to complete my degree. For the next two years, I had a blast. I worked 9-5, Monday-Friday and took weekends off. I studied in my off time. I wasn’t making the money I had made before; however, I was content for the first time in a long time.
Then Covid hit, and the world stopped. My wife and I decided that since she could get a job anywhere with her career and I could easily transfer my contract job, we wanted to move to a warmer climate. Just as when we moved to Pensacola, my wife was offered several jobs in the Sarasota/Bradenton area, and we packed up and moved.
I had a few months left of school and wanted to finish it quickly. It is a good thing I did because the Sarasota/Bradenton market for Shipt was oversaturated, and I was only making half as much as I had in Pensacola.
We found a home in an over-55 community, and I finished my degree in June of 2021. I immediately began applying for HR-related jobs, but the offers were zero because most wanted at least five years of experience in an HR position. I had done HR functions for over 30 years but had never been given the title, so I found HR jobs—even entry-level ones—were elusive.
So, I applied for the only thing I had experience in—retail management. I was offered and took a management position with a big-box international chain, where I have been for the last two years. So, here I am, back to working nights, weekends, and holidays, and with someone else making my schedule, back to not seeing my wife except for a few hours on the weekend before I have to go to work.
While I have every confidence that I am good at my job, and my evaluations verify that, I feel like my life has once again slipped away from me, and I no longer have any control. With my schedule, I barely travel. My schedule is at odds with my kid’s schedules. I live 10 hours from the closest one and 18 from the furthest one.
Working retail, I am back to working all holidays, weekends, and mostly nights. I can’t take time off from November to January. I feel isolated from my family, and with that isolation comes depression and guilt. My grandchildren are growing fast, and my lack of time to visit with them leaves me feeling they will forget me. My children are all grown and live their own lives, and I feel like they think I don’t care enough to visit.
This is where the feelings of needing to be a better man come in. If I were a better man, I would retire and travel between the grandchildren and children. Most men my age are already retired and live the life of a retiree. If I were a better man, I wouldn’t care about working to pay my bills and student loans. How can I manage both? I had hoped that my writing would supplement my retirement and allow me to do both, but obtaining a following takes a lot of time and a lot of work.
Through the cycles of the last seven years, I have been on a personal high and personal low. I am not clinically depressed, but the feelings of depression are still there, and they can and do determine my mental state. I have periods of feeling good about my life, guilt for the paths I have taken, and feelings of life not being fair and why bad things happen to otherwise good people. I have blamed my company for tossing me aside after 26 years of faithful service. I have blamed myself for giving them those years, and I have blamed society for teaching us that work is more important than everything else.
Many people say that people don’t want to work anymore. That people are lazy. That people want everything handed to them. That today’s generation is soft. I have a different take on that. I think that people don’t want to live to work anymore. That they want to claim back part of their life. That they are not willing to let a company determine what their worth is. I believe today’s generation is more in tune with themselves and unwilling to give a lifetime to a company they know would replace them tomorrow if they fell out of favor or died.
My generation was the offspring of a family who lived through a great depression. It was a time when people were starving and took any job they could get under any conditions. My parents told me you gave your all to a company because they paid you. My work was my identity. If I was off and my company called me in, I went. Sometimes, I missed family gatherings and important events I could never get back. I went for fear of losing my job for being disloyal to the company. I worried about how to support my family if I lost that job. We had a comfortable life financially, and I was afraid to rock the boat.
I wish I had been a better man. Sometimes, I thought of taking other jobs, but the fear of the unknown kept me in the job I did know. Today, I have hope that my children are better men and women. They are all successful within their fields. They all seem to have a much better work-life balance than I did. They have drawn boundaries that they refuse to allow work to cross.
I see this in all walks of life as well. People are no longer afraid to lose a job that takes advantage of them. They realize the importance of personal time. They will no longer allow a company to rule their lives. Now that pay is getting better for the working class, they can choose. The associates I work with are not afraid to say no to overtime unless they want it. They take their sick days and PTO days. They refuse to come in if called on a day off. And that is how it should be.