Finding Courage

I can’t believe that by the end of this week, I will have another employer to log into my resume. What’s different this time is that walking away from my current job means essentially walking away from the Financial Services Industry that has been my daily clock-in for almost six years. It feels a little strange to shut a door that has been open for so long. But it also feels like clouds are breaking and a sweet sunshine is peeking through. 

Strangely, what I am going to miss the most is the cash handling. I like the feel of the coarse paper touching the sensitive nerves of my fingertips, and the way each bill thickens when coupled with another as I count. I am going to miss the way my fingers fly through the process of counting as I come across a different bill. 20-40-60-80-1, 20-40-60-80-2. 5-10-15-20. 1-2-3-4-5. The colors spinning in my hands like a rainbow, forest green to sunset orange to bedroom purple. And then the hundred dollar bills show up in style with their vivid blue ribbon striping to the right of Benjamin Franklin. I am going to miss scraping my nail across the coat of Andrew Jackson to feel the ribbed texture of a genuine $20 bill.

My cash handling future will probably be limited to helping at a concession stand at a football game, or collecting funds for a garage sale. My days of strapping thousands of dollars together to sell to the vault at the end of the day are over. But the basic skill of cash management is important and something that I have thoroughly enjoyed learning. 

As I reflect over the past six years in the Financial Services world, I recognize the moments that I know have made me a better person. I see now how I have been carved and shaped like the David statue, and without those moments I would be a large block of marble on a stand. 

I think about my cubicle days at an IRA business in Dallas, Texas and immediately feel the tangible definition of GRIT. Every day I walked into work, knowing I was probably going to deal with a frustrated retiree taking out his anger on me over the phone. Yet I still showed up every day for three years working as a team with my co-workers to handle whatever drama the day threw at us. Whether it was a broker asking us, “Where’s my commission? I need my commission!” or a check made out incorrectly which required us to make an uncomfortable phone call to a client. My emotions were tested, my longevity in a desk job pushed to its limit because of my high energy level. I learned I could do more than I thought capable only because I didn’t give up in the moment.  

My next transition to retirement counseling ushered in a tidal wave of learning that soaked up into my bones with each day that passed. I attended monthly meetings with fellow agents, taking notes lavishly. I scribbled tips for business owning, financial advising, marketing and retirement plans. Even though I felt out of place, I found the subject matter so interesting. I can learn this. I can help educators with their retirement plans. I don’t have to be afraid of what I don’t know. Soon I was sitting down with teachers and flying through the paperwork without a second thought. I made the process so easy for the teachers, and I never left without making them laugh or even a quick hug at the end. Unfortunately, as much as I loved the job, the brutality of the commission-based income kicked me in the pants. The fierce disappointment of a failed meeting or event seared me like hot coals. I learned slowly that I was not cut out for sales even if it was sugar coated with conversations and hugs. 

The worst thing that could happen happened. My business failed to support me financially and I had to sell it after only 12 months. My consolation was the thought, If I hadn’t tried, how would I ever know? Where else would I ever find courage if not in that moment? The worst happened and I somehow levitated from a defeated place to regain my honor.

And then a new job at a bank swoops in to come rescue me from self-employment and deliver a token of gold from up above. A paycheck. But with that steady paycheck came mountains of stress that I wilted under again. Policies were whispered and shouted to me with every movement I made and the pressure to bring in sales was suffocating. My first weeks of the job consisted of learning the basic definition of a Home Equity Line of Credit and then therefore being expected to sell it before comprehending its purpose. But I was already beginning to loathe the sales process and atmosphere after mere weeks.

As the months passed, I felt a fresh fall of grace from a few special individuals. My manager switched me to the Teller line to learn cash transactions in an effort to ease my stress and my trainer was a blessed angel who believed in me. If my cash drawer was off at the end of the day, she placed her trust in me. “You are short $20? It’s there, Kim. Just keep looking for it. I know you will find it.” As cash flipped quickly through her fingers, she nodded toward me in confidence, her eyes soft. How could she possibly trust me, a new teller? But she did. And I always found the difference and my drawer balanced every day.

A Monday morning came when I felt the weight of the world crushing on my shoulders. I stumbled into my manager’s office and I watched her drop her pen on her desk, widening her eyes. “Kim, are you okay? Tell me everything.” My eyes squeezed and I could feel them pulsing a kind of red that doesn’t wash away in five minutes. Tears fell hot. She dropped everything she was doing to meet my immediate need, and that meant walking me to the break room to calm down. She made me raspberry tea, its red pouch seeping blood into the steaming water. I grabbed a thin white spoon and sat down at the table. We talked about little things and big things, her voice soothing like a mother but kind like a friend. I sipped my tea on the head of the spoon, letting the heat warm my worn face. My eyes were drying but already feeling sore and I knew they would hurt all day. The minutes passed slowly, but I needed every millisecond to calm down. After ten minutes she walked out and back to work, assuring me that I could take the time I needed. She made me laugh one more time and then left me to my tea. 

I was able to get back to work and the feelings of fear, anxiety and confusion fled me. I made it to five o’clock and it felt like my own personal miracle as I softly described the day’s events to Kevin over dinner.  

In all these moments, all these experiences, I struggled like a caterpillar wound in a cocoon. I questioned everything. But now that the past is the past, only now I can see the purpose behind the process.  

How would I have known that I touched the tips of angels if the pain never came to me? How would I have been able to feel the thrill of small victories if failure didn’t seem to encompass me at every turn? How would I learn to appreciate the patience of my husband if I wasn’t so desperate for his help?

How would I even feel the warm embrace of God’s blessings if I wasn’t a cold, hungry child?

The truth is that working in this field has taught me more than any textbook, any self-help book or seminar. Nothing replaces the crimson, bitter flow of blood, the salty sweat of hard work, the emotionally charged tears. Nothing beats experience. And the little gems that I take with me moving forward are irreplaceable.

See you at the concession stand.


Popular posts from this blog

Book Release: A Cub Among Bears

Over-easy or Overdone? Humor from a Short Order “Cook”