I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was working full time in the underwriting department at State Farm Insurance, the money was shit, the place was like high school, and I saw no future for me there. The big corporate environment just wasn’t my scene. I was a number there. Seriously, I was referred to as X0516, my login code for the system. They hired and fired by the dozens. I never knew who was going to be there on Monday, which made me anxious.
I was young, just 24, and had a 2-year-old who was in daycare right around the corner. I searched high and low for something I could afford that was decent, it was nearly impossible to find. While visiting The Botanical Gardens in Ringwood I found a daycare, it was right on the same road. I was heartbroken to learn there were no openings and a lengthy waiting list, but I signed up. It was almost a year to the day that I got the call, her spot was ready!
Convenience is wonderful, unfortunately, this school wasn’t convenient. But it was everything else. A walk from a Botanical Garden, behind a state park, had an Olympic size swimming pool and all the nature you could imagine. It was a huge sacrifice for me but she was worth it. With drop off and pick up, plus back and forth to work, my days were 17 hours long. I went nonstop like this for a year, while my husband and I had to live thousands of miles apart.
I looked at the job postings every day. Dreaming I would find a job closer to her and home. I came across a posting for a Casting Agency Receptionist. I interviewed with the owner later that week and was hired on the spot. I gave my 2 weeks’ notice at State Farm and was walked off the premises immediately. I was able to start the job at the Casting Agency the next day.
Truth be told, working for a casting agency was so random and more exciting than pushing paper. I strictly worked on “extras” casting. Some days, I’d have to book 3 people for an overnight shoot in New York City for Law and Order, then some days I’d fill a studio audience for a crappy talk show nobody wanted to watch film. My favorite bookings were “typecasting”. I’d get a call to send 30 men for “prison inmates”, I would go through the catalog and pull headshots, they’d ask for 15 tattooed men, 5 bald white men, and so on… Those were fun jobs.
Time was flying and my daughter Chloe was headed into Pre-K, my boyfriend (almost husband at the time) would finally be there to help, which meant I could get a more practical job, with benefits, health insurance, paid vacation, maybe a 401k and most importantly, a place where I could grow.
I knew that on paper, I would be considered a “weak candidate”, with very little work experience, no trade or degree. Sure, I knew I was smart, but who would take a chance on me and find that out for themselves?
Starting from the bottom was possible and the most sensible way to get started on this new chapter.
The job listing that changed the game…
Accounts Receivable Clerk
Butler, NJ seeking computer literate person
With experience in Accounting, $8/hr M-F, 9-5
Fax resume to John Silver at 973-555-5555
The office was walking distance from my home and because I have gotten every job I ever interviewed for, I was confident. I met with John Silver*, he was looking for someone to work directly for him in accounting, to make collection calls. I guess that was the accounting “experience” he referenced in the ad. I was honest. I didn’t have the experience, but I am a fast learner and I was sure this was something I would be able to pick up easily.
About two weeks passed, and I hadn’t heard anything. This was a clear sign I didn’t get the job. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. I went back on the website I researched before my interview and found a generic email address and sent the following short and simple email:
Dear Mr. Silver,
I would like to thank you again for taking the time to interview me for the Accounting and Collections position. I enjoyed meeting you and getting to know more about your role in the hospitality industry!
I am attaching a copy of my resume for your records. If possible, please keep my resume on hand for any positions you may have in the future. I genuinely feel I could be an asset to your company. I would appreciate your consideration if a position opens up that will better suit me and my skill set.
All the Best,
It wasn’t even an hour after hitting send on that email that my phone rang. On the other end was a firm but unrecognizable voice. The man introduced himself as the Vice President of the company that I interviewed with. “Tell me more about yourself Dee-Dee”, he demanded. I told him a bit, then he cut me off. “John never mentioned your name, we haven’t hired anyone full time yet. Are you still interested in this position?” We spoke for about 10 more minutes and then he said, “If you are available to start work this Tuesday, the job is yours”.
On August 31, 2004, at 8:35 am I walked through the doors of my new job. I was a ball of nerves. Knowing that I’d be working with the guy who deemed me unworthy for the position originally, made me so anxious! I had one goal: make him realize I was “the one” ALL ALONG!
I sat there, beside John as he trained me. I tried to read him, it wasn’t easy. Some days he seemed pleased with me and my work, other days he would turn on me. I knew there was some sense of competition between us because I picked up on the job easily and just didn’t need him for much.
About a month into my new job, I was given a raise. They admitted that they didn’t want me to get discouraged by the pay and I was working out well. Then 11 months later, I was given my first annual review, it was great. Thankfully, I was given another increase. This motivated me to excel even more. I took every opportunity to learn. I asked questions, always wanted new jobs, I offered to help in all departments when needed and because it was a small company that meant a lot. Some days I would be at my desk doing collections all day and others, I’d be in the warehouse packing orders.
I noticed that John didn’t like when I had really good days. If I got a simple “good job” from the Vice President or an Owner, I would come into a desk full of Post-It’s from him with things “To-Do” the following day. It was clear that this man was going to try to block my growth, it didn’t discourage me, it motivated me to work harder, faster and more efficiently.
About 3 years into this journey, my income continued to grow, my family life was great, Chloe was smart and healthy, and my resume looked much better with this steady employment and experience. I went into a Salary position but knew as long as John was in that seat above me, I wouldn’t move up. I was being contacted by headhunters, got some very great offers, I even seriously contemplated leaving for one job but something in my gut stopped me. (I trust my gut!) I was happy, and you cannot put a price tag on happiness.
In a random twist of fate, John resigned from his position above me about three weeks after I turned down that job offer. He was a College Graduate with a CPA, so I was sure they would want to replace him with someone who had equal credentials. I seemed like I learned everything he did, I was his backup when he was off, and I knew that I could do his job. That day I marched into the owner’s office and said, “Take a chance on me”. I wasn’t sure if he would go for it but, I had to shoot my shot.
With some serious conversation and consideration, I was given my chance. I started my new position on a “trial basis”, for the next 6 months I would need to show them that I wasn’t in over my head. This was the first time I was truly comfortable and secure, the trial period flew by and I believe I exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Sometimes, there needs to be a test, and the day I heard a familiar voice in the office, I knew it was MY TEST… I knew the voice, it gave me chills.
John Silver walked into the owner’s office, closed the door behind him and sat in there for what felt like an eternity. I wasn’t sure why he was there but it made me very uneasy. Did they call him back? Was I not doing enough? I thought they were happy…
After his departure, I was invited to the office of the owner. “We want you to know that John stopped in today seeking his old position back. Apparently, things aren’t working out as he hoped in the new place.” I felt sick. “He wants his job back, but we are happy with you, so are you happy?” they asked me. I was very happy and assured them of that. Thankfully, that was all they needed to hear.
That day I left work realizing something: I no longer had a job, I made a career for myself. I was fully invested in a place that was invested in me. That day I became a “lifer”, a term I use for those who come in here thinking it is just another job and then they end up staying 10, 20 and some are now 30 years employed with this company.
For the record, I saw John once after that day, it was just about 3 months ago at a Memorial Service. John apologized for being so hard on me, we enjoyed a good laugh about it and then went our own ways. No hard feelings. Had he not pushed me, I might not have been so determined to prove myself.
By year 5, I was the Accounts Receivable Manager, then by year 8 my new title was the Credit Manager and by year 10 I was the Controller. I am pretty sure there were a few made-up titles in between all of that but, I lost track. Today, I am called everything from the Accountant, Senior Credit Manager, CFO, and the crazy one in the back corner who doesn’t eat meat, walks barefoot around the building to “be one with the earth” and makes videos on Instagram about our thriving office plants. I’m a fixture here.
We are a group of people who are working towards a goal: success. In this environment, the only title that matters is: TEAM PLAYER. I caught onto that a long time ago. I love the small business mentality, even though we are quite a big business. We have more than tripled in size and still, every single day, I see the owner walk through the doors and put in an honest day’s work. I have watched his kids go from diapers to donning suits to the office and following in his footsteps. Three generations walk into this office every day. They take the time to say hello to everyone, no matter what your position.
This job has afforded me time with my daughter, never did they hesitate when I asked for long lunches for school events or days off for vacation. I made some of my best friends behind these doors. When I was sick, they didn’t turn their backs on me, they’d drive me to the doctor, send me flowers and show up on my doorstep with avocados and hugs. The milestones in life, like buying my first home and paying off my cars, they were made possible, in part, because a man took a chance on the girl who sounded “just like Rosie Perez”.
I’m doing 15 to life in this place… That’s if they’ll have me.
It is important to acknowledge moments like this because it’s not “luck”, its hard work paying off and an opportunity seized. Fifteen years in the making, now coming full circle, August 31st, 2019. Just like that, the baby I was worried about getting back and forth to daycare is headed to her dorm in a week. Life is full of surprises, this was one of the better ones.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent
Dee-Dee Kanhai, aka “The Spice of Suburbia”, was a big city girl for 25 years who was transplanted to the Suburbs of Northern New Jersey. This relocation led to her “undoing” and with that, the discovery of her true self. Besides being a wife and mother to a teenage daughter and toy Chihuahua, Dee-Dee works in finance and owns a small Etsy Shop @LoveTheUndoing, where she sells heart-made jewelry, crystals, and other whimsical crafts. Dee-Dee is a student of life, teacher of meditation, practicing yogi and a mystical moon child.