#19 The Big ShiftPosted: March 19, 2012
In the spring of 1983, I worked at a radio station that was consistently the #1 or #2 station (of over 70) in the New York City market, and I had without doubt the best job in broadcast advertising, anywhere. I had my modest house in Connecticut, had built a house in East Hampton with a friend as an investment and had the use of a rental apartment in Manhattan during the week if needed. I was exceeding my financial goals every year with the most prestigious clients in New York. This was the work I had sought for years.
And I wanted to quit.
I was 35, had been in the job for over five years and I didn’t want to become a dinosaur. That sounds young, but it’s a business of youth. I watched the guys in the gray suits who couldn’t afford to change. They had orthodontists and college educations to fund. I didn’t.
I worked hard, was knowledgeable and never took business for granted. I had originally been brought into the company to move through the management track, but now made too much money to take a different position: a velvet cage. On occasion when I’d whine about how little I contributed to the world, a colleague reminded me that it, “wasn’t brain surgery, relax and enjoy it.” Money wasn’t my goal, just my report card.
My best friend’s cubicle was next to mine. I lunched at the finest restaurants with clients and saw nearly every play that opened. There was no man in my life since I had ended yet another disastrous relationship.
I did not live extravagantly, however bought a beautiful mink coat. Ironically my income increased after that. I shopped for clothes big time twice a year and my closets were filled with beautiful suits and dresses. This did not make me happy.
Then there was the commute. From Norwalk, Connecticut by train every day door to door, was about one and a half hours, over three hours a day. NEVER having been a morning person, that got worse. I read everything I could get my hands on to pass the time and for reasons I’ve never understood, I read as fast as the train traveled. If the train got stuck so did I. And the train was getting stuck every day. The newspaper was depressing. Looking out the window at burned out buildings in the Bronx got depressing. I did not ride in the bar car for the trip home, though the usual suspects gravitated there. I kept to myself while lively gin games picked up where they had left off that morning. Wives met inebriated husbands at the station.
We lived through a garbage strike and then a transit strike, so a co-worker and I drove in together every day. That was a grind. As a commuter, I knew more about politics in Manhattan than Connecticut. I couldn’t even name the mayor of my town. I didn’t belong in either place. Working for an all-news radio station made me feel that I was doing something worthwhile, but that wore thin. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t fulfilled. If you aren’t happy, you aren’t happy.
I didn’t consider the possibility of moving into the city again, or the possibility of another profession. I was arriving later and later at the office, waking later and later every day. I decided to take a vacation where I would ponder the notion of just leaving. Nothing rash.
I took an elaborate trip to Europe, including a night on the Orient Express, the first year it went back into service, and immediately realized that if I quit the job, that’s it kid, no more big vacations.
The second morning after my return I caught the train, now fairly determined to appreciate my good fortune. The man seated next to me was about to retire. He had been selling socks and catching the train for 37 years, longer than I had been alive. I got out my calculator and allowed for generous vacations and assumed the train was always on time, which it wasn’t. I calculated that he had been sitting on that train in the smoke and musty air for about five years of his life.
When our train arrived, I walked the three blocks from Grand Central, went directly to the sales manager who was a friend, and resigned. He had been in that business far longer than I and recognized my weariness. I didn’t ask for a sabbatical or leave of absence.
It was done.
People were shocked. But, mostly they lined up for my job.