More than half of these kids grew up to do just that. At 28, they were managers or vice presidents of this and that, driving their second or third Series 5 BMW’s, and golfing every Friday afternoon with their father’s friends’ sons who followed the same path. Their names weren’t Bufton, Virgil or Duke, but they might as well have been.
Yeah, I secretly envied them. I also despised them and everything they stood for, which… I suppose is kind of the same thing on some level or another. But yeah, I envied them. I envied them for having it so easy. For never having had to be completely on their own with zero support – financial or otherwise. For never had to spend a single day out there without a safety net. For never having had to suffer having to drive a car that burned more oil than it does gas. For never having had to work 80-hour weeks because they had to.
I envied them for never having had to do anything but show up and claim their prize: The cushy job. The cushy salary. The luxury car good old Dad can write off on his taxes. The right house in the right subdivision. The country-club membership. The ridiculous amount of free time that comes with the kind of job you know you can’t get fired from. The six-figure wedding reception. Keys to the condo in Key West or Sardinia or the loft in NYC. The feature in The Greenville Journal.
I admit it. I was kind of jealous. Not much, but a little, yeah.
Perhaps more so because I could have had that life. All I would have had to do was pick up the phone and call dear old dad and trade my huevos for a suitcase full of cash and the keys to the kingdom.
All I had to do was convince myself that I would rather be comfortable and safe than actually make something of myself.
All I had to do was pretend that I would ever be proud of a life handed to me on a silver platter.
For whatever reason – or boxful of reasons, I didn’t choose that route. I guess I needed to prove something to myself. I needed to test a few things out.
More than anything, I wanted to know if I could stand alone, on my own two feet, a stranger in a strange land, and start from scratch.
I was always the curious type.
It will have to be a discussion for another time, but let’s just say that my parents completely embraced my decision to go off on my own. My name was scratched from the family tree. My photos removed from the family albums, thrown into a pile, and burned. My Star Wars actions figures and TinTin collections were boxed up and given to the poor. My bedroom was boarded up, and the door bricked over. “You want to go off on your own,” they asked, not really asking, “okay. You’re on your own.”
Three days later, I was on a plane.
The only money I came to the US with was my leftover pay from the military – once I had paid for my cab ride and bought my plane ticket, I had about $1400 and change to my name. I arrived here without a job offer. Without even a green card (it took six months to finally get it). I had a car and a few boxes of clothes and books in storage. I had a college diploma. I had management experience from having been an officer in the French Navy’s Marines. Stepping off the plane might as well have been stepping off a cliff with my eyes closed.
My parents, staying true to their ultimatum, didn’t really speak to me again for over a year.
Ah, the French. We’re kind of funny that way.
Thirteen years later, even with two awesome kids in tow and thirteen great years of marriage (to the day), with four terrific jobs behind me and almost two years into turning F360 from a silly little collaboration project with a friend to a viable company with clients all over the US, they still won’t speak to me much.
All because I didn’t choose the path that they had envisioned for me.
It doesn’t matter how many award-winning products I help design, how many successful marketing projects I add to my portfolio, how many magazine covers or catalogs I shoot, how many of my photos end up on gallery walls, or how happy it makes me to keep getting better at all of this stuff with every passing day. I didn’t follow the path they wanted. I guess they didn’t get to brag me up the way they had dreamed they would.
Our son, the lawyer. I think he’s in New York today. Or maybe is it The Hague? Wait… Maybe Bahrain. It’s hard to keep track. He stays so busy, you know. Maybe if I call Estelle, his supermodel girlfriend, she’ll know.
You would think that I skinned their cat alive or something.
But here’s the thing: While it hasn’t always been peaches and mint juleps, overall, it’s been good. Hell, it’s been great. And I wouldn’t trade a second of it for the world.
Every challenge, every obstacle, every unexpected kick in the nuts, every terrible moment of self-doubt, every second I spent staring down into the abyss has been a gift. A tremendous learning experience. An opportunity to find out what kind of person I am.
And what I’ve found is that the harder the climb, the more rewarding the summit.
Looking back on the last thirteen years, I can now tell you with absolute certainty that perseverance always pays off. That having the huevos to put yourself out there and take chances always pays off.
You just have to be cunning. And patient. And a little nutty.
No, I didn’t turn out to be the superfly international lawyer that I could have been. That my parents wanted me to be. I haven’t made my first million yet. I don’t own a jet or a cabin in Vail or a villa in Provence. I am not the thing that my parents dreamed I would be. And believe it or not, it’s a hell of a relief.
I would hate to have gotten there so quickly. So easily.
I would hate to have had to follow other people safely to the top, only to find out someday that I climbed the wrong mountain.
More to the point, I would hate to get safely to the top of a nice, pretty mountain, only to have to sit there and watch a ragtag bunch of real Alpinists climb the real mountain in the distance, on guts and heart alone, and find myself wishing I’d had the huevos to go where they were going.
Yeah, maybe I’ve found myself envying those kids I went to school with, but with every passing day, with every new inch of success underfoot, that envy is fading. Fast.
I like to keep the journey at least as interesting as the destination. It works for me. It makes for interesting stories. It makes for great friendships.
And all in all, it’s just good business too.
F360 just signed three new clients this week. We just took on four new projects with existing clients. We are growing. Our bills are paid. We’re buying new gear soon. We are starting to get calls from companies so large, they actually exert a gravitational pull. We might even have to start hiring some new blood in 2007.
Who would have thought?
Thirteen years ago, stepping off that plane, full of piss and vinegar.
Happy Anniversary, Honey. I could have probably done it without you… but it wouldn’t have been any fun. 😉