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An Unexpected Journey: Finding New Landmarks in a Sea of Change

I had a job interview last Friday for an independent insurance company selling insurance an a commission only basis. This is not the logical career progression I envisioned when I lived in San Diego.

I worked at the Scripps Aquarium and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography while attending the University of California, San Diego where I earned a B.S. in Molecular Biology. In my last year of college, I got a job at The Scripps Research Institute as a research technician.

I liked my job as a research technician but it was lonely at times and I was concerned about limited career options. I was a guy with a B.S. in a sea of PhDs. Instead of getting a Ph.D., I went to law school. Out of law school, I went to work for Agouron Pharmaceuticals, a small biotech company that was acquired by Warner Lambert that was later acquired by Pfizer.

I stayed on as a contracts attorney for Pfizer. I liked my job, the people I worked with, and the pay. The next logical step was to take the patent bar which would allow me to prosecute patents and put me into a position to draft and negotiate licensing agreements.

However, my brother living in Madison, Mississippi, began discussing a franchising opportunity with Cups, an Espresso Cafe, a successful family owned coffee company with several locations in Jackson, Mississippi. The discussions became more concrete and my brother asked me if I would move to Mississippi and be an owner/operator.

I liked my job, but the opportunity was still appealing. I was not married, my son was having problems, and all my family lived east of the Mississippi river. I thought the change would be good for my son and owning and running a business would be a good opportunity. In 2004, I moved to Mississippi.

In a short period of time, we opened four locations and I managed all of them. The first location we opened was in Madison and it lost money. I had nothing to do with that location's selection or build out. However, I'm not sure I would have done anything differently. We decided to sell it and had a buyer. However, they ran it into the ground while operating under a transitional management agreement. In the end, all we could do was close the location and stop the bleeding.

The Brandon coffee shop was located too far away to properly manage along with our three other locations. We sold that location breaking even on the deal. We sold the unprofitable hospital kiosk and continued running the successful kiosk until we sold it in 2011. In baseball terms, we struck out with two locations, walked on the third, and hit a double with the fourth.

Looking back, I don't think my brother was prepared to evaluate a business opportunity and should have hired an accountant to look at the numbers initially. He didn't ask help from anyone. He made pro-formas from Excel spreadsheets instead and they promised certain success.

I reviewed the franchise agreement from San Diego for awhile but he got tired of hearing about potential issues and stopped asking my opinion. I learned that an attorney in Mississippi also reviewed the agreement and expressed concerns. My brother ignored him too and ended up signing the contract "as is."

Not long after signing the franchise agreement, he opened the back of his Yukon just when a gust of wind came along and it blew away the unfastened contract laying in the back. He managed to hastily gather most of it up.

I wouldn't recommend trying to run a business without a solid accounting background which I didn't have. You also need to know a few things about managing people, advertising, and keeping up with inventory. This is all behind the scenes as you're mastering your product and delivering great customer service. There are so many things you need to know cold when you jump into running a business. When you're in the start-up phase, pausing to pick up knowledge you should already know is difficult.

Business challenges, lack of income, and culture shock were more stressful than I imagined. My brother who never left his job or career path just wanted out. He made me promises so I would stay to make it work that he never fulfilled.

He had lost enough money. His four children needed their college accounts funded and his wife was not aware of the promises he made. However, I couldn't just abandon the only boat that kept me afloat (somewhat). I was trapped. I went through a time I felt resentment toward my brother and he went through a time where he didn't have the time to see me despite only working one week a month.

What started as a career change, became a spiritual journey. Finding a spiritual perspective was the only meaningful perspective I could find after losing the objects I had used to chart my course and triangulate my progress. I have to find meaning and self esteem now apart from a career. You can't see what things mean to you until they're gone; and then you find those things didn't mean to you what they should have. Maybe I was close, but I was off.

The gentlemen interviewing me said, "You have to admit, your resume is a little odd." I went from from research, to law, to business owner, to working for Upton Tire Pros; all without committing a crime or having a drinking problem. That is odd.

I must forgive my brother, take responsibility for my own mistakes, and keep swimming. Everyone's journey becomes a spiritual journey eventually. When I die, my actions will be my own and my brother's will be his own. Each of us has to find God's mercy one on one. In the end, it will be us and God only because of his mercy. Unforgiveness will be a foreign commodity in heaven and completely unwelcome there. You can't take your unforgiveness to heaven with you. I'm getting rid of mine now.

In the meantime, here's what I'm going to do.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 - Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

Proverbs 14:23 - In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.

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