Across the ocean, they refer to televisions as ‘tellies’, french fries as ‘chips’, and cell phones as ‘mobiles’. Different words for different folks I guess, but it intrigues me that in the third example, we in North America employ a term that describes what the object is while they utilize one that approximates what the device does or is capable of doing. A similar dichotomy exists between my ‘workplaces’ pictured above; seemingly oceans apart, one represents (for me) a space in which significant attention is paid to the present interaction–the ‘experience’ we endeavour to create for our customers–while the other looks ahead to the untold lives we diligently equip students to navigate. I’ve enjoyed tremendous success in the retail environment, but admittedly, it’s liberating to finally be mobile–investing energy and passion where I am certain it will have enduring value!
The fact remains, a dozen years is more than a third of my life thus far, and consequently, a period of time worth reviewing as I take this pivotal leap forward.
My career at Rogers Communications Inc. began around the dinner table one evening when my mother mentioned that she was in a Rogers Video store paying her bill that afternoon and had heard a clerk mention that they were ‘short-staffed’. I ran down after dinner with a resume and was hired a few days later. A truly unremarkable story, variations of which are likely to be told by many teenagers in search of part-time work. I was 19 years old, halfway through my first year of a B.A. at the University of Waterloo, and it was February of 2000.
Today, I worked my final shift as a ‘Sales Associate’ for the Rogers Plus chain. On Tuesday morning, I will begin teaching at Galt Collegiate Institute in Cambridge, Ontario. Many of my students will be working tirelessly to earn coveted positions in the university programs of their choosing, and I am determined to give their education my full attention. From where I stand, this transition is definitely a remarkable one, and despite my burgeoning excitement to greet my new students, it seems fitting to mark and reflect upon the end of an era.
As I look back at the 12+ years since my telecommunications career began, I am utterly amazed–not only at the changes in communications technology that I have witnessed and to which I have adapted, but at the life changes that have coincided. I never expected to still be working for the company at age 32, married, with 2 children; I couldn’t even envision these days back in 2000, but the way I see it now, there were a few forces at work that fuelled and prolonged what has proven to be an incredibly rewarding working relationship:
When I worked my first shift at Rogers, we stocked about 17 titles on a ‘new’ format called DVD. (That’s 17 more than we stock today!) The other 5,000+ looked like this picture. I remember purchasing a DVD-ROM drive for my computer with some of my initial earnings from Rogers and buying my first DVD, “Eyes Wide Shut”. I was (and still am) a HUGE Kubrick fan, and had weirded out my new girlfriend the previous summer by dragging her to the theatre to see it. (She mustn’t have been scarred too deeply because she agreed to marry me 7+ years ago!)
Though I spent the majority of my time selling cable television and high-speed internet services at that time, even working in a centre within a video store was a dream come true! Movies were such an influential force in my life, and the thought that I might be paid to discuss them daily with co-workers and strangers was simply too good to be true. (Thankfully, those film discussions/debates didn’t end, even as we sold off the last of our Bluray discs this spring.) In many ways, I mourn the death of the video rental business because I think that discussing movies with total strangers, even if they have wildly different tastes than we do, is a ritual that will be sorely missed in our society. How many places can you go where it’s appropriate to strike up conversations with random people merely because you saw their hand reaching for a particular product? ”You have got to try that yogourt!” probably won’t spark the appreciation and follow-up conversation that ensues when you point out a hidden gem to to a fellow patron in search of that perfect popcorn flick on a Friday night. Netflix and iTunes and On-Demand services offer wonderful new ways to consume entertainment choices, but at the cost of treasured social interactions? I hope not.
Without a doubt, I had the best part-time job of any university student I knew because I made commissions and worked for a company that offered lucrative incentives! In truth, despite the many weaknesses that detractors will eagerly point out, Rogers has proven time and again to be quite generous to its employees. I have literally lost count of the cell phones, televisions, iPods, tickets to sporting events, gift cards, cameras, and endless other gadgets that I have collected over the years in addition to a healthy paycheque. I mean not to brag about anything but the company that doled out these goodies. I merely encouraged our customers to try out our new digital cable service (requiring a box with a surface area roughly equivalent to that of a picnic table!) or our blisteringly fast 5mbps hi-speed internet service, and I was repeatedly rewarded handsomely for my efforts. (Check out the heatsink on that modem!) When Rogers shifted its focus toward the sales of cellular products under the ‘Rogers AT&T’ brand, my addiction to sales took off and I never really looked back!
Most of my friends worked jobs where they knew exactly how much money they would make from a Saturday shift before they even left for work in the morning. They poured coffee, or set up banquet halls, or folded jeans for a pre-determined hourly wage. Conversely, I could push myself to work faster, engage more customers, and present complicated products and services in ways that made them easy to digest, and my paycheque would increase in proportion to the effort I exerted. I jumped at every opportunity thrown my way and took pride in my sales results.
In 2005, upon completion of my grad studies, my then-fiancee and I decided that in the absence of a clear career path, Rogers would be an excellent place to work full-time while we prepared for our upcoming wedding and adjusted to the responsibilities of married life. Blessed with a strict but inspirational manager who joined us at this crucial juncture, I embraced the idea that though a sales position was not my calling–was not what I had sweated through grad school to spend my life doing–I would pursue excellence in my workplace and my attitude and competitive spirit would enable me to push myself (and oftentimes my co-workers!) to new heights. I was reminded of the importance of ‘attitude’ many times throughout the 5.5 years that followed. I passed up several job opportunities that felt like compromises, and occasionally questioned whether I was moving forward or backward, while I continually reached for the sales crown in our area, our province, our country. Addicted to sales? Not really…but it had certainly become a way of life that was comfortable and afforded a degree of confidence.
My final two years with Rogers have proven to be an exceedingly long exercise in ‘letting go’. As I began my year as a Faculty of Education student at the University of Western Ontario, commuting and working long into the night on lesson plans and assignments, I still maintained a position at Rogers. In hindsight, I see that it injected a normalcy into the craziness that characterized that taxing academic year. As I ventured forward into my first year of teaching last fall, getting my feet wet in a profession where job prospects are often difficult to come by, again, I was allowed to continue working for this company. It was as if I was reassured to know I had a ‘fallback’ if my educational pursuits fell flat.
I mean not to suggest that I stayed with Rogers only because it was convenient or because there was something in it for me. My sentiments lean closer to the original meaning of the term ‘familiar’, which evokes an intimacy, a friendliness, or a sense of being ‘on family-footing’. I was privileged to work alongside one co-worker (who turned out to make a pretty decent manager!) for 12 years. Together, we have weathered many storms loosed on us by the business and everyday circumstances of life. I’ve been told that I’ve filled the role of big-brother, confidante, and debate-partner for a host of others. As the perks of the job began to evaporate with my decreasing involvement, one powerful reason to ‘stick around’ was to continue to dwell among people I genuinely enjoy! I know friendships need not crumble in the face of changes such as these, but as life leads us in different directions, the relationships we have can’t help but undergo modification. Hopefully a few of our long-standing traditions will endure.
As my anticipation of the upcoming school year peaks this weekend, it definitely stings a tiny bit to sever a bond that has grown strong over the past 12+ years. I will remember fondly my time with the innovative company that is Rogers Communications. I think our relationship has proven to be mutually beneficial!
There are many unknowns that still plague my venture into the field of education, but of one thing I am certain. When that empty classroom pictured above is filled with inquiring young minds on Tuesday morning, I intend to bring the same dedication and pursuit of excellence to the craft of teaching that has been my practice for the last dozen years. Here’s to mobility!