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My Story

Chapter 2: Making Connections and Trusting in God

In my first post, I shared what life was like for me growing up in small towns in Texas and Ohio, and reflected on how my indecision and passivity as a high school and college student put me in the position of having a small mountain of student loan debt with a nearly worthless community college degree.

In 2010, I graduated from a small community college that disproportionately hikes its rates into private university territory for your last two years. That left me with over $30,000 in student loans for a Business degree from a no-name school in a town with no jobs.

I had no idea what to do. But I knew as a young adult male that I wanted to live on my own and find a job better the my low-paying fast-food management job at the local Dairy Queen that I had in college.

There wasn’t a better job to be had. In a town of 4,000, the idea of vacancies in such jobs that were anywhere close to my field was a fantasy.

So when I read about a job fair for Wendy’s, I figured they’d have to pay better even for the same job I already had. So even though the job fair was over an hour away, I went.

And they did pay better. They hired me as an Associate Manager, and it was a 66% pay increase. But considering my Dairy Queen pay had been $9 hourly, a 66% pay increase on that wasn’t exactly great, considering I had $30k in college debt to pay off. It was a start, though, so I accepted the job.

I knew I’d hate working there.

It was the same thing I already didn’t like and was burned out on, only even more fast-paced. The only pros were health insurance and more money. The trade-off was that they only trained external management hires in select restaurants, which meant I got to drive 45 minutes one way, to work at Wendy’s.

I’d get up at 5am on the mornings that I opened the restaurant, and I’d get home at 2am on nights I closed. I already hated it after week two. I hated it even more when I wound up at the location in downtown Huntington, West Virginia, right next to Marshall University’s football stadium on the Saturday that they played their final home game against chief rival WVU. I still remember like it was yesterday. It was a pretty brutal shift of fast food work.

Anyway, here I was, still living with my parents at 22 and working fast food with all that debt. Still floating through life, afraid to take risks. Still not seeking God. I was where I was due to failure to seek him and also due to lack of direction. I was making strides – I was earning what was considered a decent wage for that area at the time, and had my own health insurance.

But I wasn’t close to being happy. While I didn’t know what I did want, I knew it wasn’t coming home smelling like grease and dealing with drunken or less-than-friendly fast food customers every day.

Meanwhile, God was working on me. I couldn’t see it yet, but he was gradually setting me up to fulfill his plan for my life. Early one morning on my 45-minute drive to work, I saw a yard sign advertising employment at Amazon.com.

I had three thoughts about this: (1) Amazon is here? Of all places? (2) Amazon.com is advertising with a yard sign? Is this legit? (3) If it is, I’m in.

I went online, and sure enough Amazon.com (as it was still called at the time, instead of just “Amazon”) had a location in little old Huntington, West Virginia. I applied for that customer service agent position faster than you could blink an eye. After my interview, I gave my notice at Wendy’s.

I wasn’t even for certain that I got the job, but I knew I couldn’t stand working fast food any longer.

Fortunately, I did get the job at Amazon. It was a seasonal position, which meant I might be out of a job in six months, but I was desperate and just the idea of Amazon seemed promising.

Starting at a successful Fortune 500 internet-based company we’d done case studies on in college was an experience. The training experience was my first ever in a semi-corporate environment, and it “wowed” me to the point that I wanted to find a way into that department.

In April 2011, they hired me as a permanent employee, and I immediately set out to get my foot in the training team’s door. In November of that year, I was a seasonal training assistant. The following two years, I was a seasonal trainer – seasonal meaning that during off-peak times of the year, I had to go back to answering phone calls from customers having problems with their Kindles.

Even though it was better than fast food, answering phone calls became tiresome. But I loved training – the classroom environment, knowing I was setting up new hires for success and helping them along the way – it was what I wanted to do, at least in the short term. Finally, I felt that I had some direction for my career.

Not to mention that the position required speaking in front of people all day and forced me out of my quiet, introverted, indecisive, dispassionate shell.

So, I applied many times for the trainer promotion. And each time, someone else was chosen. It was extremely disheartening. I finally had a sense of what I wanted, but kept getting shut down.

I was starting to see change in other areas of my life at the same time, though. After being hired permanently as an employee of Amazon, I’d moved on my own to yet another small town – this one called Ona, in West Virginia. It was a perfect hop onto I-64 from Amazon’s shiny new call center. And after a year or so of refusing to find a church to attend, I’d finally committed to attending one regularly. I’d even begun going to small groups and volunteering with things.

While I still wasn’t seeking God’s will through prayer, I was being exposed more and more to his truth by hearing it taught from the Bible.

As my spiritual life began to develop, I became increasingly frustrated about the continual failures at work in attempts to be promoted to the trainer position.

Little did I know, these failed attempts were God moving.

My manager at the time encouraged me in the summer of 2014 not to apply for the seasonal trainer role for Q4 when it came out like it every year, but to apply for the seasonal customer service supervisor position instead. I begrudgingly agreed that it was a good idea. I soared through the application and interview process, and became a supervisor in a seasonal capacity.

When November rolled around and my seasonal role was almost over, the supervisor team received a unique request. The outsourcing team needed a trainer to help them launch a call center, and they wanted someone from the Huntington call center. But the training department was not willing to offer  one of its trainers because Q4 seasonal training was in full swing and they couldn’t afford to give anyone up.

So they asked the supervisors for availability to travel to an undisclosed location (Amazon is always secretive about this stuff). The supervisor had to have training experience and also be certified on the company’s training platform.

Wouldn’t you know that I was one of the only ones in a building with hundreds of people in it who met all that criteria.

They told us that the temperatures were in the 80s at this location, so we all thought it would be someplace like Costa Rica, Jamaica, or Mexico, where Amazon already had call centers.

I agreed to help and was selected, and Amazon sent me to Arizona.

Arizona.

Really? I was somewhat disappointed, yet excited to see something new. At that point in my life, I hadn’t been out of the Ohio-West Virginia-Kentucky tri-state area after moving away from Texas, save for a few trips to places on the East coast.

So on the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2014, I flew to Phoenix and joined the rest of the launch team, which was three other people from Seattle and other parts of Washington state. We did all the training at a new call center in Tempe, operated by an outsourcer.

While we were there, executives talked a lot about the need to hire additional managers as their operation there would be ramping up quickly.

I began making connections in my mind: It’s clear that God put me here by keeping me from the training position that I wanted, so that I would be the only person with training qualifications who would be available to come here. And now that I’m here, the team is talking to me about hiring additional managers.

I mentioned to one of the executives, who was there from India on a visa, that I would be willing to move there and work for the company. She jumped at the chance to hire someone from Amazon directly, because after being there for about five years, my knowledge of its customer service standards and improvement methods was pretty deep.

She said she’d be in touch, and I flew back to Ohio in the second week of January, happy to be home after spending the holidays eating fast food 2000 miles from family, with coworkers I didn’t know that well.

As time went by, I thought she’d forgotten after going back home and figured it wasn’t meant to be. I sent follow-up emails to vague “I’m working on it” responses, and finally decided to let it go.

But in mid-February, I finally received an offer. It was my chance. And it was a risky one. It was obvious to me at this point that God was calling me to move to Arizona. But there were a lot of questions stirring in my mind. Could I afford to move there? Could I afford to live there on a relatively low salary? How would I handle living by myself with no friends and no family?

It seemed like too much to take on when I could stay in a place and a job where I was completely comfortable.

I'm a 32-year old living in Gilbert, Arizona (that's in the Phoenix metro). I love Jesus, my wife, and my daughter and am doing my best to choose the three of them instead of myself - one choice at a time. I enjoy learning about Jesus, writing, photography, coffee, donuts, and good conversation. My personal website where I share my photography and design projects is joshsmithaz.com.

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