The problem with life changing moments is that they don’t always come with flashing neon signs telling you that the decision you are about to make is going to alter the course of your life forever. Sometimes they can be as simple as a ringing telephone, but more on that later.
As we travel the highway of life is that we are not given a roadmap. When you think about it, a roadmap wouldn’t help much anyway since we’re not told our destination nor are we told how long the journey will last. We spend our time relentlessly driving forward into a fog that prevents us from seeing ahead of us. The fog of time is a fickle mistress however – we can’t see what’s coming but what is behind us is there with crystal clarity.
Some of the turns on the road are easy to see. They are well-signed and well-lit, like an interchange on the Interstate. You can’t miss seeing them, even if you don’t know where they will take you. Moving away from your hometown to pursue an education. Asking your girlfriend to marry you. Finding out you are going to have a child. Those are the moments that are clearly marked milestones on the highway of life – you’d have to be looking down and texting on your iPhone to not notice those fall into the “nothing will ever be the same again” category.
Other life-changing moments are much more subtle. Like a gentle curve in the highway, you may not even notice you are turning until you glance at your compass and discover the direction you thought you were heading is not at all where your personal highway has decided to take you.
That brings us back to my ringing phone. It was March of 1995 and I was living in a small two-room apartment in the Kensington district of Calgary. (Yes, I know it is hard to believe that Mr. Rural Smalltown was once a hip urbanite. OK, to be honest I was never hip, but you get the idea…)
I was unemployed and facing another summer of working on a road crew laying down new blacktop. In retrospect it wasn’t a bad job. It paid well and it afforded me the opportunity to travel around the province to every small town you can imagine. The problem with it was that being on the road didn’t allow me to have a home life or – more accurately — the opportunity to develop a home life.
I had recently interviewed for a job at the Lakeside Meat Packers plant in Brooks. I had no desire to work an assembly (disassembly?) line job, but it would give me a chance to settle down into a small town and start building something of a life. On that March morning in 1995 I had a second interview scheduled in Brooks. I was literally walking out my door to start the drive when my phone rang.
Now, I’m not sure why I even hesitated. I’ve never been a “telephone person”. I always joke that I am the reason God invented email. But, this time I stopped in my tracks. The phone rang again. I had no way of knowing that everything I have in my life today I owe to the decision I was about to make.
A third ring. I was going to have to move fast if I was going to beat the answering machine.
I closed the door and walked back into my apartment. I picked up the phone just as the fourth ring began sounding.
The voice on the other end introduced itself as Wayne. Wayne had a copy of my resume and wanted to interview me for a job. Hmm, a job in Calgary? There are more women in Calgary than in Brooks. When you are a single male in your early 20s these are the critical factors that influence your decisions. A guy like me needed to play the odds if I was going to ever settle down. “Of course I’d love to come in for an interview.”
He wanted to see me right away. I wrote down the address and returned to the position I had been in just minutes before – heading out the door to a job interview, just not the job interview I had been planning on. You’ve heard of the butterfly effect? Well, that small decision to answer the phone was the butterfly flapping its wings that would eventually cause a hurricane in a few years.
I knew nothing about the company nor the job I had applied for. I had been seemingly been sending out resumes to every classified ad in the newspaper. (Yes, kids, that is how we did job searches before the Internet!) I was going in cold and unprepared.
I met with Wayne. He hired me on the spot. He asked when I could start.
“Well, I’m ready to start first thing tomorrow morning.”
He shook his head. “Not good enough. We need you to start right now.”
I’m sure I must have looked dumbfounded. Sure, why not?
“Go home, pack a bag with enough clothes for the weekend and then get back here. You’re driving with our Sales Manager to a farm show in Grand Prairie and you both need to be there tomorrow morning to set up.”
With that my “career” with International Fertilizer Systems had begun. That’s not the life changing part however.
That moment would come just a few months later when we hired a new receptionist. She walked into the lunch room where I was sitting with some of the guys before work having coffee. She poured herself a coffee and then walked out without saying a word. I turned to one of the other guys and asked “Who was THAT?”
“That’s Shirley. The new girl we hired. Why?”
I simply responded with “Oh, no reason…it’s just that I’m going to marry her one day.”
Everyone snickered and gave me that eye-rolling look that said “Yeah, good luck with that, buddy.” It took me nearly three years but I got the last laugh on them – I did end up marrying that woman. That in itself would set into motion an entire chain of events which would bring me to where I am today. But, that’s a tale for another day.
One phone call. No flashing neon signs. No indication that I was about to change everything. Just a simple ringing phone and one man’s decision to answer it. That’s all it took to alter the course of my life.