When I Most Felt Like A Loser

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After Lithuania, I was back in Philadelphia, playing the waiting game.

If you’ve ever played a pro sport (or plan to in the future), you know (or will know) the waiting game. Hopefully you won’t get to know it too well.

If you’re not familiar, I’ll explain it in full.

  1. You’re a pro athlete, who is currently unemployed.
  2. You wait for the phone to ring or inbox to light up, hoping that your agent (or, if you’re without agent, a team itself) is on the other end with news of potential employment.

The waiting game was my least favorite part of playing professional basketball — technically then, during these waiting game periods, playing professional basketball is exactly what I was not doing.

For me, the waiting game didn’t begin until I had experienced having my foot in the door, so the year and a half between college graduation and my first playing opportunity didn’t count. It only began after the first experience.

So, here I was, waiting. And I couldn’t wait too long before I would need to make some money.

The day my agent had called and confirmed to me that the Lithuania deal was official, I had driven to the Bally Total Fitness in South Philadelphia (I had been promoted to assistant sales manager and twice transferred to lesser-performing locations that summer to boost their bottom lines) and cleaned out my desk. The area manager who had the South Philly club under his jurisdiction had his home office in the club itself, so I went right to him and told him the deal.

As soon as I told him that a pro team overseas had offered me a contract, he didn’t even let me finish my sentence. He stuck his hand out for a handshake and wished me success.

I thought I could get my job back at Bally and sell gym memberships — they knew me well, after all and I had a proven track record. Getting re-hired would be easy.

Bally wouldn’t hire me back.

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No one was hostile or gave even a hint of negativity about it, but companies like Bally move on quickly from salespeople.

Though I had been one of the best salespeople in southeastern Pennsylvania the summer of 2005, I wasn’t the first salesperson to do well and abruptly quit. And I wouldn’t be the last. Corporations have processes in place for replacing people quickly and seamlessly, and that’s exactly what they’d done.

It’s like Will at PSC used to love to say about sales staff: I’ve seen ‘em come, and watched ‘em go.

My mind was fixated on working at a gym; I could quit easily, I knew I could move memberships, and I’d have access to a workout floor for free.

So I applied to every gym I could find in the city.

I remember landing an interview at a gym in Center City on Market Street. I think it was called Weston. About a week after the interview, I called the woman manager who’d interviewed me to follow up. She told me that she didn’t have a sales position open. I asked her if she had any other positions open. She said she did — a maintenance job.

No thank you.

There was a girl I’d been seeing before I’d left for Lithuania, let’s call her Sally.

Sally had come into Bally and I sold her a membership while simultaneously finessing a future get-together between us. There was an instant connection. Sally had been a dancer in college and was fond of describing dance as, “a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.”

It was only after the third time she’d used that phrase that I got what she was talking about.

Sally worked at some office job downtown, but her passion was spoken word poetry. I went to see her perform once in North Philly.

Sally and I spent a lot of time together that summer, and she was really happy for me when I told her I’d be traveling abroad.

When I was back in Philly after Lithuania, I called Sally. She seemed hesitant and somewhat cold in responding to me when I suggested that we meet up.

I went to Walmart one morning a week or so later and bumped into Sally; her coldness towards me was confirmed. She was friendly enough, but friendly in the way a woman would be with a guy she knew from work — not friendly how a woman would be with a man she was romantically interested in.

I found out months later via Facebook (of course) that Sally had started dating a fellow spoken word artist from that same club in North Philly where I’d seen her perform. The last I saw Sally, many years ago, she had married dude and had some kids with him.

Good for her.

Anyway, I was still jobless.

I applied and applied and applied, mostly via CareerBuilder.com, for weeks. Finally I got an interview, and was subsequently hired, as a stock-shift manager at a supermarket in the Willow Grove area.

What’s a stock-shift manager, you ask?

Well, think of how many items a supermarket sells every day to customers like you and me. All those products are gone off the shelves. The stocking shift are the people who come in and work overnight, restocking supermarket shelves with all the stuff that got purchased during business hours.

Because I had a college degree (which had no bearing whatsoever on my ability to do this or any other job), I was hired as a manager of the stocking shift workers. My degree was also the reason why Foot Locker had hired me as an assistant manager even though I had no Foot Locker experience.

So I guess four years of college was worth something.

The stock management job was about what you’d expect from my description. We had a truckload of boxes of goods in the back, and we’d grab those and refill the shelves over an 8-hour shift. That was the entire job.

The only good things about the job were 1) that there was no uniform or dress code. Wear whatever you want and 2) if you were not much of a conversationalist, you could perform an entire shift without speaking to anyone.

The not-so-good things:

  1. The work was monotonous and boring as FUCK. The first night I felt like my brain would explode by halfway through that 8-hour shift.
  2. I smartened up and brought my iPod to work the second night. The battery died four hours in.
  3. I like conversation. But there was no one to talk to. All ~15 of my coworkers were older men (maybe 1-2 females) in their late 30s and early 40s. They could have passed for a construction crew. They all seemed happy and content with working there. I had nothing in common with these people. I knew it, and they knew it. Though I was being groomed to manage these folks, I never said more than a “hello” to any of them.
  4. The head stock shift manager, tasked with teaching me the ropes, told me on my third night that I would be smart to make more efforts to connect with the other employees, starting with sitting at the table and eating with them during the break hour. “If you don’t sit and eat with these guys, Dre, they won’t respect you.” Thanks for the advice.
  5. Though I was being paid as an assistant manager, I was to start off doing the same work as everyone else so I could learn the job. Foot Locker had had the same setup for me.

I didn’t even have my car anymore, which I’d gotten rid of when leaving for Lithuania. I was still living at home, so my mother let me drive her car to work around 9pm every night. I’d drive back home after work around 6:30am and drive mom to work. Then I’d sleep for 4-5 hours, go to the gym and work out, then pick mom up from work around 3pm. In between all of that, I was still doing my basketball hustle — sending emails, making calls, hoping for my phone to ring.

The sum total of this routine: I felt like shit. And I don’t mean physically.

I felt like a severely underemployed, no-future-having, fuckin going nowhere loser.

Sally had probably been right to stick with the spoken word guy (who had probably been waiting for his chance to shoot his shot all along). I couldn’t have taken her on any dates with no car.

And who wants to start a family with a 23-year-old man living at home with his parents working overnight at a supermarket?

Don’t female’s parents warn them growing up about staying away from people like late-2005 me?

Aside from my 1-2 daily hours in the gym, there was nothing positive about my life from my perspective, nothing social-media-share worthy. Yeah, I had the basketball skills thing, but no logical reasons to believe that anything — like a chance to show or be compensated for my skills — was going to happen (again) anytime soon.

Then my phone rang.

It was my agent.

I’d been sleeping off the previous night of work when he called me around 11am. He told me that a team, a show basketball team (?), was interested in me.

I’d have to go to their training camp in Colorado to earn a roster spot, and I’d have to pay for my own flight to get there, but, he assured me, the team was very interested.

I hung up with my agent, called the supermarket and quit my job.

I was back ON.

What the hell was a show basketball team, and what happened there? That will be in a future email, so stay tuned — but all of this and my other stories all go around the content of my book Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life that coming February 22. Preorder it now and get all these bonuses.

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