In August of 2016 I made my way across the country from Las Vegas to Long Island, NY to pick up my future wife, Julie and son, Kameron. She had already packed the few items from their past she wanted to bring into our future and we began our journey down to Wilmington, North Carolina to start our new life. When we got to Wilmington we stayed with a friend, unsure where to begin. My first objective was finding a way to put food on our nonexistent table. I searched the newspaper and internet looking for anything that would allow me to feed my family. I went to interviews, nervously trying to sell my skills and work ethic. Most of the available jobs were at construction sites hours away from where we lived. I calculated miles per gallon against dollars per hour to see if we would be able to take a step forward.
Late that month, a gentleman called who needed someone with a strong work ethic and stronger back for landscaping work. The next day I met him for an interview at the local Lowes parking lot, got hired, then went on a quest for work clothes. For the previous three years, proper work attire consisted of three-piece suits with tie clasps and French cuff shirts. Now I wore Carhartt pants, work boots, and an assortment of Dickies t-shirts.
I reflected on why I left a white-collar career in Las Vegas for fear and uncertainty in Wilmington, NC. Mainly, I left for Julie. But I was also not doing a very good job of transitioning out of the Marines. I moved to Las Vegas from Maryland in 2014 to continue my career in life insurance sales, a career I started after my career as a Government contractor died in the sequester of 2013.
Selling life insurance was the second time in my life I had to reinvent myself. I knew nothing about sales, I knew nothing about customer service, and I barely knew how to talk to people in a civilized manner. But all that changed. By becoming very comfortable with being uncomfortable, I was able to really excel in sales. Within a year I was asked to assist in opening the Las Vegas location. Two years after getting to Las Vegas, working 7am-11pm Monday- Saturday, and barely getting the agency off the ground I was done; with sales, with suits, and with my environment. I couldn’t continue. Little did I know I was training for my dream career.
So I found myself leaning on a shovel at 6 AM, listening to a nineteen-year-old kid explain the process. I was ten years his senior, had been around the world, and run a business. But now he was boss. “First you kick the sod with a sod-cutter” he explained, “it cuts into the earth three inches down and lets you to roll the grass up like carpet. Then it’s time to grab the shovel”. With all the fiber optics and other cables in the ground, machines were out of the question. You dig out the ditch one foot wide by two feet deep to allow clearance for the PVC pipe. Next, you use a survey tool to ensure the grade will allow the water to flow through the pipe on its way to the ditch. Finally, after everything is complete and the sod is replaced, the remaining fill dirt is packed into a wheel borrow and hauled to the truck. When the job is complete, it is as if we were never there.
The “crew” wound up consisting of me and my nineteen-year-old boss who was happy as a clam be in charge. The first day my hands went through a grinder before lunch time. On my break I ran to the local CVS for sports wrap and gloves so I could finish out the day. I got home long after sunset. Julie stared at me walking up the driveway, covered head to toe in mud, my hands crudely bandaged and asked if I was going back tomorrow. I replied, “Of course I am.” I knew eventually my body would harden to the demands of the work.
I kept the job for a week before I was offered another opportunity at a father and son ammo shop. I later discovered that the father funded the operation, but my new boss was the twenty-year-old son. My only experience slightly related to the job was having fired weapons of the same caliber as the ammo when I was in the Marines. My shift was 5 AM to 1 PM, Monday through Friday. I started by loading hoppers with brass casings. A single cylinder engine controlled the press. The first step was to wash the raw brass in a machine that mixed soap and water with beads to clean the casings. Next the brass was seated in a tray, a pin punched out the spent primer and a die reformed the swage. Then, the casing fell into a bucket. After that, we lubed the brass and sent it to another set of machines that trimmed the casings. Once the necks were sized and the casing could be reloaded, we put them back into the wash to come out shining like the golden sun. The process was hypnotic, the fifteen machines ran like an orchestra, all humming to the same rhythm. The job paid $15 per hour so it had the potential to get us moving in the right direction.
I enjoyed the job a lot more than digging ditches, it was fun to watch the brass move in the assembly line, I also started to understand what reduce-reuse-recycle meant. I felt like I was getting somewhere, and the schedule allowed me to be home to watch my son get off the bus. Unfortunately, it never turned into the opportunity that I hoped for. After four months of work, the father told me they were cutting my wage down to $7.25. I quit a few weeks later and was once again trying to understand how we could rub two pennies together to make a living. It took our savings to save our skin.
By January of 2017, I lay in bed, frustrated with myself. I promised Julie and Kameron I would take care of them and now, five months into our new lives, I was still struggling to make ends meet. I needed a real job. I needed a career. Then Julie told me about a general manager position with O2 Fitness she saw while job searching. I laughed at the thought. The job would be an absolute dream, but Julie had more faith in my ability than I did at this point. She said, “I’m serious. I think this is exactly what you’ve been looking for, this position was made for you and you’ll be great.”
I thought, “What do I know about running a gym?” The only thing I ever ran was a PFT and I wasn’t great at that. But I love working out and talking to people about working out and helping people understand how great it feels to accomplish a goal you set out to achieve so, with her support, I applied for the position.
So in February 2017, I started as the general manager of a single location. From the first time I sat at my desk I knew I had found my place. My supervisor told me about the culture of the club (or lack thereof). He let me know the gym had been without leadership for over six months and that the staff didn’t trust management anymore. I fell back on my time in the Marines and the old adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I didn’t know a whole lot, but I did care a great deal. This was my opportunity, my club. I was going to let everyone know I was willing to do whatever it took to turn the ship around. After my only salesperson left a few weeks into my role, they got to see the dedication I had only talked about in the interview.
My new schedule was Monday – Sunday from 9 AM to 8 PM or, as we used to call it in the Marines, day-on stay-on. Compared to insurance, it felt like I had every day off. I used everything insurance taught me to build a business and excel in my new career.
Step One: Learn how to sell your product. First you must find people with a problem you can solve. Then present your product as the solution to their problem.
Step Two: Find and teach people how to sell your product. This may come as a surprise, but I only look for two characteristics when looking for salespeople; Are you willing? and are you coachable? If you are both those things I don’t care about your education or resume.
Step Three: Teach people how to teach people how to sell. This is where you find your leaders. With all these steps in order you can grow a territory or open a new one. These were the rules I used, but the experience I used came from being in a place of uncertainty the entire time I had been out of the Marines, knowing at any moment the rug could be pulled from underneath me. I made a promise to my wife and son that we would never be in that place again. Within four months of working every day I built a team I was proud of and we turned that ship around.
Within eight months, I was promoted to managing the most prestigious club in the company at the time. I kept the promise I made. I worked as hard as I could and developed an amazing team along the way. We took the number one spot in the company multiple months in a row. I came to feel like I had made it. When that thought entered my mind, I knew that I had gotten comfortable like I had before, and had to change. From this point on I started to force myself out of my comfort zone. Books on introspection and emotional intelligence became the grinding stone to sharpen my mind
Within two years, I was promoted to area director over five locations in Wilmington, overseeing four general managers and working to coach and develop them to the same level of success I found. After eight months in that role, I took an opportunity in another area running a single leading location. I discovered during my time it is important to do things that make you happy. Running a single club allows me the ability to coach future leaders and the freedom to have time with my family.
I tell this story to help those currently in the same position I was four years ago. Don’t get discouraged, don’t feed your insecurities, instead spend your time working on getting better and be willing to fail forward. Focus on being better every day. I guarantee if you focus on getting better in the mind, body, and spirit it is impossible for you to stay in the same place. Be better today than you were yesterday and be better tomorrow than you are today.
Better is a never-ending mission.Michael Tribbit has been a US Marine, a salesman, a laborer, and a business manager. He happily lives in Raleigh, NC with his wife and son.