One of my friends from back home, this guy Nick, he spent the majority of his time goofing off, playing video games, smoking a lot of pot. He managed to get through high school, but he only lasted a semester at college before landing back in his parents’ house with no money, no prospects. He did clean his act up though, he cut back on the drugs and video games, he went down to Costco to apply for a job.
He was naturally a very nice person, and when he took the time to clean up, spending just a couple of extra minutes making sure to shave and present himself as a serious job-seeker, he had no trouble in hitting it off with the hiring manager at Costco. Nick was upfront about his previous lack of job experience, and the hiring manager saw a lot of himself at Nick’s age, and so he gave him a chance.
“We’re going to start you off at inventory,” they told Nick. But on his first day, the guy in charge of handing out the Costco uniforms couldn’t find a red vest. “I only have blue vests,” he handed one to Nick, and it being his first day, he had no idea the difference between blue and red vests, so he just took one and put it on.
Apparently it was a big deal though, because blue vests were reserved for floor managers and heads of individual departments. Nick put on his blue vest and, because he got there super early for his first day, decided to take a walk down the electronics aisle and check out the TVs and sound systems before he had to show up for his first assignment toward the back of the warehouse.
While he was looking at the latest in ultra-HD TVs and wireless speakers, some dude approached Nick and, mistaking him for an electronics salesperson, started quizzing him about product specifications. Lacking the self-awareness to realize how his situation could have been misrepresented, Nick freely answered all of the guy’s questions. None of his answers were based on any facts or research, rather, Nick started running his mouth about random stuff he’d read on tech blogs he’d occasionally read online.
The customer didn’t know anything about technology, and so not only did he not see through the bullshit in Nick’s answers, he actually walked away pretty impressed. Which was a huge stroke of good luck, because the customer turned out not to be a customer at all. He was some VP at Costco HQ who happened to be in the area for one of those regional meetings. He hadn’t intended to do any secret shopping, but he stopped by the store for one of those really cheap hotdog and churro combinations that Costco is so famous for and, while he digested his lunch, he found himself wandering through the store. That’s where he ran into Nick.
Unfortunately for Nick, his conversation in electronics with the unintentionally undercover VP took longer than expected and, as a result, he was late for his first shift at the back of the warehouse. When he did show up, something like ten or fifteen minutes late, the shift supervisor was furious. “And what are you doing wearing that blue vest?” he demanded. “You think this is a joke? Give me your vest and get out of here!”
Nick had no idea how things had turned out so wrong. Dejected, he took off his vest and tried to hurry through the parking lot, hoping to make it to his car before any unexpected emotional dams broke, causing a potentially public display of waterworks not really appropriate for a grown man in his late twenties who just got fired on his first day of work. Before he made it to his car though, the VP called out to him in the parking lot.
“Nick!” the VP said.
Nick turned around and saw the guy from the electronics aisle.
“Yeah?” Nick said.
“Where are you going?”
“How’d you know my name?”
“From inside. Your nametag?”
“Oh yeah, right.”
“Listen, Nick, I’m actually VP of operations for the region here at Costco, and I’ve got to tell you, I was really impressed with your handle on the electronics department back there. You ever think about going for a job in corporate?”
And Nick didn’t know what to say. None of this was really making sense. And he was still feeling the rush of very conflicting emotions bombarding his thoughts. The best he managed to get out was a, “Well, I don’t know … uh.”
The VP took out his card and said, “Listen, why don’t you stop by regional HQ tomorrow. I’d love to introduce you to the rest of the team.”
And seeing as how Nick just lost his job, he thought, what the hell? He might as well give it a shot. He showed up the next day and met with a whole bunch of VPs. He really didn’t know anything about business, nothing about profits or revenues or supplies and demands. He just showed up and started talking about the new Roku 3 and solid state hard drives, random topics that he’d remembered seeing headlines about on all of his favorite web sites.
The VPs ate it all up. They didn’t know anything about electronics either, but they weren’t at all familiar with the popular Internet sites, and so Nick’s ceaseless stream of trending technology talk filled the whole conference room with the fresh energy and buzz that only a youthful outsider could bring to the table. He was hired on the spot.
And the work was easy enough. The suppliers didn’t really need any input from a VP. They all knew which products were moving well, and merchandise like giant TVs and external hard drives basically sells itself. And so Nick found himself with a cushy office job, a fat paycheck, but a lot of time to kill during the day.
And so one day he was feeling particularly restless, he decided to check in on his old store, the place where he was almost gainfully employed for an entire day. He went to the food court, bought his hot dog and churro, and then took a walk past the electronics department. He looked at all of the TVs and speakers and, as he rounded a corner, he ran right into his old boss, the guy who fired him for slacking off and wearing the wrong vest. He was helping a customer, answering questions about square inches and dpi, all of this weird technology lingo that Nick was surprised he even knew. Maybe the job was starting to rub off on him. Maybe he knew more about electronics than he thought.
For a moment, he was consumed by the idea of flaunting his rank, by butting into the conversation and embarrassing this guy that had once cost him his job. But that wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. And besides, if he got this guy in trouble, what if he eventually got fired? What if he one day stumbled upon his own promotion, and wound up in a position even higher than Nick’s?
No, he decided to take the high road, to walk away. But not before standing there a little too long, making a weird extended eye contact with the man wearing that blue vest. Nick thought, does he remember me? Did I make enough of a dent in his consciousness that day so that he now recognizes my face? Would he be surprised that I’m now technically his boss? Nick decided to walk away before the urge to get involved came back. He thought, maybe I’ll get another hot dog, and one of those giant sodas. And he turned around and walked away.