In 2011 I was canned from my job as the 73,999th employee at Arby’s–before I cashed my last paycheck–for hanging my nanodegree in machine learning from UdaCity above the urinal in the men’s bathroom. I didn’t tweet about it because twitter banned me last year after I went on an epic rant against handicap parking that they claimed contained racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-semitic, ageist, and anti christian language and imagery.
I thought I would work at Arby’s until I made millions. A place I would work until I died or decided I was tired of it and retired with a fat pension on my own private island. Something like that.
That didn’t happen.
Now, it may look like I am in an enviable position, a newly available to the job market free agent, with a resume chock full of fast food and other service sector experience. Most importantly a fresh out of the mailbox gleaming new nanodegree in the hot and growing field of machine learning. I should be excited for the position I find myself in at this time in my life. But for years, even when I was gainfully employed, I considered myself a failure. At my lowest point, I had to move back home and live with my parents. I was driving my mom’s Honda Fit around town and telling people it was mine. Bragging about it even. I had failed.
I no longer feel shame in the path I took to get to where I am today. It took me years to realize that I was misguided from the outset. This is that journey, from the beginning.
A Facebook ad turned on the lightbulb in my head
The idea behind my life was simple: I should be able to get a really good job with no real skills or abilities or knowledge beyond a basic high school level. No need for a fancy education or degree. But after a few failed attempts at normal employment ended in ugly firings and/or incarceration I knew it would take more than street smarts to get me where I wanted to be.
I decided to enroll in UdaCity’s nanodegree program in machine learning that weekend, after I saw an ad in my Facebook feed. The next early Monday morning I announced my intention to enroll on my facebook page. The reaction exceeded my grandest aspirations. Over 5 people checked it out on the first day and none ever saw it after that.
Later that year, I got canned from my position as the 73,999th employee at Arby’s–before I cashed my last pay check — and decided I would enter into what I thought would become my life’s work in the hot and growing field of machine learning. I know I already basically said the same thing in the first paragraph but I read somewhere that repetition in writing is good. That people like that shit. That’s just how smart I am.
Almost immediately, I cashed that last paycheck and blew all the money on hookers and coke. Bad move, but it felt good at the time.
I was on top of the world. I was just 19, a solo operator with no strings attached, with close to $8 in the bank . And the world was not giving a shit but I didn’t either.
I stayed focused on getting my degree. I barely passed and at one point they threatened to kick me out of the program. .
To keep my hopes of a degree alive I sold all of my remaining earthly goods including my collection of classic X-Men and Amazing Spider Man comic books. It really sucked. But I told myself things would be fine: I had the 3k needed to write the check to UdaCity which gave them all the motivation they needed to mail me my degree.
Then word of my canning at Arby’s spread beyond my social network. All of a sudden my failure was public, my parent found out. I spent the week ignoring them and anyone else who asked what was happening. After hearing the news my girlfriend left me for that snake in the grass Tom Valens. (It hurt, but I don’t blame her for trying to minimize the risk to her own safety and future life potential.)
So what went wrong, and when?
Failing in Style
Let’s start with the numbers. Fuck that shit, I suck at math.
Slim down, shut down or shut up?
None of the above
Skeleton crew to lifestyle business
It got worse from there.
Arby’s was no longer the ticket to the good life I had signed up for. I saw everyone else finding opportunities, but I was stuck cleaning that same men’s bathroom and I had scrubbed for the past 2 years.
I was basically alone. I didn’t have a team, nor an office, nor a uniform that fit. After I showed up at work super baked one night and tried to deep fry my hat they refused to give me another one. I got stuck with fat Jimmy Mitchell’s old cast off uniform when he got busted dealing meth and was sent up to the bighouse for 3 to 5. It smelled like fish and was at least two sizes too big. And Cleveland was full of other fast food restaurants making gobs more money, building amazing teams, and selling great products. Some of my friends even made enough money for down payments on used Nissan Sentras and Honda Civics. Meanwhile, I had to work at a “measly” roast beef chain. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I had to keep the ship from sinking.
Now, I understand some people would dream to be in that position. But at the time, I just felt trapped. I couldn’t stop, but there was only so much I could do as an army of one.
I shut off the rest of the world. I didn’t tell my mom about my firing–she had to read my facebook page herself to find out. My friends didn’t really give a shit, but I played it up like I was all depressed and suicidal. Chicks dig that shit. I left Cleveland for long stretches at a time, thinking that some travel would give me adequate distance. But the frequent trips to Parma and Medina only made me more lonely.
Every day, I woke up and took care of all of Arby’s bullshit. I tried to kill all of the bugs I could, but the fucking place was gross and full of roaches and spiders and shit. Often, I had to ask for help from former Arby’s employees who had found better jobs at Burger King and Long John Silvers. Every single time they would tell me to fuck off. Once all things Arby’s were taken care of, I tried to go to the gym, and if I had the willpower, work on a side project (a fantasy novel). Most days, I failed. Every day I failed at going to the gym.
To me, happiness is so much about an expectation of positive change. Every year before 2016, there was an improvement in my expectations––and this was the first time in my life when the present year felt worse than the last.
Living in Cleveland was already a struggle, and when Trump won the election, nothing changed.
Then one day, everything changed. Again. I’m wary about sharing this part of the story, because I don’t know if there is anything to learn from it. But it happened, so here it is.
On November 27, 2017 I saw this Ad in my Facebook feed
The future came into focus: I could get a small degree, a really, really, fucking small degree. A mother fucking nanodegree….Plus. I’m talking about a 1 x10^-9 degree, not some bullshit regular degree like the kind you get at one of those Ivy League snob factories or frat boy beer fest state colleges. Not only that it had a Plus on the end, that’s gotta be good for something, right? I would never retire from Arby’s like I planned, but that started to feel okay. Certainly, the thousands of customers I would no longer sell curly fries to at Arby’s wouldn’t mind.
Finding new forms of impact
The eight years I worked on Arby’s were full of personal ups and downs. Most months I worked 4 hours a day Mon-Wed. But there were also some months where I worked four hours on the weekends, those fucking sucked. Here’s one way to picture that time:
It doesn’t matter how amazing your product is, or how many roast beef gyro’s you sell. The market you’re in will determine most of your growth. For better or worse, Arby’s grew at roughly the same rate almost every month because that’s how quickly the market determined we would grow.
So instead of pretending to be some sort of product visionary, I’m just focused on making Arby’s better and better for our existing customers. Because they are the ones that have kept us alive.
Creating and capturing value
Name two things I would never do even if I knew what the hell they were.
After my firing, I didn’t talk to anyone about Arby’s. Not even my mom. And after moving away from Cleveland, I felt pretty disconnected from the fast food community.
So, as a way to re-engage with the community, I thought about sharing my financial situation on my Facebook page. Other people looking to make a quick buck in the fast food world could learn from my mistakes, utilizing my data to make better decisions.
It was scary: I was losing money every month, hell every day. It could scare off prospective girlfriends. It’s something I would never expect any sane person to do. It makes sense to hold those cards as close to your chest for as long as possible. Once that sort of information goes public you’d be lucky to get a blow job from Jane Sintzenmeyer and she’s the biggest slut in town. Hell, she blew Tommy Farkson the retarded kid from Avon just because she said she liked his laugh.
But, since I wasn’t exactly getting laid anyways I figured why the hell not share that information. I was broke and nothing was going to change that. So in April 2018, I started to release my monthly financials (aka screen shot of my bank statement) publicly on my facebook page .
Ironically, nobody gave a shit.
Seeking the non-binary
For years, my only metric of success was retiring in style from Arby’s, Now, I realize that was a terrible goal. It’s completely arbitrary, and doesn’t accurately reflect impact.
I’m not making an excuse or pretending that I didn’t fail. I’m not pretending that it feels good. Even though everyone knows that the failure rate in fast food, especially shitty, super nasty ones, is super high, it still sucks when you do.
I failed, but I also succeeded at many other things. I got that fucking nanodegree and it hung on the wall in the men’s bathroom at Arby’s for two weeks before management found out and canned me. And without having to worry about rolling out of bed by 10 am three days a week I am free to focus on what matters. I’m happy creating value beyond my revenue-generating job, like these words you’re reading!
I consider myself “successful” now. Not exactly in the way I intended, though I think it counts. Where did my binary focus on retiring a millionaire from Arby’s come from in the first place?
I think I inherited it from a society that worships wealth and loves curly fries. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that curly fries are my all-time favorite munchie food and was also the world’s greatest food overall.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to work in fast food until you retire. I personally don’t think the people that do it are lazy, or slow, or evil. And there’s a part of me that wishes I was still on that path.
But for better or worse, I’m on this one now. This has been my path to not retiring from Arby’s. Instead, nanodegree plus in hand, I am on my way to a new and better place with a career in the hot and growing field of machine learning. There are many like it, but this one is mine.