Seizing the Moment
I’m not sure why, but I remember looking at the clock. It was 9:15 a.m. and the phone rang once, twice, and just as it started to ring a third time, it was picked up.
I looked up to find Carmen, my bookkeeper and receptionist, standing at the door to my office, “It’s someone from the chamber, or maybe parks and rec. Whoever she is, she wants you!”
“Schneider’s Automotive, Mitch here. I can help you!” I answered.
It was someone from parks and recreation working with a young professionals group at Apollo High School. They had a late speaker cancellation and wondered if I could fill in—in a couple of hours.
The first time someone called to ask if I would be able to “fill in” for a speaker who suddenly was unable to “make it,” I found myself embarking on a magical journey as a trade journalist. Subsequently, I’ve answered, “Sure!” just about every time I’ve been asked to fill in since.
Turns out the kids were all graduating seniors who returned to Apollo to finish school after some kind of personal trauma or crisis. Some have overcome drug problems, some are teen moms, some have had problems with the law.
I took a quick look at my calendar, laughed about the very short notice, and said, “Sure, what the hell!”
“Sure, what the hell!” can either lead to chaos and confusion or it can take you to places you’ve never been before. It can leave you broken and bleeding or exhilarated and filled with hope. The best part of this instance was that it didn’t leave me a lot of time to think about what I had just agreed to, let alone consider what I was going to say. In fact, it left me with just enough time to clean up and get there.
I called a good friend and asked for the latest numbers on the size and scope of the automotive aftermarket. In less than five minutes, I had a snapshot of the depth and breadth of our industry printed and downloaded on my iPad. I had decided to let these kids know there was a place for them in our industry, regardless of what they might want to do. You see, ours is a portal industry, with many doors through which you can enter and even more possibilities once you’re here.
All of us know mechanics or technicians who have become service writers, service managers, even owners, or those who have moved into distribution or manufacturing. Regardless of what anyone says about the aftermarket, the possibilities are endless if you are awake and aware enough to see them and courageous and daring enough take them.
That was the message I brought to this group of graduating seniors anxiously sitting around in a semi-circle waiting for me. Their questions were razor sharp and focused on the future: both theirs and quite possibly ours.
One young woman leaned forward and asked, “What are the opportunities for women in your industry? Can I work on cars if I want to? Or, will I have to work in an office?”
You can do anything you want to, provided you’re willing to put in the effort and the hours it will take to get there, I told her.
“Can I make enough to support a family?”
I said my business supports seven families.
“How much more schooling will I need and where do I get it?”
I said to be prepared for a lifetime of learning and that with the online courses available today, you can get that just about anywhere.
I spent just over an hour with these kids and at the end of our time together, I couldn’t have been more impressed. These weren’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill high school kids. These were kids who had all been through one kind of personal hell or another and somehow managed to come out the other side.
I finished up by telling them how much I enjoyed the time we had spent together and that as far as I was concerned, they had a real advantage over most of the other kids their age in our community. Every one of them had overcome a serious challenge and had chosen to go back to school.
I told them it was OK to let a prospective employer know what they had been through—whatever they were willing to share—because a lot of us have overcome challenges of our own and know what kind of courage and determination it takes to keep it together and make it through that kind of adversity.
And, I told them one more thing: Somewhere in the course of a lifetime, unexpected opportunities might bubble to the surface. Rather than agonize over what to do or what not to do, it’s sometimes better to just say, “Sure, what the hell,” and just let it happen!
Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For an archive of his columns go to ratchetandwrench.com/schneider.