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It's Not You. It's Me. 

Kathy didn't speak. She wouldn't even make eye contact with me. I still chuckle about it to this day that this woman -- the manager who had hired me -- was truly offended that I was quitting McDonald's.

Yeah, she had hired me and trained me at the Conshohocken location before the Plymouth Meeting Mall store opened. And she'd picked us up at the Mall and driven us to that other store since we didn't have cars. And I had, after all, not actually spoken to Kathy about quitting. I'd simply written in the schedule book the previous week, "Please don't schedule me for next week. I'm quitting." So maybe she had her reasons to feel hurt.

But it was fucking McDonald's. And she was merely a manager.

I was flipping burgers and nuggets and fish fillets for less than $6 an hour, for Christ's sake. And Kathy had driven us to the other store for training because she needed reliable employees just as much as we needed the job. She was also a salaried manager in her 40s who fit into that "she is who she's gonna be" mold in life, while I was an 18-year old college freshman working in between classes and basketball practices. Thanks to the great American educational system, I didn't know anything about money or business or ownership after 12 years of "learning", so that would come later.

McDonald's and I had an employer-employee agreement: I work a certain number of hours, and in exchange they'd pay me $5.15/hour and an employee meal or two each shift. McDonald's didn't do me any favors and I didn't do any for them. I'd agreed to the arrangement and I could end it any moment, for any reason, just as they could. Funny how one side gets offended when the right is exercised against them, or they expect a 2-week notice. Anyone ever received a 2-week notice to be fired?

I'd gotten a new, better job anyway.

Hat World was upstairs in the mall, and since I loved hats, I would wander in there on my McD's break often. The manager there, I forget her name, took a liking to me. She had a son my age and could see from my communication skills that I was no dummy, and that I already had a job by my McD's uniform. I would pepper her with hints that I was looking for a new job and Hat World was my choice of employer. She admired my initiative and eventually hired me (lesson #1).

Hat World was (and is) a tiny store with not much to learn to be competent at the job. So we had a lot of downtime conversations, with me mostly asking thoughtful, open-ended questions and listening (lesson #2).

She had been in retail for 15+ years and held management positions many times over. I asked how she was able to get a manager job -- which was like being a millionaire to me back then -- every so often. Here is where I was first introduced to the concept of "selling [your] self (lesson #3)". Every job she had had, she said, she had sold herself really well in the job interview and had a 100% success rate. So then it made sense why she'd liked me from the start: I had been selling myself to her ever since we'd met, rather than the habits of normal application-pushing teenagers who roamed the malls seeking jobs. Here's my application, now I'll walk away. 

She taught me how to engage customers by asking questions related to what I observed instead of the dreaded, "can I help you?" approach. She taught me suggestive selling and how to make conversation instead of asking closed-ended questions that could be answered with a yes or no (lesson #4).

I eventually quit Hat World to sell $700 sets of kitchen knives (18-year-old mistake that I don't regret). But that's another story.


• The first rule of personal economics: pay yourself first. If you're not taken care of, you have no business concerning yourself with anyone else's feelings.

• If your own well-being saddens someone temporarily, they'll get over it eventually.

• There's more than one way to go about obtaining anything. The more people who are trying to get the same thing you're after, the less likely you'll get it the "normal" way. Make yourself stand out.

• Sell yourself: present your virtues in their best light and shine yourself up. People want something to believe in -- that thing can be you.

• Everyone likes to talk about themselves, if you get good at asking the right questions. More importantly, people like talking about themselves to people who they feel will use the information and not just ask for the sake of asking (which is called wasting time).

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