The story below is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Finding My Smile”.
After the Wolf House
Life after the Wolf House changed drastically. Harold died, I began working as an assistant manager at Walmart, and I began to lose weight. Losing Harold showed me how short life was and how to cling on to what I truly loved. Walmart introduced me to leadership even against the crowd, and losing weight revealed my power to live healthy with the one life I had.
While I was on route to Harold’s wake I received a call from my brother, asking me why I hadn’t applied to Walmart. When I explained that I had and hadn’t heard anything from them, he told me to hold the line and wait for their call. A few minutes later, the regional director called me to offer me a job working as their assistant manager for a new site. The job would keep me local to Linda and allow me the opportunity to use my managerial experience. I accepted the offer.
Working for Walmart
At the time working for Walmart was an exercise in patience. So often my coworkers offered counter-intuitive advice: “Don’t be friends with the associates,” the other managers would tell me. “They are the workers, you’re the manager.”
“But they work harder if they see me working, and they do a better job when I’m not around if they respect me when I am around,” I’d explain. That initial discrepancy between how my managers managed and how I managed seemed to mark my entire experience with the company. All too often I would be challenged for simply treating my employees with respect. Many of the associates in the different stores had been with Walmart for decades. They knew the ins and outs about what worked better than anyone else, including the managers. I’d ask their advice and would build upon their recommendations whenever I could. If we succeeded, we’d share the success. The associates appreciated my attentiveness because they were able to approach me when they had new and creative ideas. I appreciated them all the more for making management easier. It was a fantastic situation.
Unfortunately, the other managers didn’t appreciate my approach. Frequently I would be undermined for the sake of diminishing my enthusiasm. The general manager of my store specifically didn’t like me. She cut my strings as an assistant manager in training earlier than traditionally allowed, and assigned me solo managing positions within my first three months on the job. I had to learn all of the ropes as quickly as possible, which meant that I was often building off of my intuition and marketing experience. When I’d turn to her for assistance, she’d simply glare at me. “My plate is full, David,” she’d tell me. “Don’t come to me with this stuff.”
I learned very early on how to smile despite the difficult surroundings. After the Wolf House, simply having enough rest and time with Linda was cause to smile. I was getting healthier too, which relieved me enough to let my smiles actually mean something. Every day, as I walked around the floor of Walmart, I’d pass out my smile cards and extend that happiness to others. Many appreciated the cards; my managers did not. I didn’t mind. Being happy and bringing happiness to others was more important than other’s opinions of me. Life is a lesson enough in that truth for all of us.
Unfortunately, sometimes the things that we’ve done in the past come back to snatch away our smiles in the present. After the injuries to my knee from my army days and the excess weight I had carried throughout my years at the Wolf House, walking the large market floor in Walmart destroyed what was left of my knee. We had just gotten a new manager at my site, a great man who actually respected his associates and staff, so when my knee gave out I was allowed some time to get healthy before returning to work. This new manager even recognized the power of a smile and helped me spread the joy.
Surgery and then recovery took the wind out of my sails for a solid three months. When I finally thought I could continue to live my life, I discovered that God had other plans: My knee got infected, and the doctors discovered that they had put the wrong size joint in during surgery. I returned to the hospital, to the bed, to the wheelchair. And my smile began to fade again.
There are certain points in life that change our tone and reflection upon the past, present, and future. Living in a wheelchair for a year gave me a new recognition of what it meant to smile. Life had never been easy for me: I have battled against a learning disability, have been abused, have struggled through addictions and then sobriety, have stood beside men facing down their demons, and have lost my happiness to exhaustion and obesity. Sitting alone in a wheelchair for days at a time with little besides an infrequent visitor to break up the monotony brought to mind all of the missed opportunities in my life. How many smiles had I let slip by, how many negatives had I let take root in my self awareness. Sitting alone brought to mind the moments when my smile had failed me. Sitting alone brought to mind the moments when I had failed my smile.
I determined never to let it happen again.
In the year as a broken and lonely person, I discovered what it truly means to love oneself and to let the love of God heal one completely. Too much had happened to me in life to be willing to remain trapped in my past. I wouldn’t be beholden to sadness or regret any longer. With my smile cards in hand and with a renewed vigor for life to share with the world, I have become a man devoted to bringing cheer to everyone. None of us have to remain trapped in sadness. A single smile from within or shared with another can make all the difference in the world. I have survived every challenge in my life and I am still smiling. It is the only thing any of us really can do to change the world.
I’ve had a lot of negative people and things in my life – some I have been responsible for putting in my life, and others that have been placed in my life through no fault of my own. These people and things did cause me harm, but I made the choice to rise from the ashes and be stronger than that. With the help of God and strong men and women, I’ve been fortunate enough to push forward on the journey of life toward a brighter tomorrow. A tomorrow filled with smiles.
I would like to show others how they too, can alter their perspective and create a brighter tomorrow for themselves, and for others. I hope that in the end, they find their smile as well.
I’m excited to share this message and would be happy to come and speak to your group. Please contact me to discuss how I can help your organization find and share smiles.