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Memphis - Grit & Grind

When I finally do write a book, this will probably be one of my favorite chapters. In life, it will probably be one of the most challenging chapters I ever have. My Aunt Beth was right when she gave me the advice “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s over said, but incredibly true. If you can overcome challenges in life you really grow from them. It makes you appreciate little things more, and overall rounds you out as a person. I always joke about humility and how good it can be to have humbling experiences in life. I joke about only ever hanging up 2nd place award ribbons, so I know there’s someone to chase. I also think the occasional C in college or high school is good for you. You won’t be great at everything, and that’s ok, as long as you can identify those things and (hopefully) show enough humility to joke about them. There are so many different kinds of challenges in life – personal, financial, school stress, family stress, relationship stress. My big challenge was post-college, and it was in Memphis, TN. Put on some blue suede shoes, board the plane, and let’s jump into this story.

I guess Memphis really started with my ambition to study abroad. I wanted to go on the trip of a lifetime. I thought about going to Prague, maybe Greece. As I was starting to plan this trip, my best friend Tim (who lived in Germany once upon a time) was talking about going to Europe that same summer to visit his grandparents. There was also the European Soccer Cup, the equivalent to the World Cup soccer tournament, but only with European teams. As Tim and I spoke about the trip more, we decided to just make a 5 week backpack trip out of it. It was incredible. After that summer, I thought wherever I got an internship, I wanted to branch out and go somewhere other than Texas.

For reasons I can’t fathom, a Memphis-based company called ServiceMaster was at the Texas Tech Rawls business student career fair one fall morning. There were many other companies, likely all recruiting jobs in places like Dallas, Houston, Lubbock, San Antonio, etc. But ServiceMaster was solely recruiting for jobs in Memphis, TN. I thought hmm… that sounds neat. I’ve actually always liked the idea of small big cities… Kansas City, Oklahoma City, etc. Memphis fit in that category. It was also a region of the country with a TON of culture. I would later find out Memphis has a unique feel to it – I can’t think of many other cities in the United States you can describe that way.

So I found the ServiceMaster job fascinating, and the day prior to the career fair, I spent a fair amount of time researching the company. Under the ServiceMaster umbrella was Terminix, which obviously a company with greater brand recognition. I thought killing bugs sounded like a pretty neat, humble way to make a living. So the next day I hit it off with a recruiter (S/o Zeke!) and felt pretty good about the internship, at least up until I walked away from the booth. It was in that moment Zeke waved me down, and whispered in my ear “Your new suit still has strings on the back of it.” So here I am, in front of probably 50 other companies and many Rawls business students, letting Zeke the recruiter trim some strings off my suit. To make matters worse, a college friend of mine named Molly had no problem pointing this out to other folks. I remember in that moment (and I even told Zeke) I better get the internship, because I’m not getting it from anyone else here.

Fast-forward to the internship, and what a crazy internship it was. That’s another story for another day. I made some great friends that summer, but probably the strongest relationship I forged was one with my manager, (We’ll call him Buddha Mike, because I know he knows who he is and he hates that I call him that from time to time). So Buddha Mike saw something in me, that I’m not even sure I see in myself even now. We were very similar. Similar interests, sense of humor, weaknesses, etc. It was incredible to find such a great mentor that early in my career. That relationship alone led to my job offer, and ultimately, chartered a two year unexpected course to Memphis, TN.

I won’t go into my job too much, at least in this post. I liked working for Terminix and worked with great people. The real challenge was being 450 miles away from my girlfriend Kristen, parents, brother, college friends, etc. I really only knew a handful of people going into the full time job (The only constant at ServiceMaster the last 4 years had been change), and Buddha Mike was one of the people I knew. I was homesick often. I remember sleeping on an air mattress, having essentially my 2010 Rav4 filled with the basic survival necessities. I drove to Memphis without even knowing where I was going to live. That’s a hell of a thing to do. Credit 22 year old Zach for making that step.

There were fun times, memories. I enjoyed hanging out with Buddha Mike on occasion, my buddy Sahil. There were work friends I made like the great folks at BFC. I had friends and family who over the course of the two years, would stop in Memphis from time to time. I spent a lot of time buying plane tickets and traveling back to Texas. Buddha Mike and Jessica were always generous about letting me work remote every now and again, which really helped make long distance possible. I saw Memphis Grizzlies games, Memphis Tigers games, partied at Raifords, enjoyed walks alongside the Mississippi river. It wasn’t all bad.

Long distance sucks. No sugar-coating it. The one thing I’ll say about it is again, like life challenges in general, if you overcome it, you get so much stronger. What also sucks is not knowing anyone. It’s hard making friends after college, especially when you work somewhere where there are very few people your own age. I enjoyed my co-workers, but I was always kind of looked at as little brother around the office. Ultimately, I could’ve worked for Terminix for another 5 years and I never would’ve got rid of that perception. I’ll talk about that later too.

What I’ll remember the most about Memphis is the way it made me feel. Such a range of emotions in such a unique city. Pride, anger, confusion, pain, deer in the headlights, peace. I learned the hard way, how to be gritty…. How to overcome challenges far beyond my control and grit & grind my way out of them. Grit & Grind, just like many Memphians have done for years. How to be comfort in the uncomfortable. How to find comfort being alone. How to be grateful for the friends and relationships you have in life.

Memphis is quite the city. The blues were born there. Elvis is from there. Martin Luther King was shot and killed there. It’s a sister city to New Orleans, but more lowkey. I like lowkey. It’s sort of an underdog city. I also love a good underdog story. It impoverished by high crime rates, drug dealing, redistricting, etc. etc. The most common question I’d hear when talking about Memphis would be “Well isn’t it so dangerous to live there!?” The reality is absolutely. I saw things and heard things that were not great. I never was in any situation where I truly felt in danger, and for that I’m thankful.

Memphis is a unique city, and I’m proud such a unique part of my life occurred there. I’ve said this before – Memphis gave me a newfound level of respect. Respect for anyone who makes a bold step outside the lines. For anyone who makes a bold move away from “home” – wherever home may be! Memphis made me appreciate the little things more – like living with my brother and seeing my girlfriend almost everyday. Don’t ever take things in life for granted. To quote a nice little under the radar song from Noah Kahan, “keep your time, keep your mind, stay humble, start your life in the middle of the jungle.”

Thanks 901!

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