Lincoln, determination, and the truth about Walmart

I know, I know: it has been quite some time since I jotted down some thoughts for your reading and entertainment. However, I hope you will find the reasoning adequate… and we’ll get to that. First, though, I want to talk to you about Honest Abe.

To be frank, I am much more fascinated with the political mind of Madison, the rabble rousing of Sam Adams, and the dignity that makes Washington larger than life. They, along with several other of our Founding Fathers, are the most fascinating characters – to me – in our nation’s history. However, there is a little something about Abraham Lincoln that sticks out and brings a deep sense of admiration for the man he was.

While we may see the tall, bearded man as the 16th President and the man who led the Union to victory, abolishing slavery, and honoring us with the Gettysburg Address, I see a man with a deep sense of determination. It is that determination that leaves me in awe more so than all of his political accomplishments. For me, political accomplishments (and accomplishments in general) are simply a product of a man’s character. If Abe Lincoln has a philosophy and governs by it, that is one thing. But if that philosophy is one that puts him in the column of defeated for numerous elections, that is a different beast.

Considering his several losses in bids for elected office, and several other personal obstacles he faced, to know that this man ended up being the leader of the United States of America is and should be an inspiration to all of us. Here is a guy who faced loss after loss, who had personal problems that at times overwhelmed him, and who faced adversity for much of his life; yet, he pushed forward. He didn’t quit. He never folded.

That is the epitome of what this country was founded on. Discipline and determination. Perseverance and pursuit. To continue towards goals and success regardless of the dim light that seems to only flicker in brevity and distance.

For me, and for what has happened in the past three months, I see being those things – disciplined, determined, persevering, and keeping sight of what I pursue – hasn’t lost their reward in this life.

One year ago today I was about 35 days in to a 120 day stint of incarceration for some pretty serious mistakes. Before that sentence, I had resigned from elected office and been through several years of personal troubles and hardships (to say the least).

When I was released in May I was without direction regarding how my life was to proceed professionally. Personally, things were rough, but manageable.

But personally isn’t what this post is about.

For a period of about six months I filled out job application after job application. I came to a point of feeling that unless I wanted high-pressure telemarketing, prep-cooking for minimum wage, or temp employment, I was going to be at a loss. But I didn’t quit; not after the failed McDonald’s interview and not after the 75 or so job applications that I put in – one after another.

At one point, my loving wife looked over at me one evening and said, “Nick, I don’t know how you do it. You don’t quit. You just keep on trying.” I told her it was the stubborn Marine in me… and in reality part of it is. But another part is that I don’t believe in quitting. It’s really not an option.

Enter Walmart, and enter my temporary absence from The Missouri Thinker. It was a hectic several months to say the least.

While some of my liberal friends appreciate the protests against Walmart on Thanksgiving, and while they believe Walmart is evil and greedy and take local jobs away, I must dissent. But for those liberal friends and readers who think that, bear with me and give me a moment of your time to listen.

Sure, I can tell you all about the hundreds of millions of dollars in donations they contribute per year. I could tell you about the college programs they help their employees with. I could tell you about how they are simply the result of Sam Walton’s American Dream manifesting itself into something unimaginable.

But I’m not going to tell you things you can find easily on the internet. What I am going to tell you is about my personal experience.

After those 75+ applications, after defeat followed defeat in interviews, after cringing every time I signed a waiver to have my background checked, Walmart called me back. Not only did they call me back, but they called me back with an offer, and not only did they offer me a job, but what I heard was, “Nick, we are going to give you a chance. No worries about what came back on the background check. We see potential.”

I was soon able to share with my wife what I saw as an irony: for years in the political spectrum I defended, without hesitation, Walmart and what it stands for (the success of the American Dream). After years of doing so, they give me – a guy who had defeat after defeat everywhere in his home town – a chance.

Soon after the offer, I found myself at orientation. Now I know – Walmart takes jobs from small businesses and they are horrible, right? Well, I was in orientation with two retirees, another unemployed person, and a guy who decided to stop being a stay-at-home husband because his kids were graduating high school. No jobs taken – just jobs given.

Oh – on a side note – my favorite part of orientation was the video that talked about how bad unions are. Again, another fine aspect of Walmart philosophy. Ha!

Again, after that I found myself in break rooms with my fellow employees. I will qualify my next statement by saying I doubt there is a job in the country where there is not a disgruntled employee. The same is for Walmart. However, and generally speaking, there weren’t a bunch of employees sitting around talking about how bad their employer was. The general tone of discussions about work was that it was work – nothing horrible. Amazingly, most employees had smart phones and cars, too (crazy, right?!). They had plans on the weekends, there were many couples who worked together, and many employees talked about family life as if they were… satisfied with life.

Further, in the short time I was there, I watched three new employees be promoted. What was amazing is they were the employees who showed up on time and worked hard. I mean, whoooda thunk it!

I say all that to say that now more than ever, whenever I see the protesters during holidays “hating” on Walmart, I will chuckle and shake my head.

I bring Walmart up now because I am no longer with them – as with many others before me, Walmart was temporary and a stepping stone; and what they weren’t was evil and of the devil!

Now that I have talked about Lincoln and Walmart in full, I want to go back to that interesting concept of determination.

My wife isn’t the first person who discussed my determination with me. Several years ago another friend told me that I was “different”, and that was the explanation as to why I could overcome many personal obstacles in life and succeed… that most people weren’t “like me.” I would get frustrated when he would say that because to me it’s simply about doing your best at all times – even when the situation is grim; even when you have fallen; even when the cards are stacked against you.

That is what I have done all my life; that is what I hope to continue to do for the rest of it as well.

And that is why after I had been at Walmart for just a couple of months I was given a call by a potential employer who offered a much more appealing “package” than Walmart. I was offered the position and I took it.

I’m there now.

With all that said, here is the point I wish to convey: the idea of success still exists. If a broken man with a record and past like me can pick himself up and get to a place he would consider success in the America of 2015, then anybody can. It’s still there. Will it always be there? I know not.

However, after what I have been through in the past year, after what I have fought for, and after what I have been able to achieve – what some may have thought impossible – I have become more firm in my belief that success and failure is an option… you can have either one. However, an underlying fact that was present with Madison and Washington in the Revolution still existed when Lincoln lived, and still exists now: the concept of “the pursuit of happiness”… pursuit is a hard word because it is not only the operative word, but also defined in this model by work, discipline, determination, and perseverance.

In sum: Never Quit. Success Exists. Failure is an Option.

PS: I’m back and will work hard on writing more often… (that’s to the person who slapped my hand in Walmart for not writing more). 🙂