“I wasn’t supposed to be here.”
Even after I came to grips with my initial shock – I wasn’t supposed to still be here, but what’s the old non-biblical proverb about telling God your plans is like telling God a joke? Well, He is still laughing ten years later. I hope He finds this very amusing because I sure do, and I have a story to tell about a decade in an industry I didn’t even know existed. I guess you can call this my inDOCKtrination.
Yes, let’s go with this title because the 23-year-old kid who stepped on a 105-degree cross-dock ten years ago in 2011, 2000 miles away from what he considered comfortable, learned a lot about himself while learning about others through the framework of less-than-truckload trucking, also known as LTL.
What is LTL? I describe it as UPS or FedEx with bigger stuff. We use forklifts instead of conveyor belts and semi-trucks instead of package trucks. Other than those differences, the fundamentals are similar. We pick it up and we deliver it. So, why did I choose LTL? Completely an accident.
“I knew I would need an alibi…”
I went to school for marketing and graduated with a marketing degree AND a degree in logistics management – accident! Two years before walking the stage, I encountered the semester I thought was from hell, but in retrospect, it was God sent because it changed my trajectory.
I wasn’t doing well in my classes, but it wasn’t because I was lazy – the complete opposite. My extracurricular commitments consumed me, and I completely bombed the semester. All C’s and one F in Business Calculus.
The C’s were par for the course and weren’t a huge deal, but Business Calc was a prerequisite for the college of business, and now I had to wait another semester for admittance because of my failing grade. It hurt.
I’d never come close to failing except for the second semester in 5th grade when I discovered I needed glasses, but other than one small nearsighted oversight – school was my jam. And suddenly, it wasn’t. I found myself in front of a student advisor advising I could switch my electives and pick up another major in logistics management and still graduate in the same amount of time – one semester late.
I figured why not – “double major” sounded cool. Plus, I knew I would need an alibi in a few years when people asked why I was still in school. Yes, the perfect cover. I was sold.
“I was kind of like the Fresh Prince!”
Two years later, I graduated with a logistics management degree which would never be used because I went to school for marketing, but I quickly learned a lesson in compensation. Entry-level logistics positions paid a lot more than entry-level marketing positions on average. In 2011, $20000 more – settled! Also, I knew I could circle back to marketing after I got my foot in the door – and I did with Con-way Freight in Phoenix, AZ.
After college, I decided if I would be broke, I would rather be broke and warm than broke and cold. So, I packed all of my belongings and made the three-day drive to Phoenix with my parents to live with my aunt. In hindsight, I was kind of like the Fresh Prince!
I graduated towards the end of the recession, and Michigan’s job market wasn’t doing too well, and I heard Phoenix was growing. It was an easy decision. What wasn’t easy was working for $7/hr at Target with a “double major” when I saw my friends landing what seemed to be meaningful career positions.
Here I am, doing the same thing I was doing my senior year of high school – pushing carts – in Phoenix. Was I complaining? A little, but it sure did beat a Michigan winter. Either way, I didn’t have to think about it for too long because I was interviewing with different companies within a few weeks.
- Ryder – who gave me the runaround and rescinded after offering a position.
- Enterprise – who offered a position.
- Global Tranz – who offered a position.
- Knight Transportation – who did not offer a position.
- Schneider – who did not offer a position.
- And cue the music – Con-way Freight – who offered a position, which I accepted.
“He’s a great supervisor. You will never be as good as him.”
I still remember my interview with the Director of Operations at the time, Jim. He stated very matter-of-factly he did not want to hear any of my college-educated words. First, I was taken aback, but then I understood. He wanted me to be genuine and to the point because my team would, as well.
He said the job would be difficult, I would be working terrible hours, and I would always be dirty. Then after his great sales pitch, he slid me a number on a piece of paper. My eyes almost popped out of my head. The offer was okay for every two weeks. It’s a lot more than what I was making at Target. Finally, he said it was weekly. I cried in the car.
A couple of weeks later, I was amid madness. It was everything Jim said it would be and more. I was hot, sweaty, and losing weight. My feet hurt from walking upwards of seven miles an evening. My back was sore from closing trailer door after trailer door. And yes, I was dirty – my uniform, hair, fingernails – all perpetually dirty. I would even spit up dirt every night in the shower.
My head was spinning. I didn’t know if it was from everything I was learning or the exhaust fumes from the forklifts and tractors, but strangely enough, I loved it – every minute.
Something I’ve learned about freight over the past decade – it’s hard to be lukewarm and successful. LTL is not an industry you can coast through. You either love it or hate it, and if you hate it, you should bow out gracefully and do something you love because you will be miserable.
I wasn’t miserable. I enjoyed myself and learned more about the industry and what it meant to be a leader – to supervise and lead men and women much older and experienced than me.
Once, as I was walking the dock, a driver pulled up next to me on his forklift and asked my age. I told him 23, and he responded, I have underwear older than you, and he drove away and left me in a trail of forklift exhaust. I laughed and carried on about my day, but a challenge was decreed – I had to earn their respect.
One driver was very kind to me during my time in Phoenix, Mr. Ford. He always had a motivational word for me, and I always listened. Once, he drove up to me on his forklift, and he pointed to another supervisor – “You see him. He’s a great supervisor. You will never be as good as him. Not because you can’t be, but because you won’t be a supervisor forever. I can see there is something different about you.”
His words still stick with me. A couple of years ago, I made a work visit back to Phoenix and connected with Mr. Ford. He remembered the advice he gave me. It was a wonderful full-circle moment.
“I left a different person than I came.”
A considerable part of my success story with what is now known as XPO are the managers who pour(ed) into me: Mike, Brandon, Chris, John Sl., John M., Teddy, Terry, John So., Matt, Olivia, Eric, Cat. I thank you all for being a part of my journey and my success story. I would not be the leader and person I have become if it wasn’t for you.
When working in Denver, Chris would coach me on my communication skills and how to be more direct but still respectful. “This is your shift. You have to own it. You have to be a leader.”
My time in Denver was impactful in so many ways. The lessons I learned on the dock tied directly to the lessons I learned in church and grad school. The three years in the Mile High City transformed me. I left a different person than I came.
I was skeptical when I found out I would be relocating from Phoenix to Denver because it would be the first time I was truly away from family. Plus Denver was a lot colder than Phoenix, but God ordained the transition, so I trusted the plan.
The number one lesson I learned in Denver was how to be a servant first and a leader second. Servant-leadership would become a theme in my life and career. Even though I had a great time in Denver, all things must come to an end. Mine did in 2014 when I moved back to Michigan to work at our corporate office.
“I believe in alignment – right place, right time.”
I remember the U-Haul drive back to Michigan with a one-bedroom apartment’s worth of stuff I acquired while in Colorado with my fraternity brother Justin by my side. We made the 55-mph journey back to what I once considered home, Michigan. Walking forward to a place you came from is not the same as backward steps. Your path is your path. Embrace the journey.
The feelings were mixed because when I left Michigan the first time, I never planned on moving back. Maybe it was the recessed economy. Perhaps it was never truly feeling like it fit into social circles, but I was not happy about my return. I knew I would not be planting any permanent roots. But if this is the soil God wants me in now – so be it.
We pulled up to my newest one-bedroom apartment and I signed the lease and moved in sight unseen. The apartment turned out to be perfectly fine. Talk about stepping out on faith.
So, why was I back in Michigan? Because I received feedback after an interview for an operations manager position in New Jersey, I needed more experience. So, I figured the best place to learn about the network would be in our Linehaul Department – where we managed the flow of trailers, freight, and people between our buildings. I enjoyed Linehaul, but I was only in the department for ten months before I accepted a position in Learning & Development.
I applied for the position during some downtime one evening and walked across the hallway the next day to introduce myself to Teddy, who was head of L&D. A few days later, I was interviewing. I do not subscribe to luck. I believe in alignment – right place, right time.
L&D was not in my career plan. Naturally, I am a shy introvert, so public speaking was a far stretch out of my comfort zone, which is why I applied. Do things that make you uncomfortable because discomfort always precedes growth and comfort always precedes stagnation.
L&D was an instant fit. I had a learning curve, but it felt like my experiences over the previous four years overprepared me. Teddy told me they were looking for somebody with an operations background who was an excellent communicator. Me? An excellent communicator?
“I advocate for the inclusion of people of color and women.”
I’ve heard the sentiment before, just not in a professional context. The words were in me, which I began using after pledging my fraternity in college.
Grad school helped me refine the message. I attended Gonzaga University online full-time from 2014 – 2016. For 2.5 years, before and after work, I was refining my message. It was challenging balancing the workload at first, but once I found my rhythm, things ran like clockwork. So, if you are considering going back for a degree while working, it is possible. Not because I said so, but because with God, all things are possible.
L&D sharpened my public speaking. My role was to be an effective communicator. I spoke in front of executives, managers, and hourly employees. I learned about emotional intelligence and how to read a room, how to cater my message to the audience without sacrificing quality, and making appropriate eye contact. Teddy, Terry, Rob, EB, Luke, and Cathy were all instrumental in my development! Thank you!
Because of my professional experience, I decided to venture out and speak to external audiences. When I look in those crowds – I see people who look like my family, my classmates, people from my neighborhood. People much more talented than I ever could be without the opportunities I was afforded. I burn for them, so I can light their wick. The best of my energy is for them, and that carries over to my professional career as I advocate for the inclusion of people of color and women.
I jump at the opportunity to speak about being Black in primarily non-Black spaces. XPO has done a great job of creating room for diverse voices. I’ve spoken on panels and have been interviewed for articles. Our CEO has gone so far as to pull a group of Black employees together to ask what more could be XPO be doing for diversity. The conversation was important – big step in the right direction.
My conversations focus on the underserved. I am proud to be a first-generation Black-West Indian-American building on a foundation laid by my parents and family – the ones here and the ones no longer.
“I have a therapist. You should get one, too.”
At the end of 2015, I was facilitating a virtual webinar, and while speaking, I received a text message, “He’s gone.” I replied during a break in the action, what do you mean he’s gone? “He’s dead, Shell. He was found this morning.” My best friend – my cousin – as close as a brother – was killed. Remarkably, I focused and finished the call. The rest of the day was a blur. I left work early to drive home to Saginaw to be with my family.
My cousin’s death was a turning point in my life. My career ambitions and what I found value in shifted. On top of what I was going through personally, XPO acquired Con-way. Sadness replaced stability.
I didn’t make time to grieve my cousin’s passing because I was traveling more for work – just masking the hurt, honestly. For those who have lost someone close, you know the grief comes in waves, and it has seemingly random triggers. I remember when I started crying because it was raining on a drive to a site and it reminded me of the weather when we buried my cousin.
In 2021, I recognize the importance of mental health. I have a therapist. You should get one, too. In 2015, seeking professional help wasn’t even a consideration. I did not confide in coworkers because I didn’t and still don’t think they would understand. EAP was a resource that I should have but did not use.
You pray, and you get through it, and I did, but it could have been so much easier with some counseling. I lost my best friend before he even turned 30. I was losing coworkers because of the acquisition.
On a work trip to Cincinnati, I received a call from a coworker – Teddy’s position was eliminated. Our manager? Wow, I didn’t know what to think. He was one of many reductions that day. It was the second round, and ironically for both, I was not in the office. Maybe it was for the best. 2016 was starting great.
Life goes on. In the summer, I graduated from Gonzaga University with my Master of Arts Degree in Organizational Leadership and dedicated the achievement to my cousin. I know he would have been proud of me. He always was. We looked up to each other for different reasons, and he knew school was my jam.
Gonzaga graduation photo
So, I decided if I can help prevent what happened to my cousin from happening to anybody else, I would.
“I moved all my stuff to my parent’s garage and became a Cole Haan-clad nomad…”
Work and life remained pretty settled until 2017. Towards the end of the year, I accepted a new position as an Implementation Manager, where our role was to roll out new technology for the company. The promotion was a welcome change because I was beginning to feel a little complacent in my previous role. Also, I must mention, this was my first official “promotion.” Technically, all my earlier job changes were laterals, but a raise was always attached.
I knew THIRTY was approaching, and with such a significant milestone comes certain expectations. Don’t get me wrong, I was doing okay for myself, but I still felt like I was one financial mishap away from losing everything.
By this time, I was over six years into my career at XPO. A feat in and of itself because most of my friends I graduated with worked for 2 or 3 companies by then, and I could not help but think I wasn’t doing myself any favors by not testing the waters with another organization.
Research shows more significant financial gains come from switching companies. Many experts recommend you change companies every two years, and here I am with the same one for six, but right on schedule came a promotion.
Link: A New Study Concludes That It Literally Pays To Switch Jobs Right Now
My time as Implementation Manager / Technical Change Management Principal was fun and full of travel! I was in those roles for about 2.5 years, and acquired elite status with two hotel brands, and was one segment away from Gold Status on Delta Airlines.
I was on the road a lot. So much so, my fear of moving back in with my parents was realized, not because I could not afford it, but because I was never at my apartment. When the lease ended, I moved all my stuff to my parent’s garage and became a Cole Haan-clad nomad – just me and my backpack traveling from state to state.
The money I was saving from not paying rent might as well have been a pay raise, so I stashed enough until I had enough to make a down payment on a place of my own. I found stability in one of the most unstable times of my life. It goes to show what trusting God can do for your finances. God cannot make your crooked places straight if there are no crooked places.
“I didn’t have a proper bed before the pandemic.”
In 2019, I purchased my first home in Atlanta, GA! Why Atlanta? Why not Atlanta? My position was remote. I could live and work from anywhere, as I had demonstrated over the previous two years.
Okay, Atlanta was warm, and the cost of living was reasonable. Plus, my closest friends live within five minutes of me. It was one of the best decisions I could have made then | WORLD STOP!
I don’t need to tell anyone of you about the pandemic. We are still living it. Admittedly, I was nervous about finances during the first few months because nobody knew what would happen.
Would we lose our jobs? Travel was no longer an option. How could we operate effectively? Everything was virtual because we were in the house.
I’ll say this once being empathetic to everyone who has suffered losses; I welcomed the break – not the circumstances. Paying a mortgage on a home I did have time to decorate, and I didn’t even have a proper bed before the pandemic. My life was in a suitcase.
People told me travel fatigue was real, and I knew eventually, it would catch up to me; I just did not know when. I figured it was about when I would wake up in the middle of the night in a dark hotel room and couldn’t place my current location. So, yes, the reprieve was welcome, and in the middle of my rest – another promotion – this time to my current role, Field Development Leader.
“…new wood to learn and burn.”
A Field Development Leader’s assignment is to help onboard and develop new talent. You can tell by now this is right up my alley. Develop new talent, pour into others, and still travel – but less. This position was a win all-around, and as of a few weeks ago, I have some direct reports, whose development I am accountable. This position makes seven different positions with XPO.
What has kept me going over the past decade?
- Purpose – I nurtured my purpose through my roles in XPO, even if they weren’t a direct “fit.” Find ways to emphasize the parts of your position that align with your purpose to maximize happiness.
- People – It’s not what you are doing, but who you are doing it for.
- Passion – Passion burns hot, but you must continue to fuel the fire. I’m passionate about learning, and to keep the flame burning, you must find new wood to learn and burn.
- Progression – The position changes helped. Not feeling stagnant keeps my head in the game. Also, being able to demonstrate upward mobility is important to potential employers.
- Pay – At a base level, we all come to work to make money.
I did not expect to write this much, but with 3652 days with one organization I could have written more. I’ve thanked a lot of people and acknowledged God multiple times. In addition, I also want to thank me.
The current me honors the past me for navigating through a decade’s worth of scenarios. You stood tall through 10 different years, 7 different positions, 4 different states, 2 different companies, and 1 acquisition. There were many doubts and a few tears, but through it all, you persevered – and I love you for your tenacity.
What’s next? I don’t know because there is no multi-year plan. I’m just trusting the journey and God. I recently asked, what’s the number one thing you’ve learned over the past ten years?
My answer was people. I’ve learned the importance of people and genuine relationships. Without them, you have no business.
If you wanted to know, I selected a slow cooker as my ten-year gift because it reminds me of my career. You can’t rush well-done. The best things take time. Here’s to ten!
If you enjoyed this #LoveLetter, please comment below and share it with your network! That would mean the world to me. Every like, comment and share helps. Also, check out I Made You This Shirt! Thank you for your support!
Dope experience and lessons learned along the way. I enjoyed reading every minute of it. I always knew you were a hard worker. Keep up the great work and sharing your story with others. To the next 10!
Thank you JaQara! I appreciate you reading and the kinds words. I hope all is well.
Nice reflection, Sheldon! Keep up the great work!