Making a difference

I’ve struggled with career issues forever. I’ve never been able to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. For the biggest part of my work life, I’ve been employed by large corporations with lots of benefits, a regular and consistent paycheck, and organizational charts. For a long time, in order to feel successful, I thought I had to keep moving up that chart. I kept going back to school and eventually earned an MBA, thinking that would get me “there”. The thing is, I’ve never felt that I fit in; a typical alcoholic’s complaint. Probably the closest I came to belonging was at the Interactive Media Lab at Dartmouth where most of my co-workers rode motorcycles. I was told that after they interviewed me, subsequent prospects were compared to me – and failed. We did cool stuff. I worked with super-intelligent and creative people, and it was like a family. The head boss made me want to bang my head against the wall fairly often, but the rest of the crew made it worthwhile. However, when I took my cross-country trip and decided to move to Colorado, I was ready to move on professionally.

Once in Colorado, I found I was back at square one, occupying a cubicle, going through the motions, trying to be grateful for a paycheck and benefits and the knowledge that being a biker for a major ski resort corporation wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I finally got the nerve to leave the corporate world, but only because I was going to get married and had a cushion. That cushion lasted all of three days when I realized I was making a big mistake and found myself homeless and unemployed at the start of this unending recession/depression/whatever you want to call it.

Fortunately, before I’d left New Hampshire, I’d started training people to ride motorcycles. I went through the brutal and demoralizing preparation course and passed with flying colors – top of my class! It sure didn’t feel like it. I’d never thought I was close to failing any class or training course before. But I left New Hampshire with my national certification, and I hooked up with ABATE of Colorado and started teaching out here. It was a rocky start. Although it’s the same course, things are done a little differently than they were back east. Plus I got rear-ended on my bike in Longmont right off the bat, which meant I taught very little my first year. When my second season in Colorado rolled around, it was like starting all over.

When I became homeless and unemployed, I started teaching more. I got more involved in ABATE. Before I knew it, I became a site administrator in Greeley. That means that I do the scheduling, keep the bikes running, and teach as often as I want at my site. Becoming a site administrator is a big thing. It was similar to a really big jump on that organizational chart. I also got promoted to lead instructor. I fit in!

The only problem with all of this is that I work every weekend. I work outside at the mercy of the weather. In the winter, we never know if classes will be held or possibly a forced reschedule halfway through the weekend. In the summer it’s freaking hot. It’s very physical work, and I’m usually in a lot of pain at the end of each work day. After so many classes in a row, my patience for students who can’t read instructions on where to show up for class and what to wear becomes limited. I get frustrated when students make excuses every time you coach them or can’t follow instructions. I wonder what makes some people think they should be riding a motorcycle in the first place. In other words, it’s a quick burn out when the season gets going hot and heavy.

But then something happens, like what happened to me this morning, and I am incredibly grateful that I am in a place that gives me the opportunity to change people’s lives in the blink of an eye. I am able to open the door to riding a motorcycle.

After doing some work on the bikes at my site this morning, I stopped at the Walgreens. While checking out, a young woman came in and walked by me, asking if that was my bike outside. Yes. Then as I was getting ready to leave, she came out and we started talking. She’d seen the “Bad Girl” sticker on my bike and knew it belonged to a woman. She has wanted to learn but didn’t think it was possible. Ha! Just so happens I could help her with that. I explained that taking the Basic Rider Course is the best way to determine if riding is something she could do. She might love it, or she might find out she’s happier riding on the back with her husband. Even if she doesn’t choose to ride her own, she doesn’t have to wonder for the rest of her life if that was something she should have done. She feels it will bring her closer to her husband. It probably will, even if it’s as simple as him knowing that she shares his interest in motorcycles.

And then I rode off, knowing that as difficult as my work is, I’m not just a nameless cubicle-monger, another cog in the machine. I’m someone who changes people’s lives.

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