Blogger’s note: This is the 21st installment from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. I post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. Check out the “About Summer in the Waiting Room” link at the top of this page to learn more about the story. To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
I also began to face challenges in my professional life. In 1996, I worked around the clock managing the supervisor’s campaign. It was so consuming that when we celebrated Marisa’s second birthday at a pizza parlor, I stayed for just thirty minutes only to return to the campaign office because Election Day was just six days away. It also became clear that my decision to pursue a career in elective politics severely compromised my day job. Later that spring, I left the supervisor’s office for a failing non-profit organization that dissolved seven months later.
At home the night Erica was born provides a snapshot of that trying time. While Sandra and the baby slept at the hospital in preparation to come home the next day, three-year-old Marisa and I sat alone in the virtually empty family room of our newly purchased house watching television. While she was enjoying the quality time with her daddy, my mind wandered thinking about of being unemployed soon with a mortgage we could barely afford, worried about how I was going to provide for my family, and how I was going to pursue my professional dreams under such challenging circumstances.
With the impending collapse of the non-profit corporation nearing its endgame, I would scour the newspaper for job opportunities every day. Once again, fate stepped in. One Sunday morning while Sandra and the girls were still asleep, I stumbled upon a rare job announcement for a government affairs manager at the local cable company. Government affairs departments are unique to industries that are regulated by federal, state, and local governments.
The role of a government affairs department is to develop and maintain relationships with elected and government officials to educate them to provide an opportunity for that company or industry to influence public policy that is beneficial to its business interests. Usually, these types of job opportunities are shared by word of mouth with those who work in the political sector, so it’s unusual for a company to place an ad in the newspaper. I applied for the job and called on all of the politicians and community leaders with whom I had developed strong working relationships to send letters and make phone calls to the cable company.
The work ethic I learned from my parents, the urgency that drove me since my dad’s passing and my mom’s heart attack, and the opportunity to right the wrongs of my past motivated me to prepare obsessively for the job interview. Well prepared, I drove to the interview early so I would be relaxed and confident for the meeting, only to get lost in an unfamiliar part of the valley. Those were the days before auto navigators and GPS devices, so I found myself driving up to gas stations and other drivers stopped at traffic lights to ask for directions as the clocked ticked ever so close to the scheduled interview time.
My heart pounded at the thought of missing this opportunity and watching failure rear its ugly head again. Speeding through the maze of streets lined with the same looking, low lying concrete Silicon Valley research and development “tilt-up” buildings, I finally made it to my destination with just a few minutes to spare. I walked into the lobby nervous and anxious, wiping sweat off my brow and composing myself to look presentable. Wearing my best suit, I walked confidently into the office to start the meeting.
I dazzled them at the interview and I was invited to meet executives at the division office in Walnut Creek, more than an hour away, a few days later. I was nervous and excited to meet corporate executives, something I never would have thought was possible just a few years earlier. This time I wasn’t taking any chances. I arrived in Walnut Creek more than an hour early. The meetings went well and I got the job. My life would never be the same.
Working at the cable company was a great experience. I strengthened my relationships in the political community, learned about working in a corporate environment, had an office all my own, and shared an assistant with my boss. I also visited Washington, D.C. for the first time. Managers at my level rarely had the opportunity to represent the company in Washington, but my solid relationships with a few members of Congress led to the invitation by our department’s vice president.
When I arrived early that January evening, a light snow was falling and the lighted monuments and U.S. Capitol made the city glow majestically. That night, I went out into the freezing rain to see the Lincoln Memorial. I shivered while walking up the steps to the enormous statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in a chair looking across the Mall toward the Capitol Building. The statue took my breath away.
I turned and looked to see what Lincoln was seeing and stood motionless as I gazed at the iconic Washington Monument and Korean War Memorial shimmering in white as the rain gave them a shiny finish. I couldn’t believe that I was there, a boy from the east side who failed in college and found his way back, standing in center of the free world. I returned to Washington several times a year over the next 10 years and never lost the excitement and inspiration our nation’s capital gave me that first night.
My career in the corporate world was progressing nicely as I was promoted to director within two years. Still, my hunger for political success grew even stronger. In 1998, for a second time, I ran for a seat on the elementary school board against three longtime incumbents. Sandra, her parents and sisters, and my brothers-in-law formed the heart of the campaign. We learned a lot from the last election and had a well-organized operation. When I walked door-to-door asking people to vote for me, many had remembered me from the 1996 campaign. On Election Day, hopes were high. By the end of the night, I lost again by a slim margin.