The main reason why I quit working at McDonald’s wasn’t the $3.75 an hour pay, or the abusive, ego-tripping manager. After all, the endless supply of broken apple pies went a long way to make up for the unpleasantry at work.
I’m ashamed to say it, but the main reason why I quit was because I was embarrassed.
I lived in McLean, Virginia, a now middle to upper middle class neighborhood where kids would drive to school in new SUVs their parents bought them. One of my friend’s even had a separate house just for his indoor pool! It was a strange mix of wealth and normality.
As the son of US State Department workers, life was very low key. We had a seven year old Toyota Camry and lived in a cozy 3/2 townhouse (picture courtesy of Google Maps). I rode my bike or walked to school. My parents provided my sister and I all the opportunities we could ever ask for. I just knew we weren’t rich based on what I saw in comparison.
MINIMUM WAGE UPSIDE
As a teenager, my biggest fear was working the McDonald’s cash register and being seen by a girl I liked or by the cool kids at school. Wearing a purple colored shirt one size too big, a purple visor, and black pants was the opposite of cool. I was embarrassed they’d see me working for my spending money because I wasn’t rich!
As an adult looking back, how crazy is it to be embarrassed working for a living? Teenagers are so insecure. Every time I go into a fast food restaurant, all I feel is pride for the folks hustling back there for minimum wage. Instead of causing trouble or bumming around at home, they are working their tails off to someday make enough money to pay for school and lead a better life.
If I didn’t work for McDonald’s back in high school, I’m not sure I would have gotten a good job in finance that lasted for 13 consecutive years while getting my MBA concurrently on the side. Both had constantly ass whipping moments!
Getting up at 5:30am to open shop at 6am was miserable for a teenager. Trying to make six perfectly round Egg McMuffins at a time for three hours in a row in front of a hot stove while your manager eagle-eyed you was extremely stressful. Dealing with horrible customers while making barely anything tested my patience.
Did I really have to work for five more hours just to afford to take a girl out on a date?
By the time I joined GS in 1999, all the belligerence one normally would feel as a first year analyst on a Wall Street trading floor was no big deal.
“Even a dog could do this!” one VP would constantly bark at a subordinate. A phone would occasionally be hurled as well.
“Get out of my face! Can’t you see I’m busy working a deal?” said a senior sales trader one time when I asked him if he wanted some coffee. He never got anything from me again, that prick!
In comparison, the racial tirades my McDonald’s manager spat out at me and my Hispanic colleagues were much worse than the screams on a trading floor. At least the traders verbally abused each other based on competence, and not their ethnic backgrounds.
Each fireball hurled my way after college felt like baby kisses instead. Mwah!
I’ve longed to redeem myself for quitting McDonald’s too early. If I met my younger self now, I’d be severely disappointed because now I know quitting too soon is a cowardly act. I’ve slayed my demons for not giving my very best playing tennis growing up by making it to USTA 5.o, now it’s time for one more.
With Uber, I found a good close to minimum wage alternative that has helped provide some redemption. After giving over 200 rides over the course of a month, I’d like to share with you some important reasons why everyone – rich or poor, entitled or grateful – should consider working some type of minimum wage service job at least twice in their adult lives.
REASONS TO WORK A MINIMUM WAGE JOB
* You’re forced to develop your social skills. As a driver, you’re in the service business. Your goal is to take your passenger safely from point A to point B in a comfortable way. Part of making a passenger feel comfortable is by knowing how to communicate. Being a good communicator with excellent social skills is one of your most important job skills. Developing a strong support network is how you get promoted and paid in any industry.
You know how some people are annoying because they can’t STFU? That’s because they don’t have high enough social skills to figure out when to speak and when to listen. There are plenty of straight A students with encyclopedia-like minds. But these guys will never go very far because they are awkward as hell! If you drive for Uber, you’ll meet every single type of person imaginable and learn how to better interact with each of them.
* You develop tremendous work ethic. Some of the best times to drive are at 4am, 5am – 8am, 6pm – 8pm, and 11pm – 2:30am. These slots are where demand is greatest. Those also so happen to be times where no regular person wants to work! To make money, you must sacrifice and do the things other people don’t want to do sometimes. But any person with tremendous hustle can drive for three hours before or after their day job in order to make extra cash. Do these double shifts for a year, and I promise you will develop a tremendous amount of discipline. Out of necessity, you’ll also become much more efficient at work. If there comes a day when you no longer have to drive for Uber, then just doing your day job will seem so much easier.
Between 2003-2006, I worked 60 hours and spent an additional 25 hours a week going to business school part-time. After I graduated, I didn’t know what to do with myself for a while. Then I used the extra time to get to know more clients at work, which resulted in better results, better pay, and a promotion. In 2009, I decided to spend 25 hours a week working on Financial Samurai after work from 9pm – midnight. It was so much fun and didn’t feel like work at all!
* You will become a nicer, more empathetic person. Do you know who tips the best? People who work in the food and beverage industry. Why? Because they know it’s hard work to make a living as a waiter, cook, bus boy, bartender, or greeter. It’s the average person who has never slaved behind the grill for six hours straight who tips the least. They expect perfection and impeccable service for the money they are paying. Little do they realize that nobody makes very much, and that many in the industry do little extra things in the hopes you’ll leave something extra.
Being a driver makes you appreciate the millions of people out there struggling to make ends meet. Now, you no longer make a fuss about petty things because you understand what they are going through! Instead, you begin to thank people profusely for their service.
* You’ll get out of your bubble. I always encourage folks to travel internationally to gain perspective. Once you gain perspective on how amazing America is, you’ll no longer complain as much about whatever it is that’s bothering you. I currently live in a bubble where I don’t remember the last time I had to worry about money for food. But with Uber, you may very well get reminded that some people aren’t so lucky.
I was driving home from poker one day when I got an indication to pick up a passenger at the mall along the way. As soon as I accepted, the passenger gave me a ring! “Hello sir, just want to let you know we are right in front of Target in the cold. Three previous Uber drivers cancelled on us. We have a lot of things, a double stroller, and a couple kids. I hope you can come.” he said somewhat frantically.
That’s a lot to fit in my Honda Fit! But I went to pick them up anyway. After about 10 minutes, everything was packed in my car and away we went over the dark San Bruno mountains towards Sunnydale, one of the largest low income housing projects in South San Francisco.
The mom and dad were incredibly grateful that I came to pick them up. Almost all of their stuff were necessities; an industrial size bottle of Pine-Sol, a mop, and a whole bunch of window wipes. The father said he was a janitor at San Francisco Airport, and the mother said she helps out when she can. They didn’t have a car because he didn’t keep up with the proper maintenance, so it died. Now they have some money, but they are unsure what to buy.
Instead of getting out of the Projects as fast as I could, given it was around 10:45pm and there was a police car with lights swirling just one block north, I spent some more time talking to the mom who wanted to chat as the husband unloaded their things. She told me a little about the economics of living in Sunnydale.
“If you’re a single mother, you’ll get at least a one bedroom once you go through the channel checks. It shouldn’t cost you more than $100 a month. For folks like us with two kids and a steady job, we get a two bedroom apartment for about $200 a month.”
I was happy for my passengers because they seemed to be a happy family. I was glad they were getting subsidized housing because how else is a janitor who can’t even afford an old car, supposed to live in the Bay Area? Any annoyance about paying an exorbitant amount of taxes faded away.
Then as I made my way back home, I started feeling guilty about my living situation. So, I went online again and drove for another hour.
* You’ll become a more disciplined spender. When you’re making $10 – $22 / hour net on average, you become hyper conscious of your spending habits. During a pitstop at Burger King one afternoon, I was considering a Whopper Junior for $2.6 because the normal Whopper cost was a whopping $3.8! But instead, I went for a double cheeseburger for $1.69 because I wanted to save what little money I had earned that day!
I’m now much more cognizant of how much I spend on food, clothing, and other non-essentials. You naturally adjust your spending habits based on your income. So for those who are afraid that their quality of life will suffer in early retirement, don’t be.
* You’ll become much more business savvy/entrepreneurial. There’s no better teacher than experience. After spending a month on the road through various trials and errors, I’ve figured out a way to best maximize my operating profits. For example, I discovered that waiting in the SFO airport lot is a waste of time. I learned that driving to the surge pricing areas almost never pans out. I’m very aware of which times provide maximum return on effort.
As a freelance driver, you’re essentially your own small business owner. You figure out ways to maximize revenue, improve productivity, and reduce expenses. These are fundamental skills that can be honed if you are ever to go out on your own. And even if you don’t become a full-time entrepreneur, you’ll become a much better employee.
* You’ll get accustomed to life not being fair. A lot of people get angry at those who are born rich, attractive, smart, and connected. Some people really do have all the luck. Instead of accepting who you are and trying your very best to improve, it’s easy to just give up and believe things are hopeless.
But driving for Uber mentally toughens you up because you are constantly put into unfair situations. The easiest example is picking up UberPool drivers. Around 30% of the time, there will be some type of snafu, usually in the form of one passenger being late. When one passenger is late, your existing passenger gets upset at the rider experience. As a result, your rating takes a hit, even though it was the other passenger’s fault for being late.
After a while, you begin to realize that the world is filled with people who blame innocent people and there’s nothing you can really do. After enough mishaps, you’ll snap out of your victim mentality and just keep going. You become happier and internalize the following prayer,
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
NEVER TAKE YOUR LIFE FOR GRANTED
After so many years, it’s easy to take things for granted.
We get out of shape because we forget there are millions of starving people around the world who would do anything just to eat a quarter of what we eat.
We become lazy because we no longer remember what it was like to struggle. Maybe we never knew.
We become vapid communicators because we no longer remember how to write hand-written thank you letters. A quick text message will do.
We fail to learn another language because we’re accustomed to everybody speaking English.
We forget to tell our spouses and our parents how much we appreciate their support because they’ve always just been there for us.
We stop taking risks because life gets a little too comfortable. Then we wonder with regret when we’re older why we never bothered to try.
I’ll stop here because this is actually a two-part post. You won’t make tons of money as a freelance driver, but you will gain a lot of priceless experience that will make you a better person. By going back to a minimum wage service job, I’ve learned and realized many things which I’ll be sharing with you in future posts.
Be Your Own Boss: There’s nothing better than starting your own website to own your brand online and earn extra income on the side. Why should LinkedIn, FB, and Twitter pop up when someone Google’s your name? With your own website you can connect with potentially millions of people online, sell a product, sell some else’s product, make passive income and find a lot of new consulting and FT work opportunities.
Updated for 2018 and beyond. Never take for granted what you have today. Everything could be gone tomorrow.