Goodwill came into my life at a very strange time.
I received a call from Goodwill not long after I completed my GED, my greatest accomplishment at the time. Little did I know, my employment there would allow me to accomplish more than I ever thought possible.
I quit high school in my junior year because of my inability to handle being around large groups of people, as well as the relentless amount of bullying I thought I had learned to handle in my freshman and sophomore years.
Upon quitting high school, I spent several years doing almost nothing. My days typically involved playing video games, scribbling in notebooks, or getting in trouble with my friends. I was a smart kid (or so I was told); I just failed to realize it. My mother encouraging me to find a job, as well as my desire to provide for my girlfriend, willed me to change my circumstances. Hence, I put in applications everywhere I could, even before I completed my GED, dreading what I may find.
Shortly after completing my GED, my mother told me of a call she got on her phone (I didn’t have a phone of my own and had to use hers when filling out job applications) about the local Goodwill wanting to interview me for a job. I showed up in the only nice outfit I had, a blue and white button-up with jeans. The manager, Cathy, informed me that I had the job. I finished my paperwork early the next morning and started that same day. June 10, 2011 is a day I will never forget.
Truth be told, I hated the job at first. The work was physically demanding, I had a hard time connecting with my co-workers, and dealing with customers was an annoyance. Not long after I was hired, I hit a serious mental and physical wall. I was immensely unhappy. I longed for the days of irresponsibility and retreated deep within myself. Being overwhelmed by the huge change to my previous carefree lifestyle took a toll on me. On a particularly hot and busy Sunday, I sat down on a box to catch my breath, my face red and soaked with sweat. I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked back to see Linda, one of my co-workers, looming over me. I asked her, exasperated and breathless, “Is it always like this?” With a sly but motherly laugh, Linda spoke a phrase that I will remember to my dying day: “Honey, it only gets worse from here.”
Yet, things didn’t get worse. In fact, it’s almost astonishing how not worse things got.
I adjusted to the rigors of the job. My mood and social skills improved, with both the customers and my co-workers. No longer was I being left alone with my thoughts day in and day out; I was around people – not computer screens or words on a page. Kind, warm people. Most importantly, I started developing bonds with my co-workers. I laughed with them, debated with them, and even grieved with them. They became a family to me. What I once viewed as the daily work grind, I now view as an opportunity to fill my day with eight hours of human interaction. Many of the relationships I built in that first year are still strong today, along with a litany of others.
As my outlook evolved, things continued to improve. Within a few months, I was promoted to full-time and proposed to my girlfriend, Megan, that Christmas. Not long after the next Christmas, I became tired of relying on my parents, and Megan and I and found an apartment for ourselves. A few months after that, I earned my driver’s license and had a rusty Dodge Intrepid that was all mine. Later that year, I sacrificed my full-time position to utilize Goodwill’s tuition reimbursement program and began attending community college to study sociology.
I received another promotion when I became assistant manager of the Elizabethtown store. However, I stepped down after only four months and resumed my old position, because I personally felt I wasn’t living up to the standards the store needed. Those four months gave me an entirely new dimension of my understanding of Goodwill that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
My mother-in-law refers to 2013 as my “lucky year.” This was the year I received my license and apartment. Until recently I wouldn’t argue with her, but thinking back now, I’m not so sure. In a way, I think 2011 was my true “lucky year.” That was the year Cathy gave a loser kid a chance he had never been given before.
My lucky year involved being mentored (and occasionally chastised) by Cathy, my current manager and dear friend. My lucky year saw myself discussing the finer points of video game music with Nick. My lucky year involved a lot of me and Caroline yelling South Park quotes at each other every chance we could. My lucky year was spent reminding Linda my name was Cody, not “Corey.” My lucky year was filled with the swapping of stories and pranks with Phillip and Clint. My lucky year saw me spend hours wrapping up a wedding ring in dozens of progressively larger boxes so I could propose to Megan in the stupidest, most embarrassing way possible.
My lucky year saw me look in a mirror and ask myself: “Who are you, who do you want to be, and who could you really be?”
All things considered, I think I’m still the same person, at heart, that I was five years ago. I still play my punk rock music a bit too loud, my closet is mostly filled with graphic tees and blue jeans, “The Empire Strikes Back” is still my favorite movie of all time, and I put off important work until the last second so I can have just a little bit more time with the new video game I bought. I’m still clumsy and let my mouth outwork my brain. I still buy more books than I could possibly read. A career in writing is still my dream job. I still have regrets and still daydream of how I would have made things better if I were given the chance. I still don’t call my mother and tell her how much I love her and thank her for her patience as often as I should. Megan is still the light of my life.
The most important change in me is my realization that it’s easy to make yourself the tragic figure in the story of your life. My life immediately preceding Goodwill was filled with anger and self-loathing, and Goodwill gave me the chance I needed but never thought that I wanted.
Things didn’t get worse; they got better, and each year has gotten progressively better. My Goodwill family has shown me that you are not the person you once were; what matters is that you are the person you are now.