This is a story on how I went from working at a burger joint to working in the most expensive building in Buckhead, one of the wealthiest parts of Atlanta. AKA From Burgers to High Rises.
Rags to Riches Story
Everyone loves a story about a poor man working his heart out to achieve what some would consider to be the impossible. This is not exactly one of those stories. It plays a similar tune, but in retrospect, I was never “poor”.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Sophomore in College
Pretty recently after my Sophomore year in College, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Right before this moment, I had worked my entire life to pursue my sport all the way to the Olympics.
Fiction turned into reality and the fact that I was no longer 18 started to change my perception. How can I chase a sport for another 5 years that will end up leading me no where afterward? These thoughts crossed my brain daily until one fateful day I decided to quit and trust God’s signs.
Soon after this fateful decision, a woman in Starbucks taught me about a job I had never even heard before, Actuarial Science. It was the perfect career for someone who was good at math, but had no ambitions to become a teacher, professor, or typical researcher. Not that there is anything wrong with those positions, they just are not for me.
The only thing now was to get the degree to match the aspiration. Thus, I switched schools and devoted all of my efforts to studying. Meanwhile, I had quit my job at the gym and had to make some income somehow. A friend of mine at the time mentioned his restaurant could use a helping hand.
To be 100% transparent, I never in a million years would have thought I would be working in a burger joint. To be fair, it was not just any burger joint. This was actually a decent steak house that was well known for having amazing burgers. The traffic that would come through was actually middle to upper class and this ended up being one of the best jobs I have ever had.
Serving at a Burger Joint
You see, when you server dinner to a family you get to know them a little bit. I am not your average person in that I would just ask you what you want and give you the bill before you finish. No no no, I wanted to get to know the people in front of me.
I would always throw out some joke in the first 30 seconds of welcoming a table to the grill and test the waters to see how they reacted. If they laughed, it was usually going to be a fun table with a decent tip. Other times, I learned to gauge pretty quickly how people felt based on their body language.
Being an extroverted person with a pleasant demeanor, the job was very enjoyable. I ended up befriending all of the regulars, the kitchen staff, the managers, and one guy I met actually ended up helping at my grandfathers funeral, small world.
Additionally, I even got to know one couple so well that I was invited to the husbands funeral when he passed.
The Robert Downy Junior Doppelganger
The man that passed was an older gentleman who had remarried a much younger lady. The age difference was about 25 years to be exact. This couple would come in once or twice a week, typically on Saturdays, and literally talk to every single person working at the restaurant. Not only did they know us by name, but they would ask about our lives, dreams, significant others and our passions. They came so much, they even got to know my girlfriend at the time who would come and sit at the bar while I worked to snag a free meal. She’s not stupid.
The man himself was a mystery and spectacle all wrapped into a single conversation. He would chat about stories endlessly that would make you want to play it back and relive it in your head.
That One Story
One story in particular is in my head, and I swear to relive it one day. The man spoke of a place in Houston called the Hotel Anatole. This hotel is now actually owned by Hilton but goes by the same name Anatole. Anyways, he told this story that made it sound like a magical place. He mentioned the open floor plan of the lobby that would create a spectral back in his day for the people staying at the hotel.
A bar and lounge rested in the lobby that always had a grand piano playing 24/7 that would echo through out the entire hotel up into the rafters. Imagine a hotel speakeasy back in the day with everyone smoking cigars and wearing their suits. He said he would get an old stogie out and light it with some whiskey in hand while relaxing at the bar with his date. They would laugh and immerse themselves with the melody of the piano enchanting the night. Then they would slip away to their room and leave the door cracked just a tad to allow the music to enter the room all night long while they uhh … slept soundly.
One day soon, I will travel to that hotel and light up a cigar in remembrance of the man. Hopefully, the grand piano will whisk me into an somber state of bliss just like his memory.
Rest in peace Gary.
Burgers to Books
Ironically, the thing I feared, serving, ended up becoming one of my most favorite experiences. That was a blessing, but I had a job to do. I was determined to become an actuary.
While my friends partied and danced their nights away, I was studying. I even spent my junior summer sitting at a desk for 5 hours a day preparing for exams. This was my mission, and I had already failed once.
The actuarial exams are hard. Harder than anything I have ever done and more demanding then I was prepared for. This was my last run.
I told myself, “Either I pass, or I quit.”
The Final Bell
I spent my days at the restaurant in the back with notes and formulas spread out. There was no way I was failing. Luckily, the results were good. I had passed the two exams I needed to get my first job as an actuary.
The road to landing the job was just as tedious. I talk about that in this article, Landing My First Job.
After years of preparation, fights with my girlfriend, a few tears, failed exams and plenty of scratch paper I had finally reached my milestone.
Bitter Sweet Good-bye
After 3 years at the burger joint, 9 months of applications, and 3 denied jobs at reputable companies, I finally got an offer.
Not only did I get an offer, but I got the best offer possible. The jobs I missed out on could be considered as silver compared to the gold job I ended up landing. One thing I am certain of is, God was right all along. I followed his instruction and he led me to green pastures. It was scary that’s for sure.
Learning to trust God is like taking a leap in the fog and hoping there’s not a car coming.
I said goodbye to my friends and customers that knew as I headed to work in Buckhead.
Looking back, I realize how blessed I am. I put in a good amount of work to get here, but it could have easily gone the other way. In life, there is a clear trend of hard work mixed with luck to achieve success. There’s no telling what I would be doing if that woman had not given me the inspiration to become an actuary that pivotal day. The world is a mysterious place and an even stranger place to call home.
The one solace is that there is beauty in the chaos of life. There is beauty in the unknown and there is beauty in his grace.