Monday, September 05, 2011

Happy Labor Day means I'm happy to be laboring

Still my favorite souvenir
As of last week, I'm back to work in the exciting world of sports and entertainment (although in spite of how the headline reads, I'm off today; coming up with headlines is hard), taking a position in the ticket office at the St. Pete Times Forum, home of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning. That's where I worked before I left the industry (although it's not exactly my old job) so I guess this is a double comeback and I'm really happy about it. Although, I'm not in love, that's perfectly okay. Following the theme of last Friday's post about Dirk Hayhurst's philosophy about loving the game of baseball, I think I've finally learned the lesson that love isn't always the answer when it pertains to what you do for a living. It's possible to enjoy what you do and take satisfaction in it without loving it. Investing love in a job is not likely to yield the kind of return you might think you deserve and sets you up to be disappointed and bitter. It's taken this long to learn that lesson because for a long time, I had jobs that I truly loved and that often loved me back.

The Sun Dome is the arena on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida and that's where I started in the industry. It remains to this day the best job I've ever had. While the organization that managed the building at that time was professional, it was run very much like a family. The facility itself was old and the university didn't give us much of an operating budget so there were some serious challenges to be dealt with on a regular basis. No suites or posh amenities, our concession stands were small and outdated, old, broken seating sections, etc. Upper management took genuine interest in the staff as individuals and encouraged us to take opportunities to develop professionally while maintaining concern for us as human beings. The culture of the company was that we were expected to work hard and make do with less but that our efforts for doing so were sincerely appreciated and they let us know it. As a result, I learned ticketing, got to do marketing and promotions, went to school and earned a certificate in public relations, was involved heavily in event planning and arena operations and gathered a great collection of memories. I got to meet and speak with lifetime crush Sheila E (protocol dictates that staff didn't bother performers; protocol be damned when it comes to lifetime crushes). As part of marketing, promotions and public relations, I used to pick random names from the lists of those who bought tickets to our shows and welcome them on our scoreboards, something for which most arenas charge. People would see their names up there and ask why, which gave us the opportunity to reply that we were just happy that they were there. This usually confused them but also made them happy, which is probably my favorite combination of feelings. I loved going out on the arena floor behind the barrier in front of the stage before a concert started, and snapping pictures of fans with their cameras from the perspective of the stage. One time, a group of kids came down from Orlando for a heavy metal show with enough money for tickets, transportation and nothing else. They were camped out at our doors in the hot sun all day long. I visited them several times during the day, bringing them water, taking them inside for bathroom runs and then had pizza delivered for dinner. Later, they presented me with a thank you note they had written on the back of a flyer that I had framed and put on my wall. This kind of thing was not only tolerated but encouraged. More importantly, I had the privilege of meeting and working with some of the finest all-around people I've ever met, some of whom remain very close friends.
As a company, we generated sufficient revenue to finish in the black every year and we liked working with each other (occasional squabbles that popped up from time to time that would happen in any company...or family, for that matter...notwithstanding) so we considered ourselves successful and we, all of us, loved it. I left when the athletic administration (under the "leadership" of athletic director Doug Woolard) began asserting control and drove out the people who had established that culture, causing me to not love it. Everybody who stayed then has left since, many of them in a mass-firing a couple of months that USF has come up with some money and the building is finally being renovated after years of neglect. So much for love.

"This is just symbolism; I actually ripped the
guts out of the Sun Dome years ago."
From there, I went to the St. Pete Times Forum. It was a much more corporate environment but I still enjoyed it. The Lightning are my favorite team in any sport so that was a thrill in itself. I even got to be in the full staff photo taken with the team. 

There I am!
Plus, the people there from top to bottom were great and we still managed to have a lot of fun. I left there shortly after the team and lease to the building was sold to a group that would eventually turn out to be the worst sports owners in the history of Tampa Bay, which is saying something. I'd like to say that I knew that would be the case and that's why I left but that wouldn't be true. The truth is that the hours were crazy, there was a lot of stress and I was getting burned out. One night, I had an epiphany. My friends had scheduled a night out and had rented a limo for the occasion. I had to work a concert that night (I don't remember who; events were beginning to blur together at that point) but they invited me to join them when I finished and had sent the driver to wait for me. As soon as I got the concert promoter to sign some paperwork, including the receipt for $25,000 in cash I needed to give him, I was free. All I had to do was wait for him to come out of the bathroom. As 20 minutes passed, I thought about how the enjoyment of my personal life was being held up by having to wait for someone to finish his either overly intense or overly leisurely bowel movement so I could hand him several thousand dollars and it occurred to me that I was not loving the business and it was definitely not loving me.
That was the exact moment I decided I needed to leave. My experiences and memories were so great that I didn't want to taint them by becoming jaded and miserable, so I left (on very good terms) to try something else.
I could write something about where I've worked since but it's best if I just say that I'm thrilled to be back at the Forum. Especially since the owners who were in control when i left the first time are out of the picture now. And while things didn't work out like I wanted after I left, I still think the decision to leave was sound when I made it and I don't regret it. Just like I think the decision to go back, with a fresh perspective, is sound now.

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