How To Take Down An Elf – My Journey to Unemployment & Relentless Living

KeeblerLast week I shared a story about golf. In it I shared a glimpse into the early days in my last job and a glimpse into my lack of character at that time in my life.  Well, today I want to share one of the hardest days I ever had to go through.  Why?  Because this is the fifth anniversary!  A cause to celebrate!

So, if you want to catch up on the story of how golf nearly took my job, go ahead and click the link above and we will wait for you here.

You’re back?  Good.  Let’s get rolling!

So, at the end of my golf career I had a face to face encounter with a boss’ boss who came to check up on my progress as I was nearly killing myself to dig out of the hole that I had created with my lack of discipline.  He dropped in on a store and went through my shelves to see if the conditions had improved.  I had overhauled that store just the week before and felt every confidence that I would pass the test.  Well, I missed one thing – just one thing.  I looked him in the face and knew what was coming.

To say I was dressed down would be an understatement.  I had a very hard time holding it together as he stood IN THE GROCERY STORE AISLE and yelled and cursed at me.  Eventually I went outside as he followed me screaming at me to turn around.  When we reached my van I did turn around.  That was when things got a little dicey.

The specifics of what I said escape me, but the gist of it was that I would not tolerate that out of him in front of my customers again.  That elicited a response inquiring something like what I thought I would do about it which got an answer that may have included a rearrangement of his teeth or something like that.  Then there was something about how I might need to look for a job which got a reply that we would be doing it together because after a call to Human Resources I was pretty sure he would be doing the same.  What can I say?  I knew how to make friends.

At that point he looked me in the eye and asked if I was serious.  I could not have been more serious in that moment – or scared!  He then asked me if I thought threatening him was a good idea.  I stood my ground and asked if he was more afraid of the punch in the mouth or Human Resources.  He then put his hand out to shake mine and said that we would just move forward.  I shook it.

I sometimes wonder what might have happened if he hadn’t said what he said next.  He was not a nice man, and he did not have a nice smile, but he looked at me and with a large, scary smile said, “That’s quite a grip you have.  If you had wanted to, you probably could have kicked my *___*!  I’ll remember that threat the next time I yell at you!”

Was he joking?  He might have been trying to, but he failed.  I saw and heard nothing but a veiled threat in his face and voice.  I’m older and wiser now, and I don’t think I would respond the same way today as I did back then, but I looked him in the eye and said, “Please don’t think that I threatened you.  I made you a promise.  Here’s another one.  I am going to show you that I have learned my lesson and I will be one of your best salesmen from this point on, but I will never let you talk to me like that in front of my customers again.”  Like I said,  I was good at making friends.

Over the next few years I made good on my promise.  I went above and beyond on my territory and saw consistent growth in my sales volume, profit margins, and customer relationships.  Things were really looking good!  I was given awards and company accolades that brought me opportunities to do meet and greets with some important people.  At one of the meetings that boss’ boss mentioned to me that he was surprised that I was still with the company and I told him that I had made him a promise.

I’m not sure if that reminded him of the OTHER promise I had made, but within a few months my route was changed.  I lost some of my best accounts and my volume dropped like a rock.  I went to work and rebuilt only to have the route changed again and the volume to drop again.  As I built that back it was changed again, adding huge amounts of drive time between stops.  What was going on?

Well, by this time I had a new boss, and when that boss came in, he told me that his boss had told him during his interview that he would give him the job if he would fire me.  It all became clear.  I’d made a promise and I was making good on it, and this drove the boss’ boss crazy.  Before long the route changed yet again to something that was completely unmanageable during my normal 55+ hour week. I was driving over 1,200 miles a week and conditions in my stores began to suffer again as I worked to get as much done as quickly as possible without making my family feel the burden of me being gone even more.

Eventually I was put on probation.  I went home and told Tammi that I was going to beat this, but it was going to be hard.  For the next 90 days I worked 16 hours most days  Monday through Friday, and threw in quite a few Saturdays, too.  The result?  My stores were top notch, I was seeing double digit increases in volume and profit margins.  I did it!  I turned it around again.

April 14, 2010 was a beautiful morning.  I was at the Speedway in Grayling filling my car up before heading to Lewiston and Mio when I got a phone call from my boss asking me to meet him at a restaurant later in the day to go over some things.  I don’t know how I knew it, but I knew it was over.  I called Tammi and told her I was getting fired that afternoon.  She told me that was ridiculous.  I had done everything I had been asked and I had nothing to worry about.  I knew she was wrong, but I told her I loved her and thanked her for believing in me.

After I hung up I had a little battle take place in my head as I debated whether or not I should even bother finishing out the work I had planned to do that day.  Why should I?  What good what it do?  I was ready to pack it in and go home to wait for the appointment and then I heard a voice in my head that said,

“Finish well.”

So, I got back in the car and went out and finished my stores with every bit of the attention I had given them over the last 90 days.  Then I went to my meeting, met my boss, signed some papers, cleaned out my car, put my stuff in a cardboard box, got in a cab and rode home to tell my wife that I was unemployed.

It was a rough night, but rougher nights were yet to come over the next few weeks.  I had a lot of doubts about myself and how I had handled things.  I spent a lot of time crying and praying as I tried to pull things together.  Tammi and the kids were great to me, and I would have been absolutely miserable without their love and support.  Besides my family, there were two other things that I had to hang on to:

1. My belief that I had finished well.  I had risen to every request, and at the end I had gone above what I knew I needed to do.  They didn’t even replace me on the territory.  They chopped it up and gave it to other salesmen and said they just didn’t need me anymore.  I know from talking to one of the guys that covered for me that of all the routes out there, I had the one that was impossible to do anyway.  That was by design.

2. God was ever with me.  I spent so much time talking to Him and leaning on Him.  I saw Him provide through family and friends.  Through this time He showed me the importance of friends as I made my first real and best friend. I saw Him open doors to opportunities to re-discover myself and develop new skills and passions.  I saw His goodness all around me.  It gave me a new perspective.

You see, I was an elf.  I was a darn good one too, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.  The mistakes I had made years ago and had learned from came back in the end, and it was enough to take a good elf down even though I had made the changes and had surpassed the expectations.

But I’m not down.  I realized that I was not an elf.  I had let my job define me.  Through losing that job I was forced into a new life.  A life that would force me to grow in a way that an elf never could.  You see, the elf lived in a hollow tree.  A hollow tree is destined for death anyway.  That’s no place for a Relentless Life to grow.

I now live a life that brings me joy.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect, and neither are all the aspects of my life!  I work, and I have rough days, but that isn’t where I find joy.  Joy comes from sharing God’s grace with people, engaging them where they are, feeling what they feel, encouraging them through the hard times.  A Relentless Life that is dedicated to Relentless Growth in Christ for myself and for others!

As a boss, now I have a keen awareness of how I can impact the people I work with.  I want to be the kind of boss that lifts people to their potential rather than drives them toward frustration.  I want to promote people to positions that will allow them to reach their potential.  I want to share in their successes and be there to help them in their failures. I want to live a Relentless Life!




Author: Tom Tanner

I'm a follower of Christ, husband, and father. Over the last few years I have been learning how to dig deeper into God's Word and letting it influence more of my life. As I learn, try, fail, and repeat in this process I am seeing God's hand more and more in my life and that of my family as well. This journey is long, hard, and at times a little lonely, but living a Relentless life for Christ has rewards that reach beyond me and my family. My prayer is that it brings God glory and leaves a legacy that will show His influence in my life.

I would love to hear your comments here or e-mail them privately to

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