Liz here. We met Matt Coyle not that long ago (click here to read his interview). He’s back today to talk how a couple of maybe-negative qualities cost him a lot of money–but led him to the dream of his life.
STUBBORN AND ARROGANT
Stubbornness and arrogance aren’t qualities to brag about. You don’t see them listed on resumes or Match.com profiles. Twenty years ago they cost me a job and at least a quarter million dollars in income between now and then.
I bless them every night when I sit down at my computer to write.
I knew I wanted to be a crime writer when I was just a kid and my dad gave me The Simply Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler. That’s the easy part, the dream. Turning dreams into goals and then accomplishments is where things gets hard. That demands work, dedication, and sacrifice. Learned traits that can take a while to incorporate into your life. At least they did into my mine.
I let life bump me along without a rudder. No plan. No writing. No future. I ended up in the restaurant, then golf business. A cork in a stream.
That’s not to say I had zero direction or goals. After four years in sales working for a couple struggling golf companies, I set my sights on a hot new putter company that was riding a rocket ship of success. Luckily for me, their new sales manager had once spent a day at a company I worked for. I later contacted her about a job. She interviewed me with the caveat that there currently weren’t any openings. However, after the interview she told me to stay in touch and that she’d hire me the next time a sales spot opened up.
I sent the sales manager a postcard every month for a year. This was before email was common. The woman would respond every couple months that she hadn’t forgot about me, but there were still no openings. That made sense because a sales job at this company was one of the most coveted in golf. Once you got it, you didn’t want to give it up.
Finally, she offered me a job. In customer service. However, she promised me that I’d get the next open sales spot. The company was growing and it seemed like it would only be a couple months before they needed to increase their sales force. My commute would go from forty minutes a day to an hour and a half and I’d make slightly less money. And, after honing my golf sales chops for four years I’d be taking a career step backwards into customer service. No disrespect to customer service. It’s a tough, mostly thankless job that requires, to be any good at it, a sunny disposition. Anyone who’s ever been a sibling, a parent, or an ex-wife of mine knows that that is a trait I don’t possess.
Nonetheless, I took the job. I figured I’d have a better shot getting a sales position from the inside learning the system and the culture and by showing my worth.
The sales manager also oversaw customer service. The first two weeks I worked my butt off and showed her what a great team player I could be. That’s right, two weeks. Because on the Monday of the next week, she told everyone she was quitting. It took all the reserve I could muster not to shout at her, “We had a deal!”
The deal was dead. Back to square one.
I worked harder than I ever had in my life for the next year and probably harder than I ever have since. I was the first one in the office every morning, often before the sun was up and the last out after the sun had already gone down. I even occasionally flirted with a sunny disposition, probably averaging somewhere around slightly overcast.
At the end of my fist year there, a sales position opened up and I got it. I’d earned it. I’d accomplished one of the few goals I’d set in my life at that time. I continued to work hard and made more money than I’d ever made in my life. I was, what for me resembled, happy. But, there was still something missing in my life. The dream as a kid to become a writer still whispered to me during quiet moments. I told myself that I’d get to the writing thing when I had more time. I was too spent to write when I got home from work every night. There was always tomorrow, next week, next year.
Well, next year came. Barely. One day while we were working in our cubbyholes, upper management waked into the sales room with a bunch of smiling strangers. The strangers turned out to be the brain trust of the biggest golf company in the world. Let’s call it Massive Martha. They were happy to announce that they’d purchased us for some pocket change and a ball of lint. They said the acquisition would provide new opportunities and synergy. Most importantly, nothing was going to change.
Nothing did change…for about a year. Then big changes. Everyone was getting let go with a few possible exceptions. I was one of those exceptions. I was given the opportunity to interview with MM for a sales position upon recommendation from our VP of Sales.
I was interviewed by MM’s sales manger and things when well. I knew how to play the game. Next up was the head of Human Resources. Again, I gave all the right answers and everything was going fine. Then came the question: All things being equal, money included, would I be comfortable starting in customer service?
Now, I knew this probably wasn’t about working in customer service. This was about loyalty. All I had to do was say yes and I’d probably start in sales and make more money than I’d ever made, plus get some lovely perks. They just wanted to know that I was loyal and a team player, which I always had been.
I said no. I’d already done that with the putter company. I was a salesman and that’s where I could best be of use. The head of HR tried unsuccessfully to hide his wince. I knew MM was not in my future nor was the $15,000 to $20,000 more a year I would have made. No callback. No job offer. No quarter mil.
The three other people our VP recommended were placed with MM. I was the lone rejection. I knew all about rejection. I was in sales after all. My familiarity with rejection would come in handy later when I pursued a writing career, but that’s for another time.
All was not lost. I didn’t go on welfare. I had another golf job in a month. When that company went under three years later, I told myself it was do or die time. Write now or forever hold my peace. No more talk, just do. And I did. I wrote every day on my used IBM Think Pad and backed it up on the one floppy disk I owned. After six months I’d written a book. Or thought I had. The thing had a Chapter One and a The End. I didn’t realize that I’d just written a first draft that would be revised four or five times the next ten years before it was good enough to be published. And it finally was as YESTERDAY’S ECHO, which won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. The week after I finished that first draft someone I’d worked with years before offered me a job with a sports licensing company. That’s where I continued to work for fifteen years until I quit at the end of 2018 to write full time.
I’d like to say that I didn’t take the loyalty oath with MM because I knew if I did I’d be too content with the money and too mentally depleted at the end of each day to write every night, which is what I
had to do for the last fifteen years. But the truth is that writing wasn’t even on my mind when I said no. Stubbornness and arrogance had pushed all other thoughts aside. I earned that sales position, dammit. Give me what I deserve.
Looking back, I’m sure I could have written each night with the MM job. I didn’t know at the time that’s what it would take for me to become a published author. The six months I wrote every day when I was unemployed awoke my slumbering passion for writing. Once that happened, I knew I had to write and become published to give my life the meaning it had been missing for too long.
A quarter mil of missed income? Well worth the cost to be fulfilling a lifetime goal. Thank God for being stubborn and arrogant.
Matt Coyle is the author of the bestselling Rick Cahill crime series. Matt knew he wanted to be a crime writer at age thirteen when his father gave him Raymond Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder. His books have won the Anthony, Ben Franklin Silver, Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Silver, and San Diego Book Awards, and have been nominated for the multiple Macavity, Shamus and Lefty Awards, as well as named to numerous Best Of lists.
Lost Tomorrows is the sixth book in the Cahill series. Matt hosts the Crime Corner podcast on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network and lives in San Diego with his yellow Lab, Angus, where he is writing the next Rick Cahill novel.He can be found on social media here: