How do you figure out you have no self esteem if you have no self esteem to tell you?
I started a plant and garden care business at twenty one because I hated working for people and also I was never going to get hired for anything other than low paying, soul sucking jobs. At that time I was working for Green Dreams, a plant and garden maintenance company, visiting businesses all over San Francisco to dust, water and trim office plants. One day the president of one of these companies asked if I could take care of his houseplants and garden at his home? I hemmed and hawed and said, “Well, uh, I can bring a brochure next week and my manager can set up a maintenance schedule for you.”
“You know what is great about America, Sunde?” he replied “That anyone can become an entrepreneur. I’d rather pay you directly than pay the company that you work for. Can you stop by Saturday?” I nodded, stunned, as he wrote down his address on his business card.
I walked out of his office with my mind blown. An entrepreneur? A business owner? Me? I’m just a skate and surf rat highschool dropout. I went to his house on Saturday and secured him as my first client. My mind began to spin as I drove home. If I got one more client I could work one less day a week. If I got 5 clients I could go down to three days a week… then I gasped, if I got ten clients, just ten, I could quit my job all together! All I needed to invest in were a couple of watering buckets, a rake and a broom.
It’s amazing how quickly things happen when you make a decision and set a goal. Almost immediately I picked up enough clients to quit my job with the plant care company. I started taking care of gardens and office plants all over the city. I had plenty of time to surf and skate my brains out and be with my beautiful dog Dee Dee 24 hours a day.
A couple of years into my business I was asked to bid on a maintenance job for the front yard of an old Victorian that had been split into three condos. I met with Mike, the contact person for the condos. He was handsome, a nice enough guy and he seemed to be pretty upwardly mobile. He worked at some start up or another and had a tidy little black BMW that he shared with his pretty blonde petite wife. An intricate Victorian style wrought iron fence with spiked embellishments surrounded the property. He let me in through the locked gate and showed me around.
The meeting went well and I got the job. I told him over the phone that I’d start the following week. I’d send out the invoice to be paid within 30 days and I’d need a key to the gate.
“Oh right, a key…” he trailed off. “Yes, I’ll make sure I’ll get one made asap.”
When I arrived at the Victorian I called Mike to see if he was home so he could let me in. Luckily he was working from home that day. He apologized for not having a key made yet, but he’d have one next week.
No problem, I told him.
The next week it was the same thing, Mike let me in but had no key for me. Then it kept happening, week after week. He was usually home when I got there but when he wasn’t I would just climb over the wrought iron gate like a criminal. I mean, why be so demanding, Sunde? You’re fine, you’re capable, just hop over that gate and get to work. And that’s what I did…for years. The topic of the key slowly faded away. I was getting paid on time so why should I demand a key? I’d bring it up whenever I ran into Mike and he’d sort of mumble an excuse and wander off. I finally realized they just did not want me to have a key. I guess they thought I’d make a copy and give it to all my friends to break into their yard with?
But I’m sad to admit that this felt fine to me. It felt normal to work for people that probably watched me from their home office window, climb over the high iron gate, avoiding the elegant and elaborate spikes on the way over. Why should I have a key to their beautiful garden full of citrus trees and buzzing bees? I had dirty nails and worn out jeans. I worked with my hands for God’s sake! I was just another dirty worker on their property. I wasn’t well groomed like Mike’s pretty wife that by now had become pregnant. She would smile and wave politely at me on her way to prenatal yoga classes in the little BMW. It reinforced and proved, even, all my terrible thoughts about myself and how undeserving I was.
And so week after week I climbed over that fence and beautified their yard. But it began to gnaw at me. I was getting older, a little more confidant. I felt a little bit better about myself like, gosh, maybe I deserve to not climb over a spiked metal fence to do my work?
I met Britt. He thought I was amazing. His love gave me confidence. One day I admitted to him that on one of my jobs they refused to give me a key so I had to climb over the gate week after week.
“What??? You’re kidding me!” He was shocked. “That’s bullshit. You need to demand a key. “Anyway,” he went on, “you’re a lady! You shouldn’t have to be climbing over a fence!”
Britt’s right, I thought to myself. Fuck those people, I deserve to go in and out of a gate like a normal, respectable person. I called up Mike and left a message about the key. He didn’t get back to me. I called again the next day and he picked up.
“Oh wow, you don’t have a key? Didn’t we give you one ages ago? Call Ted at this number. He’ll have one waiting for you next week.”
That went well. I said to myself, breathing a sigh of relief. With new confidence I called Ted. He said he was at the airport waiting for a flight and then the line went dead. Bad connection at the airport, I guess. I called back, telling him I think we got disconnected.
“Ya, ya, a key. You know this isn’t a good time for me right now.”
I explained to him that I didn’t want to climb over a gate anymore and that I wouldn’t be able to work there again until I got a key. The line went dead again.
I realized that there wasn’t a problem with the line, he’d hung up on me. Twice! I called a few more times over the next couple of weeks and they never got back to me so I never worked there again.