Adam’s Life Will Be Full Of Toil
“From the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken.” (Genesis 3:19, NIV)
In many respects, mine has been an American success story. Not to the same magnitude as a Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet mind you. And except for this paragraph you will never see my name linked to theirs, unless you throw in Kevin Bacon and a one other name to complete the six degrees of separation. But considering its modest origins, it has been successful.
Neither of my parents had schooling beyond the eighth grade. Both had to work to make ends meet for the family. While my brothers and I may not have had everything we wanted when we were growing up, we had everything we needed. Especially faith, hope and love, a legacy handed down to us by our dad and mom through their devotion to God and their family. What my parents lacked in formal education they more than compensated for in common sense, wisdom, perseverance, determination, hard work and values. In a way, these provided a better foundation for my future success than the bachelor’s degree I received from NIU and the master’s degree I received from DePaul University.
My success started early and it started fast. Working to pay for college (helped by Eileen after our marriage), my first job out of college was my dream job. I went to work for a large, successful, multinational corporation that was founded and headquartered in my hometown (DEKALB Genetics Corporation). The grass never looked greener to me anywhere else, which was one of the reasons the dream lasted seventeen years. I was fortunate enough to advance fairly rapidly within the company, enjoying several promotions, until I was ultimately chosen by senior management to be its Chief Tax Officer and the head of the tax department. It was a prestigious position. I was a corporate officer and a member of middle-upper management. It was also a position with generous monetary rewards. In addition to an attractive base salary, I received key employee bonuses, stock options and a company car. It was a position with professional rewards too. My employee evaluations were always positive and complimentary. Not once, during my entire tenure was I ever reprimanded, orally or in writing. On more than one occasion I received personal notes from the company’s Chief Executive Officer complimenting me on my professionalism, creativity and work quality while expressing his appreciation for contributions I had made towards the success of the company. The dream had it all, the three P’s – prestige, pay and professional satisfaction. But there was a fourth P lurking in the shadows that I was unaware of, or at least denied – pride.
So the stage was set. My career was in high-gear, providing a standard-of-living for our family that was more than sufficient for our needs – closer to richer than poorer. I was respected by management and my staff seemed to look up to me. I felt secure in my successes, with no reason to believe that they might not continue. Thus, I was hardly prepared for what came next. With little advance warning the dream became a nightmare. With no explanations given, I was told that it was time to make a change in my department, and I was the change. My services were no longer required. Regrets were expressed; regrets that I believe were sincere. Nevertheless, the decision had been made. There would, of course, be a generous severance package including some job search counseling. But the first order of business was to clean out my desk. It was over. In a matter of minutes, what had taken seventeen years to build was suddenly gone.
It is hard, even today some eighteen years later, to express the humiliation and bewilderment that I felt then. Why in the world was this happening to me? The answers did not come easy. I know because I spent the better part of nine months looking for answers while looking for a job. But sometimes there is no reason in the world why things happen. This is because sometimes, the reasons are not of this world. While I am certain that I do not know all of the reasons, I do believe that God’s hand was in the decision to move me out and on. One of the reasons, I believe, was to restore, preserve and strengthen my relationship with Christ. As a born again Christian my identity was supposed to be in Christ. And all seemed well on the outside. But in reality I was allowing my career to become my identity, crowding out Christ. It did not happen overnight, and it was not readily apparent from outward appearances. But there was a growing pride (that fourth P mentioned earlier). Pride in my accomplishments and pride in my position. It was a pride that was giving way to self-sufficiency, even if it was not apparent to me or to others. I think that I needed to be humbled a bit.
Now do not get me wrong. I do not believe that I am any better than anyone else in this world. But as a professing follower of Christ, my values were supposed to be different than the values of this world. Nevertheless, I was slowly being seduced by its values – boasting in the things I had and what I had done. And, perhaps, I loved it a bit too much. It was not that these things were intrinsically bad. On the contrary, I am convinced that they were blessings God intended for me and my family to enjoy. And it was not as if I had consciously turned my back on God. I still loved Him. My relationship with His Son was still a priority of my life. But He was not necessarily the priority in my life. In a way I was trying to “serve two masters.” Fortunately our God is a not some distant and disconnected “essence” but a loving Father who genuinely cares for His children. In His grace He did not turn His back on me. On the contrary, He went to work to set me straight. First, He had to get my attention, and it was through grace that He did so.
The job market was particularly tough and I spent the next seven months looking for a new job. I landed a one that was one level lower than I had previously, but with a larger multinational company in downtown Chicago. I quickly discovered the frenzied lifestyle of a long-term commuter and the big city was not for me. Mornings came way too early and the evenings were way too short. I worked at the new job for roughly two-months, logging about half of my time flying back and forth to New York where the company was phasing out operations. I knew before the end that the job was not for me, but was committed to sticking with it for the sake of providing for our family. However, my new boss was not exactly thrilled with me (nor was I with her) and we soon parted company. I was back looking for a job after only two months.
In less than two months I went to work for a bank in Rockford, Illinois (AMCORE Bank) as their Tax Director. In the beginning I was a one-man operation, but eventually had a couple of staff to assist me. I had actually, interviewed for and had been offered the position before going to work in Chicago, but we were unable to agree to terms that we were both happy with. I called their Chief Financial Officer to network on opportunities in the Rockford market that he might be aware of. Instead, he invited me in to talk to him about the position I had interviewed for earlier, which they had been unable to fill. It was as if God were holding it for me until I learned a few more things about myself in Chicago and New York.
I spent the next fifteen years working at AMCORE, the last eleven as their controller (fancy name for head bean counter), eventually as a Senior Vice President. The move from tax director to the controller position was essentially a career change in my mid-forties. The fact that it was also a move upwards in the chain of management made it that more unusual. But not all that unusual when strings are being pulled from above.
I think I would have been content working for AMCORE for the remainder of my career (just as I would have been at DEKALB Genetics). But once again, God wanted me to move. By that time I was in my mid-fifties. From 2007 to 2010, AMCORE went from a bank that was earning $40 million a year after taxes to a failed bank – a victim of the meltdown in the real estate market resulting in the worst economy since the Great Depression. Eventually the bank was seized and shut down by the FDIC, one of hundreds of banks that failed during this time period.
This resulted in another “coincidence.” On the day AMCORE Bank failed and was seized by the FDIC (see press release below), the following article was also in Our Daily Bread, a daily devotional that I read that is published by RBC Ministries. It reads in part, “we are where we need to be and learning what we need to learn. Stay the course because the things we experience today will lead us where He needs us to be tomorrow.”
I am not so self-centered that I believe God caused a multi-billion bank to fail solely to teach me something that I needed to learn. But whatever the reason was that AMCORE was destined to fail, God intentionally brought me and kept me there until its eventual demise. I “stayed the course” at AMCORE because that is what God intended. Hopefully I learned a thing or two as God takes to me to the next step. Having previously gone through the sudden loss of my job at DEKALB Genetics, I think I was better prepared to deal with what happened at AMCORE than most. Perhaps along the way I was also able to help others adjust to the situation through maintaining a positive attitude and offering encouragement when their livelihoods, like mine, had suddenly disappeared.
I spent the next six months helping the new owner of the bank (Harris Bank – a large Chicago-based bank) transition operations to their ownership and the Chicago metro-area. For a while there was talk of possible opportunities for me at Harris. I even interviewed for one position at the downtown Chicago headquarters. But in the back of my mind was my previous experience of trying to adjust to commuting to and working in the “big city.” At the end of the six weeks, however, I walked out the door of Harris bank for the last time on a Friday evening and went to work for a new employer on the following Monday.
I now work at Sterling Federal Bank in Sterling, Illinois as their Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer. The position of Chief Financial Officer is considered the career pinnacle for someone with my educational degree. It is a position I would have been professionally unqualified for if God had not moved me from DEKALB Genetics to AMCORE where I was able to change careers and train for what I hope is my last job before retirement. It is also a position that I believe I would not have been personally qualified to handle if God had not humbled me and changed my perspective on pride. I do, of course, have occasional relapses on humility and pride, but God is not finished with me yet.
I did not even find the job in Sterling. A friend and colleague of mine at AMCORE saw the job posting on the internet and told me if I did not apply for it he would “kick my…,” well let’s just say he persuaded me to apply. It is the only job I interviewed for and it was waiting for me when Harris bank no longer needed my services. A far cry from the nine months I was unemployed after DEKALB Genetics.
I have often joked that it would be nice to finally leave a job on my own terms. In my thirty-five year post-college career (now forty years), I have yet to leave a job because I decided to leave. Come to think of it, my first ever job when I was in high school ended in a similar fashion. Preparing to go into work at the fast food restaurant one evening after school, I received a call from my boss to not bother. Corporate had closed us down because we were not profitable enough. Oddly enough that started a trend for me. And the truth is, while I did not leave these jobs on my terms, I firmly believe that I left them on God’s terms. Once again, as painful and as difficult as it was to understand when it happened, each time the pain was necessary in order for God to take me to the next step along the career path that He had planned for me.
Sterling Federal Bank is much different than AMCORE. AMCORE was a large regional commercial bank. Sterling Federal is a much smaller community bank that primarily deals with home mortgage loans and consumer automobile loans. A smaller bank, in a smaller town, that serves my Norman Rockwell view of life just fine. I now joke that I am the Barney Fife of banking in Sterling, Illinois. Looking back it is amazing to see how God managed to humble me a bit over the years (can one actually make that statement and still be humble?), yet still allowed me to get ahead in my career. At times it may have seemed more like humiliation rather than humility, but I know that God has always been working things out for good, even when things seemed bad or got ugly.
Through all the job moves we have lived in the same house in Sycamore, Illinois where we moved in 1985 after a family of two became a family of four in a span of eighteen months. I do have to commute over an hour each way, but the fact that we did not have to relocate has been a blessing. As the years progressed we needed the proximity of our family and support network to help us deal with the things we would encounter along life’s journey together as a family. Things that will be shared in the weeks to come in my mid-week musing.
But for now, that’s my story and that’s it for this week. Next week, my musing will share Eileen’s story (much more interesting) in “All About Eve,” providing additional context as we get to the stories of “Cain’t and Able.”