monday, 14 may 2007: the decision that changed everything.

000_0459Ten years ago today, I started working for the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. At the time I took that job, I told myself it was going to be a major turning point in my career.

I said this because it fulfilled several goals for me:

  1. I wanted to work in a downtown office in a big building (Chamber’s offices were on the 19th floor of Chase Tower, Indiana’s tallest building)
  2. I wanted a job that connected me to the movers and shakers in Indy
  3. I wanted a job that expanded my role and responsibilities

With those three boxes checked, I immediately believed my career and life trajectory would take a drastic turn, thanks to the Chamber opening doors for me. I was only half right. Ten years ago today, my life’s trajectory took a drastic turn. But it never went to where I expected.

I had it all going for me. So why did I leave that job after one year and eight months? “Mid-life crisis,” is how I usually answer that question, jokingly, but it was more than that. So let’s take a look back in time, eh?

This is where the story begins.

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Chase Tower (now called Salesforce Tower). The tallest building in Indiana is smack-dab in the middle of Indianapolis. And I loved working there.

May 2007: Suite 1950
That was (and is) the Indy Chamber’s suite address at Chase Salesforce Tower in downtown Indianapolis. Truly an impressive structure, it is the tallest skyscraper in Indiana. Each day, I would be going to work in the heart of Indianapolis. While some folks hate the Urban Jungle, I love it. “Welcome, Kevin MacDonald” was written on a printed sign, greeting me as I pushed open the glass double doors on my first day. I walked down the hall, past a small cube farm—a cubicle “garden,” if you will—took a right at the Chamber president’s corner office and arrived at my office, about a third the way down the hall. There it was. My own office on the eastern side of 19th floor of the Tower. I felt important. I felt like a bigshot. I really did.

I’ll spare you the day-to-day details of my tenure there because, really, it’ll sound like the goings-on at any office in America.

The reality is my Chamber gig was great. But it was a volatile place. Not in the sense that people were screaming at each other and you’d have to duck a stapler being thrown at you. It was more subtle than that; more understated than that. Turnover there was high, that I recall. I did the math on it once and it was something like nearly 10 people had left over the course of a year or something.

It was a pressure-cooker job, but that didn’t bother me. I loved the Chamber and everything we were trying to accomplish while I worked there. In fact, I am still very loyal to that place. Sure, my frustration with certain elements of the job led me to bang my head against a wall to ease the pain, but isn’t that the same at any job? Truth is, I bought into the Chamber’s mission. It was an organization founded by Col. Eli Lilly to make Indianapolis a better place. That truly meant something to me.

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Riding the elevator to the 19th floor. Clearly, I was a serious man with a serious job.

My All-Time Favorite Chamber Experience
Working for the Chamber also availed be access to the major players in the business community as well as the political community. Even though I was a bit player at the Chamber, I was still privy to knowledge of big doins’ around town. My favorite story is of the city’s successful bid to land Super Bowl XLVI. It was May 2008 when Indy’s host committee presented before the NFL owners. Local businesswoman and past Chamber board chair Cathy Langham was on that committee.

Having met her and spoken with her at several Chamber events in the past, I asked her to call me with the results of the vote. I had a Post-It note with her cell phone number stuck to my computer monitor, in case I didn’t hear from her. She called me immediately following the vote to tell me we won the bid. This moment in my professional history is one of my all-time favorite moments because, for about 10 – 20 seconds, I knew something REALLY BIG before anyone else in Indianapolis knew.

About the time I hung up the phone, I could hear other phones ringing around the offices and cheers of “we got it!” Within minutes, it was breaking news on local television. But for about 10 seconds, thanks to my connection with Cathy, I knew before anyone else.

No, I can’t put that on a résumé, but it represents one of the more unique and interesting aspects of working for the Chamber.

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The road to this place…

About That “Mid-life Crisis”
Yeah, about that. Around the same time I was working at the Chamber, I had another goal, competing with my realized Chamber goals. For those who don’t know me, this particular life goal I’m referencing may seem like it’s out of nowhere. In some ways, it was, but it was what I wanted and in my head, I started to plot and plan for it right around New Year 2008.

What is this life goal? I wanted to be a dice dealer at a resort on the Las Vegas Strip. As a communications manager for the Indy Chamber, I couldn’t have been farther away from that goal. I hadn’t been a dealer since about May 2001. That’s a long hiatus for a job that requires some intense mathematical skill as well as the manual dexterity to not look like an idiot, fumbling cheques all over a dice table. But as the weeks and months went by, the desire to be a dealer again grew with every passing day.

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…would go through this place: Blue Chip floatin’ Casino! Michigan City, Indiana.

Was I burnt out on being a PR monkey? Maybe, but as my fire for communications seemed to be fading, I became more and more in love with the idea of being a Vegas dealer for a few, simple reasons: I could make decent money at a job that was stress-free (by comparison) and never required me to work extra hours from home. I could go to work, do my job, then go home and not think about it until my next shift. That seemed so desirable at the time. It really did.

Of course, that also meant bidding adieu to my favorite side hustle of all time: PA announcer for the IUPUI Jaguars athletics program. I had just wrapped up seven-ish seasons of working the mic for every men’s and women’s home basketball game (save one, when a flat tire sidelined me), a few softball games and most of the men’s and women’s soccer matches. At the time, I thought this was the end of my era. So did they. The good people of IUPUI even honored me at the final home game of the 2007 season with a plaque in recognition of my time there. It was humbling, but nice to be appreciated. Sure, at the time, we all thought that was the end of the road for me. But I pulled a Jordan (or a Magic, or a KISS) and came out of retirement when I got back to Indy in 2010, working another three years or so before officially retiring. No, they did not give me a plaque this time, but we parted on positive terms.

Welcome Back!
As for becoming a Vegas dice dealer, I knew I couldn’t simply pack my life into my Blazer and skip across country on a lark. For one, the casinos have gone corporate. They no longer will take an audition from someone in black-and-whites who wanders in, just because you asked. And two, I hadn’t dealt in seven years at that point. I had to “get my dealing hands back,” as I told people.

To do that, I turned to an old friend: Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana. I worked there for about a year and a half in between my job at IU South Bend and IUPUI. Blue Chip welcomed me back with open arms, offering me full-time employment as a dice dealer on the graveyard shift. I took it. I still remember taking the phone call from John, the shift manager, when he offered me the job. “We want you to come back,” he said on the phone. It sounds corny, but that meant something to me, hearing that. It felt good to know I was appreciated (well, before I got on a live dice game again, at least).

Amidst several familiar faces and many more new ones, I made my return to the gaming floor over Fourth of July weekend 2008. My very first shift was all blackjack, highlighted by getting stuck on a table for the first 2-1/2 hours of my night, thanks to a shift manager who had forgotten about my table. “Welcome back!” he said, once alerted to the problem. That guy’s in prison now (for other reasons we don’t need to discuss).

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My Chamber office. One of the coolest offices I’ll ever have.

Meanwhile, Back at the Chamber
The good people at the Chamber allowed me to work part-time, remotely for a few months. Initially, the arrangement was…well, let’s be honest: it was a struggle for everyone. Working a graveyard shift meant I was trying to do Chamber work when I should’ve been sleeping. I ended up taking projects to the casino with me and writing news releases, newsletter articles and whatnot during my 20-minute breaks. It was hard for everyone involved; harder than they wanted to say (until it had to be said).

I made my way to Indianapolis about once a week or so to check in at the office. But by the time we reached October, it was clear this was no longer working. At the time, it was hard to admit that. But it was the simple truth. I couldn’t be in two places at once—mentally or physically—so I had to make a decision. By the time Halloween 2008 rolled around, I was no longer working at the Chamber.

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Employee #040776 at Wynn Resorts.

By November of the following year, I relocated to Las Vegas and was working as a dice dealer at the Wynn and Encore; the finest resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.

I walked away from one goal to pursue another goal. And got it within 18 months.

Mission accomplished and they all lived happily ever after, right? If only…

Oh Yeah…There’s More
What I didn’t tell you is, in the midst of all this mid-life crisis nonsense was, of course, a girrrrrl. I know, I know. Cliché, no?

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On a break in the EDR (employee dining room) during a shift at the Encore.

We met while I was working at the Chamber and started going out. It was going very well until you-know-who decided he had to run off and join the circus and that was more important. Yeah, tell me THAT goes over well with the ladies, am I right? “Sorry, honey. You’re great an all, but I wanna go to a place where I’ll be surrounded by degenerate gamblers, hookers, endless smoking and drinking and all manner of social addictions. Gottagobyeeeeee!” I’m a real charmer, I know.

Out of respect for her, I will not share the details of our conflicts beyond simply saying it didn’t work out. That’s all that needs to be said. I’ll simply say that decision of mine set off a three-year, off-and-on-and-off-and-on-and-off-and-living-together rollercoaster ride of a relationship that never settled into a good place for either of us.

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My first Las Vegas apartment, just as I was moving out. And yes, that’s about as furnished as it ever got.

Our relationship played heavily into my decision to move back to Indiana from Las Vegas in March 2010—not even five months after moving to Vegas. The other major reason was the economy. I was the low man on the totem pole at work and getting very few shifts. There was also a rising sense that I made the jump too soon. Sure, in my heart, I was ready to go to Vegas. But from a rational standpoint, I probably needed a little more time so I could establish myself. The struggle to stay afloat seemed too daunting and, given what the heart wanted at the time, it seemed best to pack up and move back to Indiana. Even though my employment prospects were pretty bleak in that moment, I knew I was coming home to the love and support of family, friends and The Girl.

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On the road back to Indiana, late-March 2009. Gassing up somewhere in America in the middle of the night. I was broke. My car was broke. It was nothing short of an adventure.

We all lived happily ever after, right? Well…fast forward 10 years later, Sunday, 14 May 2017 and here I am. Living in Las Vegas.

Again.

How did that happen? I’ll save the rest of the intervening years (2010 – present) for another day. It’s an interesting story by itself, but let’s stay focused on my 10-year anniversary of going to work for the Chamber. There’s good reason I want to do that.

The Fulcrum
Even though the jump from the Chamber to Blue Chip in 2008 feels like the turning point for everything that followed, it was really my decision to work for the Chamber in 2007 that served as the true fulcrum; the actual jumping-off point of every life decision I would make to follow. Without my move to the Chamber, none the dominoes that fell to put me where I am today—and where I’ve been over the past 10 years—would’ve have fallen the same way. Again, goes back to that “trajectory” thing. Moving to the Chamber set the course.

My stint with the Chamber has also cast a long shadow over the past 10 years of my life; mostly in a good way. Other times, not so much. Either way, I embrace it all. Sure, there were a few more bumps in the road than I would’ve preferred, but that’s life, man. There will always be bumps in the road. How you navigate over them and around is what matters.

There is no moral to this story; no fairytale ending or any of that crap. It’s a simple reflection on a moment in time in a series of moments in time that proved more pivotal than I ever anticipated. I thought I was just taking a new job that would advance my career. It turned out to be so much more than that.

As I sit here, less than a month away from embarking on a new professional journey, I can’t help but consider the parallels between then and now. Just as I did 10 years ago, I approach my unwritten future with excitement and happiness.

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Somehow, I ended up back in Vegas. Go figure.

How Did I Get Here?
There are mornings when I’m driving to work and I catch myself admiring the mountains in the distance that surround Las Vegas. I’ll turn off NPR and drive in silence, appreciating the Sheep Range mountains to the north, which loom over my morning commute, every Monday thru Friday.

I’ll look across the skyline to the east and trace the outline of iconic Las Vegas Strip resorts—the Stratosphere, standing tall like a needle in the desert; the Wynn, like a piece of shiny, curved glass, gleaming in the sun; the High Roller, slowly rotating like a giant bicycle wheel. As I approach downtown, I laugh at the fact that I’ve passed no less than five local casinos to get to work…and lament that I have to drive directly into a tangle of highways colloquially known by locals as “The Spaghetti Bowl.”

I allow myself to appreciate the scenery, the weather, the gigantic tourist attraction that pays my taxes (thank you, tourists!) and another day of drawing breath, and I ask myself, “how the hell did I get here?”

The answer: it all started on Monday, the 14th of May, 2007, when I went to work for the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce…

Sure, the last four or five years have been every bit the roller coaster as that 2007 – 12 stretch, but we’ll save that for another day. In the meantime, I will never stop appreciating everything—and the support of everyone—that led me to this moment.

Even the bumps along the way.

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Filed under Indiana, Indianapolis, IUPUI Jaguars, Las Vegas, Life, Personal

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