By Chris Slater

I tried to kill myself on my 30th birthday. Well, not really: I ate a Whopperito — a combination Whopper and burrito — from Burger King. That’s pretty much the same thing, right? August 18, 2016 was a rather ho-hum, normal, fairly-boring day. Maybe I was expecting too much. It’s supposed to be a big deal, right?

I thought turning 30 would be a more pivotal moment in my life. Like, I would see some sort of big, bright light and all of the confusion and irresponsibility and bad decision-making skills of my 20’s would suddenly no longer exist. Nope. At 30 and now beyond, I’m the same guy that I was at 29. Another year older and deeper in debt, to quote some country singer I’ve never actually listened to.

[On my 30th birthday, the Page County, Virginia Chamber of Commerce had all of those present sing “Happy Birthday” to me during a “Business After Hours” networking event.]
How did I expect things to change by the time I turned 30? There are two main areas of my life that I figured would be a lot different — money and sex. I assumed I would be having a lot more of both by this point.

For starters, I expected to have a larger bank account by the time my third decade started. That old adage is very true — $1,000 is a lot of money to owe and not a lot of money to have. I’m doing a little better than I used to, at least. When online surveys ask me for my income, I now proudly check the bubble for the second-lowest bracket.

Nobody imagines a sensible future. Ask 8-year-old Chris where he wants to be at 30, and I doubt he would have said “Getting by with enough money to pay the bills and a little extra to save.” But, that’s where I’m at. And, I guess it’s a good spot to be at.

I remember the days of making minimum wage at Pizza Hut and later pretending to be a nice guy so people would give me tips when I waited tables at Outback Steakhouse. So, things could always be worse.

Biggie used to say, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” If that’s true, I will gladly take on a few additional problems. I have enough already; a couple extra won’t change anything.

Speaking of problems… where are the ladies at? People my age are getting married, having kids, in long-term relationships, settling down. I have none of that. Just a few consistent friends with assorted benefits. Do I want all that other stuff? I don’t know, and I don’t think so.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided to cut back on my debauchery and I don’t frequent bars as often as I used to. What I’ve learned is that I don’t know how to meet women at places that aren’t dark, dirty and serve spirits of an imbibing nature. So, maybe that’s a goal for my 30’s — learn how to actually talk to women. Or, maybe start drinking more. The jury is still out on that one.

Maybe I’ll join a gym or pick up a hobby. Women go to the gym and have hobbies, right? Somebody please help me. I’m not good at this.

With that said, let’s take a look at some areas of my life where the expectations of being in my 30’s did not match up to the reality.

Job

Expectation… I thought there would be a lot more responsibility and prestige in my life at this point. People would say, “Ooooooh, there goes Chris Slater!”

Reality… My job is a thing that I do. Nobody aside from my mother seems to be too impressed with anything about it.

Relationship

Expectation… Something stable, perhaps? Something consistent? Holding hands and walking down the street?

Reality… I once had a girl say to me, “Why are you like this? Why are you unable to commit? What went wrong in your life?” What can I say? I’m still trying to figure out the answers to those questions.

Money

Expectation… The phrase “make it rain” comes to mind.

Reality… I once accidentally paid both a doctor bill and dentist bill at the same time, and then I couldn’t eat for a week and a half.

Hobbies

Expectation… Traveling to fun places, hip clubs, exciting group activities that fosters a series of friendships and community.

Reality… I literally spend 85 percent of my free time sleeping. I’m like a raccoon; stays up all night, bags under my eyes, eats trash, hates people.

Kids

Expectation… Never wanted them. I think they’re gross and loud.

Reality… This is one area where I’m doing good. See, life isn’t all horrible.

• • •

Where are some areas of your life that changed when you turned 30? Either for the better, or worse. Was there anything you expected that ultimately didn’t happen? If you’re approaching 30, what are your thoughts on the subject? Let me know in the comments, or throw me a line on the Twitter or the Facebook. You can even hit up chris.slater@wvgazettemail.com if that’s your preferred method.

By Chris Slater

A friend of mine had been nervous about her interview for a hospital internship. I kept assuring her that it was going to be fine, but she had worked herself into a tizzy worrying about it. When the time finally came, I asked how it went. It had been fine, except for one small detail the interviewer brought up: “She told me I was going to have to take out my nose ring.”

I was shocked: “You wore your nose ring to the interview?!” As soon as I said it, I realized just how dumb that statement was. Having a piece of metal through your nose doesn’t affect your ability to perform a job, but employers often judge employees based on appearances such as that.

It got me thinking. As often happens, it spawned an idea in my head, which in turn led to the creation of a list. Employers worry too much about things that don’t make sense in the long run. At the same time, there are a lot of areas that “the higher ups” need to be focusing their efforts on instead. In this edition of “30-Something,” we’re going to address those, and hopefully change the world. Or, at the very least, crank out an entertaining blog post.

Outdated workplace issue: Tattoos and piercings. I like to think I’m pretty good at my job. I have eight tattoos, and you can see seven of them when I’m wearing short sleeves. They have never once affected my ability to be a journalist, or Pizza Hut manager, or any other odd job I’ve performed in my life. (It did lead to one awkward encounter when I interviewed a 74-year-old small-town mayor: My sleeve came up as I extended my arm to put the voice recorder beside us. “Oh, I see you’ve got a couple tattoos. Were you in the service?” Tattoos aren’t just for sailors anymore.)

What they should worry about: Going paperless. Ironic, I know, for a newspaper reporter to push for less paper. It is insane how much paper a workplace wastes every day. Copies. Faxes. Memos. Printouts. So much can be sent via email. With the advent of tablets and wireless internet access, everything is so portable and the need for paper is shrinking less and less. Today’s modern workplace needs to try and keep up.

Outdated workplace issue: Hair color. When I was waiting tables, a co-worker told me I needed a haircut. I thought about it and decided that he was right. However, I wanted to have some fun with it at first and dye my hair pink. My boss told me I could have pink hair until a customer complained. It took a couple weeks, but we finally received a customer satisfaction survey from the back of a receipt that said my hair was unprofessional. In the corporate world, a customer survey is about as close to the word of #TheLord as one can get, so that meant it had to go. But, why? How is pink or blue hair any different than brown or gray?

What they should worry about: Eliminating pointless meetings. At my last newspaper, we met every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. to plan out the next week’s issue. It was never a big deal for me, since I lived down the street and often walked to work. It was a different case for the sports reporter, who lived 45 minutes away. He would come in for the 60-90 minute meeting, and 10-15 of those minutes would be relevant to him. How easy would it have been to set up a tablet and Skype? Perhaps an email or old fashioned phone call would also suffice.

Outdated workplace issue: Dress codes. Ties are uncomfortable. Shoes that aren’t practical for men and ladies are uncomfortable. There’s a rigidness and fakeness that comes from wearing an outfit just because society has deemed it so.

What they should worry about: Taking better care of employees. To quote a standup routine from Chris Rock about minimum wage, “You know what your boss was trying to say? It’s like, ‘Hey, if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.” People who support the $15 minimum wage movement, that $15 is an arbitrary number. Basically, they support living wages and better treatment. Long before a CEO worries about whether or not an employee’s hair is a certain color or their belt matches their shoes, they need to be certain that a yearly salary allows their employee to not live in poverty.

Outdated workplace issue: Marijuana. I don’t smoke pot; it makes me paranoid. But, it does a lot of good for a whole lot of people. It helps with pain management, anxiety, depression, and any number of other chronic and non-chronic maladies. We have an opioid epidemic we need to be fighting; let people have a toke here and there and move on.

• • •

What are some issues that you think employers should be worrying about? Are there any issues that you feel your boss(es) harp on too much? Wanna let me know how you felt about my pink hair? Leave a comment, send me a tweet, hit up the Facebook inbox, or send an email (chris.slater@wvgazettemail.com).

By Chris Slater

When my mom was helping me move into an apartment in Luray, Virginia back in 2015, she pulled out a small picture frame and gave me a puzzled look. She held it up, looking for an explanation. In the frame was a dirty-looking $1 bill. I shrugged and said, “Oh, it’s nothing. Just something I felt like keeping.” I didn’t feel like explaining one of my deepest personal motivators to make something of myself and my life. She sat it down without any follow up questions, and then began going on about how I needed curtains and that my walls needed painting.

dollar
We need to go back. [Insert Sophia voice] “Picture it: Princeton, West Virginia, 2012.”

I was 25 years old and in the midst of my “woe is me” phase. Things weren’t going great. I was getting the occasional freelance writing gig here and there, but nothing consistent or fulfilling. I had just ended my glamorous life of being a manager at Pizza Hut and was now entering the glamorous world of waiting tables at Outback Steakhouse.

pizzaI eventually got pretty good at it. I could have been a great server, but I hated the job. So, I became lazy. I realized that I could operate at like 60 percent and still be a competent server and make enough money to pay my bills. I worked smart, not hard, so I didn’t exert myself any harder than I ever needed to.

When I was still new to the job, and not quite as jaded, I had a table of four people and two babies. Six, as some would call it. Two couples, and they both each had a small child. In my chit-chat with them, I found out that the two men were coal miners. I wasn’t experienced enough for a red flag to go off in my head.

What I later learned, when looking at what we call “good customers” and “bad customers,” there are two kinds of people who stick out as particularly bad: religious people coming to eat Sunday lunch after church, and coal miners. A lot of it is based on their attitude and how much money they leave as a tip.

These two coal miners were running me around, not really being pleasant to me, and pressured me to break a rule for them: you could only order one alcoholic beverage at a time, but they kept on me about letting them each get two beers at a time. Appetizers, main courses, desserts, drinks: they got a lot of stuff. Their bill was more than $150. They paid, they left, and I breathed a sigh of relief since that stressful situation was now over. I had worked hard, earned my money, and hoped they understood that.

If we’re going by the traditional rules of tipping, I should have expected somewhere between $15 and $30 as a bare minimum. If they really liked me, then I should get more. I was never a greedy server; I would have been happy with $15 or $20.

As I was cleaning the table, I saw a blackened, crumpled up bill to the side of a plate. Excited, I sat down in the booth and picked up the bill. The elation was gone as I realized it was $1. For all of that work, I received a coal-stained, one dollar bill.

I went home that night and thought about my place in life. I stared at the dollar bill and wondered what I was doing with myself. That dollar made me angry. It made me hate myself for what I did; waiting tables is really whoring yourself out in a non-sexual way for money. I was putting on this fake persona and pretending to be happier than I was, just so people would throw some money my way. I did that, and these people didn’t even hold up their end of the bargain after the services were rendered.

I like to use my anger to motivate me. That’s what I decided to do here. That dollar bill was going to stay with me forever. I literally framed it. Every single time I looked at that frame, I got angry and motivated to do something with my life. It took longer than I wanted, but it eventually happened. One of my personal goals in life was to one day be able to look at a server and say “I know what you’re going through,” and not “I’m going through the same thing.”

A lot of people stick around in jobs like that, and life situations that they’re not happy with because they lack motivation. I could have easily gotten stuck in my pattern of “feel mopey, wait tables, self medicate with a bottle at night, repeat the process.” Instead, I put the bottle down, kind of, and began feeling less mopey. I formulated my end goal and what I wanted, and then I went out and made it happen.

In college, Dr. Parker introduced me to the P’s — proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance. That’s a fancy way to say figure out what you want to do and make a plan so it will happen.

Anybody can do it. You can do it.

• • •

And that’s where we leave it for this installment. How did you motivate yourself to achieve a goal? Does using your anger seem like a good technique or borderline unhealthy? Do you have any other suggestions for those needing help? Leave a comment, throw me a tweet, get at me on Facebook, or send an email (chris.slater@wvgazettemail.com).

The introduction: What is 30-Something?

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By Chris Slater

Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m the writer for “30-Something,” the newest blog for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. A little about me: I’ve been a lifelong resident of West Virginia for roughly 30 of my 31 years. I spent 15 months working at a newspaper in Luray, Virginia from late 2015 to early 2017. (If you’re wondering, Virginia and West Virginia are essentially the same, with the main exception being that Virginia has an obsession with the Civil War… which is weird, because… you know… they were on the wrong side.)

I’ve been a writer all of my life. The first time I realized that words could be powerful was in the third grade. Mrs. Beverly gave the class a simple assignment: write the funniest story, and our laughter would judge the winner. I crafted a tale about a time I fell down a hill and got the loudest reaction. After that, I was hooked.

Two things stick out from the night I went to Ravenswood High School in 2000 for a tour and to pick out ninth grade classes: for the first time ever I saw a little person, and I also signed up for my first journalism class. The next year, tenth grade in Princeton High School, was when I fell in love with journalism and realized it was what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

Life isn’t always a fairy tale; things don’t always go the way you would prefer. I spent way too much of my 20s wasting my potential, being a manager at Pizza Hut and waiting tables at Outback Steakhouse. But, I eventually woke up and went out to make something of myself. That’s still a work in progress.

My journey has taken me to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, where I’ve been a copy editor since March, checking grammar and designing pages. I always want to be the best at everything I can do. I want to contribute to the team and “maximize my minutes,” to throw out a sports cliché. In fact, it’s the main reason I left my last job in Luray; I kept asking if I could help out and do more, and kept getting told no.

I started writing some op-eds for the Gazette opinion page. Mostly about politics. And I started reading the opinion section closely. I noticed a trend here in my newsroom that also seemed to extend nationwide: the editorial voice of the newspaper wasn’t talking to me. It wasn’t talking to a 31-year-old man, and it surely wasn’t talking to anybody younger.

Now, don’t get me wrong: people of all ages need to pick up the Gazette-Mail, as well as any other local or national paper. The news is all-ages friendly; you definitely need to be reading that. But, young people in the area didn’t have a specific home for just their issues and concerns. And, that got me thinking. And, plotting. And, starting a blog.

That’s the goal behind 30-Something. This is the home for all issues that Young America cares about. In the forthcoming posts, we’re going to be talking about life, love, sex, relationships, careers, LGBT rights, women’s issues (#metoo), money, social media, body image, style, politics, drugs, mental health and more.

Join me here, once a week, as we take a look at all of those issues. I encourage reader participation, either here in the comments, on Facebook or over at Twitter, or send me an email (chris.slater@wvgazettemail.com).