Health Magazine

Recognizing Your Transferable Skills

By Garrickkreitzer @GarrickKreitzer

I was transporting a client home from a 30-day treatment program. Although he initially struggled, he pulled it together, did the work, and completed the program successfully.

He seemed excited to begin his journey to wellness, but was visibly anxious. Our conversation turned toward the topic of work and career.

My client looked at me with honest despair in his eyes and said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve been using and selling drugs since I was 17. I’ve never had a real job aside from temp stuff when things dried up. I don’t have any skills that a boss would want.”

“Yes you do,” I said.

“Yeah, right,” he said. “It’s cool you’re trying to build me up and stuff, but I’m being honest.”

I asked him to explain his daily routine.

He said, “I don’t know. I usually got up early because I knew if I didn’t get a shot I’d get sick. I’d take care of that, then I’d start calling around to see who was holdin’ and who was needin’. Then they would all start calling me. All day long… people coming and going.”

“Did you have any competition?” I said.   “Oh yeah,” he said. “All kinds of it. It depended on which drug people wanted, but yeah, there was always somebody else. I really had to work to get good stuff. If I didn’t my people would just go to someone else.”

“Did they ever try and talk your price down?” I said.

“Yeah. Always,” he said. “But I knew that they wanted it, so we’d go ‘round and ‘round and agree on something. I’d have to read them, though. Some people always wanted to haggle, so I’d play the game with them, you know? Others I just knew they couldn’t afford a big mark-up, so I would give it to them cheap and then make up what I lost on another person. Other people had the money, you know? The rich kids who’d come. I just gave them a price and they’d pay.”

“Did you have any higher level connections?” I said.

“Yeah. Some. But not everyone is high-level. Some might be just regular-level guys, but you knew that they talked to the high-level guys. Some worked for the real-deal ballers.”

“Did you treat them any differently?” I said. “You know…the higher-level dudes?”

“I had to,” he said. “I mean…I didn’t kiss their butt or anything. But I knew to play them real straight. ‘Cause I knew it would get back to the bigger guys.”

“Wow. It sounds like quite an operation,” I said.

“I guess. It was busy. A lot of things happening at once,” he said. “Plus, I was hooked on the stuff too. If it got real busy and I didn’t have my shot, I’d get real pissed real easy. I had to watch out for that.”

“What was it like when things dried up? You mentioned that before,” I said.

“Oh, that sucked. I’d call around to everyone trying find something. My people would be calling me… I would be getting sick. Like I told you, I might go out and find a temp gig,” he said. “But I always knew it would come back. I just had to put my head down and do what I needed to do until it did. Some people would freak out and start stealin’. I never did that, although I thought about it. I just didn’t want to catch a stupid case for something I knew was, uh, temporary. I would just try and get a group of guys to work a temp job with me. A lot of times it was under-the-table stuff. Just guys who could use some short-term help. Usually they were a friend of a friend of a friend. They had honest businesses. Some were people I grew up with who got their act together.”

“And you told me you didn’t have any skills,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Skills using and selling drugs. What do you mean?”   “Well, you started by telling me your daily routine. By the time you were finished, you had described an amazing skillset. These are the skills I heard. Correct me if I’m wrong. You described:

1. Sales and Marketing Skills-you said you woke up and started calling around to see what your suppliers and customers were up to and what they needed. You can also call that market research.

2. Product Management/Pricing Skills-you said you had competition and you had to make sure you had the best product at a decent price. There is also a sense of valuing the customer and making sure he is satisfied.

3. Negotiation Skills-you knew how to read your customers, negotiate with them, and come to a mutually agreeable price.

4. Financial/Economic Skills-you said that you knew some people couldn’t afford what you were asking. So you’d sell it to them at a lower price knowing you would make up the difference by marking up the price with the ‘rich kids.’

5. A Sense of a Hierarchical Power Structure-you knew who was important. You know…the higher-level guys. But you also knew some of the others who might have contact with the higher-level guys. You adjusted your behavior and demeanor to make sure the people in power were happy. Many legit organizations are structured like that.

6. Multitasking, Prioritization, and Organizational Skills-you had a ton of things going on at once…people coming and going, phones ringing…you know. You were able to figure out what was the most important and get everything done.

7. Self-Awareness-you said that if you went too long without a shot, you’d get pissed, and that you had to ‘watch that.’ You were able to self-monitor, foresee trouble, and adjust to avoid complications.

8. Networking Skills and Being Resourceful-you said when things dried up you had to call around and find work. You said you ‘did what you had to do until things blew over.’ You also said you didn’t steal because you didn’t want to catch a silly case. That’s making decisions based on cost vs. reward.

Those are all things that potential employers find very valuable. And you developed all those skills while under high levels of pressure – in a competitive, illegal market – all while knowing that at any time you could be arrested and charged with a serious crime.”

“Wow,” he said. “No one has ever explained it to me like that. That’s pretty cool, I guess.”

“But you were using these skills to do, uh, not-so-great things. The trick is to take those skills and transfer them to both your recovery and your employment while in recovery…to do good things. Use them to accomplish positive, healthy goals. If you can figure out how to do that, my friend, you will be highly successful. I promise.”

He turned to look at the passing cornfields.  

He had a smile on his face.  

He had hope in his eyes.

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