In the summer of 1993 I was contemplating a career change. I was between jobs and wondering if I wanted to continue down the same road I’d started. That’s when I happened on Delores who sold encyclopedias. Delores saw something in me that she mistook as a “promising” new recruit. She encouraged me to give it a try, and convinced me to ride along with her on some of her appointments. On our way there, she pointed out the homes with playsets and other “children friendly clues that might indicate a potential buyer.
Delores taught me many things, and she worked hard at getting me “on board”. She even took me to one of the company’s conventions, and signed me up to attend a special seminar to learn pointers from one of their highest-achieving, best paid salesmen. I had made a few sales by then, and Delores seemed determined to promote my potential to her superiors. It was a big thing to find a new recruit that could sell. I got paid for each product I sold, but Delores got a cut of my sales as well, and so did Delores’s supervisor.
It turned out that Delores’s supervisor was also her sister. Delores convinced her to check me out for herself. So one hot summer afternoon, I found myself sitting in this big white cadillac, riding along with someone I’d never met before. We passed several “good” houses, but Marilyn turned into a small trailer park and pulled into the driveway of this very old, rusty trailer with rotting steps and insulation hanging out. It was clear to me that these people had no money, but this was the spot Marilyn had chosen for me to demonstrate my skills.
Marilyn sat in an old recliner to the side while I sat at the kitchen table with the woman and her teenage son. I gave my presentation and, as soon as I got the mother to admit she would like to own a set of the encyclopedias, I used the “hook” which I’d learned from the high-achieving, best paid salesman. I simply said, “Go get your checkbook”, and to my amazement, she did. I completed the paperwork, took the check, and walked away in an incredibly short period of time.
For Marilyn, that was the only sale she needed to see. As she drove me back home, she told me that I was a “natural” and that I had the potential to make good money and move up quickly in the business. I didn’t have the courage to tell her then that a line had just been crossed, and that I would not be selling any more encyclopedias, ever.
The next day, I was relieved to get a call from the lady at the trailer asking me to cancel her order. The law required that a customer’s copy of the order form include a statement that the purchaser had 3 days to withdraw their purchase. It was written in small print at the bottom. Delores had pointed it out to me as part of my training, but she warned me to never mention it to a customer. It was a regulation she had complained about on more than one occasion. I knew Delores would have wanted me to object and to persuade the lady to continue the purchase, but feeling like I had a chance to redeem my soul, I thanked her for calling and assured her that I would cancel the order right away.
Delores was not happy when I called and told her I had accepted another job, a non-sales job. She came by my house and tried one last time to save her honor and the weeks she had invested. But I had made up my mind. I had spent hours knocking on doors, gathering leads, and learning the culture of sales. I had given it a decent try, but I’d never liked any part of it.
I have worked many jobs in my life, mostly short-term jobs on weekends or during the summer when school was not in session. I have picked peaches and picked cotton, clerked in an aquarium shop, a small grocery store, and a mini-mart. I have been a nurse’s aid in a nursing home, a unit secretary in a hospital, and supervised activities at a home for mentally retarded adults. I served drinks at a nightclub for a few weekends and waited tables one very long night at a country club. All of those jobs were what my dad would consider “working man” jobs. I worked a certain amount of time and was paid for that time. I worked hard, but others doing the same amount of time, might not work as hard. I knew what day I would be paid and how much I would be paid. At work my thoughts were concentrated on doing the tasks that needed to be done within that time period. I never spent any time thinking about how to make money.
When I sold encyclopedias I traveled briefly into the businessman’s world. I learned there that I could work really hard all day and not earn a dime. Making money was the job, and if I did it badly, I wouldn’t eat. If I did it really well, I could live beyond my dreams. I learned that I could make really good money, but to make good money I might have to do things that I would not feel comfortable doing. I learned that the most successful business people, probably don’t feel uncomfortable doing things that make me uncomfortable.
My father simplified his political world into perceptions between the working man and the business man. When I think about my own work history, I have come to understand that distinction as well. Though I know there are crossovers between the two, I generally see the philosophy of business as being more Republican and that of the wage earner as more Democratic.