I got up early to listen to a conference call, three successful people addressing how they have gotten to where they are and how I can get there, too. I swished cooling coffee around in my mouth and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. The cat settled in my lap. My wife slept in the next room.
I wondered how they could all talk so fast so early in the morning. I wasn’t hearing anything I hadn’t heard before, just differently. And I am beginning to realize that this is a process that will continue as a daily diet, and that at some point — and that is soon – I’ll be saying all the same things myself. Over and over and over again. With passion and conviction.
When the call ended I did my normal morning scan of the job search websites, and found one possibility, albeit a stretch. It’s an inventory job, a warehouse job, for a major electronics and appliances chain. “This is not a desk job,” according to the description. “You must be able to lift 50 to 125 pounds.” Not a problem. I haven’t hit 60 yet, and that triple bypass shouldn’t get in the way. So I applied, a long and tedious online process that included a sly version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It was, in its own way, all very demeaning. I was not a bigger person when I finished. I was smaller, disempowered, disenfranchised. And I swore to myself that it was the last job application I would ever submit
I have been doing job applications and resume rewrites so long now, to no avail, I can recognize a human scrap heap for what it is. And I refuse to be put on it, or put myself on it. Such is the attitude I carried in to my first “business briefing”, in a hotel meeting room out by the airport. I will be attending these meetings each week for 52 weeks. It’s a personal commitment.
Imagine my shock when all these well-dressed people stood up en masse, as if on cue, and started clapping and cheering simply because a speaker had been introduced. Well, not any old speaker. She was an “Executive Director” of a certain color code I missed, but someone who had built out her business enough she was making over $100,000 a year. Let’s just say she’s all about the color green.
She had the enthusiasm and the easy delivery of Oprah, the same hair, the same skin color, the same flashing black eyes. “The ‘T’ in timing is more important than the ‘T’ in talent,” she would say. “You want to write that down.” And people erupted in applause. “If you can see the vision before the masses, you can create a fortune,” she said. “You want to write that down.”
People who had never met me carefully read my name on my name tag, repeated it, shook my hand, and hugged me. Younger people. Older people. Same age people. Black people. Asian people. Tall people. Little people. When speakers were introduced, they were introduced as having only recently descended from on high, they were so special, so talented, so successful. And each speaker in turn would praise the one before. They had us stand, so everyone could see the new people, and applaud for us. And they had current associates stand according to their acquired ranking, so we could see whom we were associating with. Business attire only, please. Sharp suits. Shined shoes. I’ll need to tailor up at some point.
Why, I asked myself, do I push back when everyone around me leaps to his feet with such spontaneity, applauding? Who is this snarky-mouthed arrogant git inside my head pointing out the obvious Saturday Night Live skit unfolding before me? Hah, hah, hah. And how do I subdue him long enough to catch fire?
Because this is my best shot. These are my people now. And if this is a sangha, I have to learn how to sit at peace with upright spine, just like all the other monks, listening to discourse.
The row in front of me was filled with the corps of Executive Directors (ED’s, they call themselves and each other) who would each have a few words to say about how this program has impacted their lives. What they were listening to was the same thing that has been said again and again: Here’s the product, and here’s how to make a business of the product. They have been listening to this for years, and making the same pitches themselves. Over and over and over again. With passion and conviction. And yet, they all had looks of rapt, almost childlike attention. They sat on the edges of their seats. They were being told about the way out of the hole and it was as delicious a message for them the umpteenth time as it was the first time.
I have work to do. It’s mostly on myself. You need to write that down.
[For more writing by Blue Hat Man, click here]
My daughter made me do it, which is to say this thing they call a “business opportunity” found me through a familiar channel.
My daughter is no fool. She’s industrious, hard working, smart in ways I can’t even imagine being, and thoroughly ensconced in law school. She has this friend, she tells me, Michelle, a woman much like her, who’s selling a legal aid plan that functions much like health insurance: you pay a modest monthly fee against the day you really need a lawyer or legal advice. Then you are good to go. It’s the kind of thing 80% of Americans need, but don’t have. It’s an opportunity knocking.
My daughter thought, my being unemployed and all, I might want to talk to her friend.
And so it begins. Multi-level marketing. I have been here before. Fifteen years before when finding the lowest imaginable long distance telephone fees seemed like something everyone should want and need. The entire telephone industry changed within a month of my signing, and the hustle had run its course, anyway. Only a sucker would sign on as late in the game as I did. I made a fool of myself, in front of myself and my family. Those in the know moved on to something that had to do with booking vacation travel plans. I swore to myself, never again.
And yet, here I am. At the beginning. I have read through the materials, the website, listened to Michelle, read her emails. Listened to her immediate superior, he who resides upstream or up scale or up tempo. Up-something. In time I’ll get the hang of the lingo. He gets a piece of anything Michelle reels in, as Michele will get a piece of anything I reel in, though the fishing image may be inappropriate. The idea of bait, of hooks and, ultimately, of helplessness in the face of the well-tuned sales pitch.
I have a long ways to go. There are training meetings in my neighborhood to attend, for example. There’s an umbrella website to get up. There are lists of names to draw up, people who might benefit from having some legal muscle at their back, and people who might want to help other people discover that they, too, could have legal muscle at their back. It will take a positive attitude to push through to success, a positive attitude and a willingness to simply follow the directions as they are laid out. I have trouble with both, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
It’s an inheritance that hangs between my ears like dusty cobwebs. It’s something that comes of growing up in a “professional” and “academic” family. The salesman in this world is moderately contemptible, a necessary evil of the marketplace. He’s always trying to get the better of you, pull one over on you, cheat you out of a fair price, convince you of something that simply isn’t true. It takes your superior intellect and superior sense of self to retain equilibrium in the face of the hook, the pitch, and the closing. In this world you might admire someone who works with his hands, admire the product of his labor, if not own one and the same – but never strive to work that way yourself. I first confronted this strange inner itch when I set writing aside to train as a cabinetmaker. And now the itch returns, this time in the drummer’s sample case.
So there’s a personal evolution at play here. I have only begun, have only just signed. Now I get to find out the rest, mostly, I suspect, about myself. I’ll be making regular field reports. You can read them here, and comment if you like.
[For more writing by Blue hat Man, click here]