Creating Unlikely Futures

Element7concrete polishes low-end materials into high-end surfaces. To that end, we polish new hires into high-level contributors. That means my job now is building out the machine that takes the gritty yet inexperienced, and trains them to make raving fans by adding massive value.

We have some beliefs that make that possible. First we believe that effectiveness is a learned behavior. I can say that because I can remember being ineffectual myself. Since I’ve been phased out of artisan work for many years now and we are finally ready to replace me in sales, the time is right to tell my origin story as a salesman. I’ll tell my origin story as an artisan later. Here goes:

3 days after graduating high school in 1995, I packed everything I owned into a little blue Ford Escort and drove from Minnesota to Los Angeles, CA. Skateboarding was >80% of my life, and LA was the epicenter. I was told that the economy was tough there and jobs were scarce, but I just knew there was some way I could eke out a life. After 3 weeks of “No.”s from every store, restaurant, and business I could see, I started to get scared. The 3 temp. agencies I worked for were getting me about 2 days of minimum-wage work/week and I was running out of savings. For the first time in my 18 years on planet earth, I was going hungry much of the time. 

My only hope for steady employment seemed to be straight-commission sales. I found an outfit that would hire almost anybody to go door-to-door and sell a card for buy-on-get-one-free deals at Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus Restaurants. The idea of doing that sickened me. I thought I was far too smart and too cool to be that guy. But I wanted to eat regularly again, and I couldn’t see any other options. So I took the gig.

Taking that job was the easy part. The hard part was getting out of my Ford Escort each time I arrived at another strip mall and walking into the countless dental offices, insurance agencies, etc. and interrupting people’s to shill f#@*ing discount cards. The other hard part was driving to another strip mall to do it again. There was no boss, no customers coming in asking for help, there was just my growling stomach. Talking to dozens of strangers every day was bad enough. Annoying the majority of those strangers was brutal for me. Then I realized every sales call was like a big skateboarding trick: I had to get my mind right first or it was hopeless.  Long story short, I got good at it. I learned that everybody was unique, but everyone was the same too: we all could connect on something within seconds if the vibe was right. We all hate getting interrupted at work, but we secretly like getting interrupted at work. We all like going to lunch. We all want to feel clever by getting a deal on something. We all want to buy, and not be sold. We all want to see ourselves and those around us as OK. We all might even want the hungry kid from Minnesota to win.

After awhile, I could hit my goal of selling 7 of those cards by noon most days and spend the rest of my time skateboarding. I could be done “working” by the time my friends were up and ready to skate. What once made me vomit became a breeze. One day, I happened upon the guys I dug ditches with through the temp agency when I was out selling. I thought “This new gig of mine isn’t really work.” But it was: the restaurant I was selling for saved their business because there were now 100s of people that felt obligated to eat there dozens of times. Those people may even grow to love that place. That sales campaign may have saved a restaurant on the brink of closing. So, yeah. The world was better off - more so than with the last ditch I dug with the guys from the temp agency. And for that value-add, I made my $70 in 2-3 hours most days. Though $23-35/hour was incredible money for an 18-year old in ’95, things were about to get bad. 

The friend I moved to LA with got hurt and moved back, so the parade of Midwestern skaters staying at our place to hit the spots from the videos stopped. I started to get cripplingly lonely. So lonely, I said “Yes.” to my mail lady’s advance to recruit me for Amway (the people at the meetings were super nice). One day, I was so depressed, I sort of blacked out out behind the wheel and totaled that little blue Ford Escort. I had to sell on foot for a couple of day to make enough money for a bus ticket home. 3 sketchy days on a Greyhound Bus later, I was home in Minnesota. The seeds were planted of reading, listening to great speeches on tape, and attending seminars to get better though. 

Back in Minnesota, I worked a bunch of terrible jobs. The crappiness of those jobs drove me to read the books on that Amway reading list voraciously though. The thoughts of Og Mandino, Brian Tracy, Andrew Carnegie, and the like were like an hour of sunshine in a prisoner yard after time in solitary confinement. I had directly experienced massive growth (painful!), and now I was reading about a world we can create with our thoughts, planning and effort. The contrast between those ideas and the reality on the floor of a beef-jerky factory in Minnesota cannot be overstated! What I am most thankful for is not the change in my direction, but the change in my acceleration that started that year. A new path is great. A new pattern of improving one’s rate of positive change is radically better. 

I’ve lead a charmed life since. But the main magic behind those charms is attitude, and my attitude was profoundly shaped by the books, audios, and functions. Truth is, I was brainwashed. Maybe we could all use some cleaning in there though. 

So what? How could my story mean anything to you? The point is to take everything in your world that seems crappy, and trust that you can change your habits, and trust that a change in habits creates a change in mindset, and trust that a change in mindset can make anything happen. Maybe you can do something 10X bigger than anything I’ve done yet without joining Amway, totaling your car, or ever riding a Greyhound Bus. 

You’ve read something positive today. Now, go get yourself a proper book or audiobook to start tomorrow.