A Sense of Urgency

Salesman

 

Did you ever pretend to be someone you’re not?

I’ve personally attempted the feat quite a few times, with perhaps the most entertaining episode being when I pretended to be a salesman – for about 20 years.

That began about 1990 when I was working part time in a warehouse and going to college mornings and nights. My major was Political Science, and I had aspirations of working in government. I’d considered the Foreign Service – a part of the State Department that works with Americans overseas – or maybe even the FBI.

Life was pretty good then – though I was super busy, I was busy doing stuff I liked, like going to college. And since even the stuff I wasn’t crazy about, like working in a warehouse, was in support of higher ideals, things were okay.

But then life, as it has a way of doing, changed…

And the name of that change was pregnancy. When my wife at the time became pregnant my part time warehouse job changed, in my mind, from a nuisance to a luxury – one I could no longer afford.

With my first baby on the way I panicked a little bit. Having never faced the prospect of being responsible for another human before I was perhaps not as cool headed as I might otherwise have been.

I needed to find a better paying job – and I needed to find it quick. Those haughty foreign intrigue type gigs, if they were ever going to happen at all, were years off into the future at best. And I didn’t have years – I had about eight and a half months.

My boss at work must have noticed my new nervousness because he said he wanted to talk to me about an upcoming opportunity – he had a slot opening up in sales. My recollection of that conversation is as follows: Me: “How much does it pay?” Him: “Twice what you make now”. Me: “I’ll take it”.

And with little more career-planning than that, I went into sales.

And you know what? At first it was doable. What my boss had said about the pay was borne out in my first check. And because it was new, and not like anything I’d done before, it was interesting – for a while.

And then it wasn’t.

To say sales didn’t fit my personality is now so much of an understatement it seems odd to even have to say it. But at the time I was trying to justify a life decision, and trying to not think I’d done the wrong thing, so I strove to make it who I was.

I read books on how to be good at sales. I listened to people who spoke on the subject so as to learn their secrets – and they would say things like “You have to think like a salesman” and “Always demonstrate a sense of urgency”.

That was a big deal in sales – everyone was always talking about their sense of urgency. I guess in that ‘early bird gets the worm’ sort of way everything you did, you were supposed to do with urgency. Every phone call was urgent. Every meeting was urgent. Every customer was urgent.

The problem with that is I’m not a man who does urgency well.

I have trouble even faking it. Don’t get me wrong, I can be urgent when the situation truly calls for it. A new Star Trek movie?  I’ll have tickets and popcorn in hand with blinding urgency.

But make phone calls quickly? Come on, I hate talking on the phone – so how am I going to do that urgently? And meetings? I’m pretty sure meetings were invented so you could talk about the same mind numbingly boring stuff you talked about the previous time you met. And customers? Yes some were great, but most just saw another salesman coming through the door when I showed up – and how was I supposed to feel urgent about that?

These ideas sort of crystalized for me one day when I was updating my resume – you do that a lot in sales – when I typed the self-description: Possesses a sense of urgency. After which I thought to myself “That’s not me at all. If the whole key to this thing I do for a living is not remotely like me, why do I do it?”

And the answer to that question has a lot to do with the words you’re currently reading.

I no longer sell – I write. But it occurs to me that some past advice I’ve given in this very space was sort of like the advice I was following when I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I’ve written here, to women who were trying to figure out the best way to get a guy, to simply “Think like a guy”.

My point was that thinking like a guy – you know, taking things casually and maybe not even conceding that you’re dating but maybe saying instead you’re ‘hanging out’ – is the way to make us guys feel comfortable. It relieves for us the pressure – and hives and nervous tics – that even the slightest hint of the R word (relationship) can bring on.

I even went so far as to say that women should keep their options open – the way guys do. And maybe date three or four people concurrently so as to not get too emotionally invested in any one – the way guys do.

But there’s a problem with that advice: Telling women to think like men is like telling laid back, easy going John Gavin to think like a salesman. I didn’t think like that because it wasn’t who I was. Women will never think like men because they’re, well, women. And telling them they should is not helping matters.

Even though it’s done all the time.

Have you seen Steve Harvey’s book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man? It was a huge best seller that was even made into a movie. Only trouble with that brand of advice? It doesn’t really work. Plus it’s a little sexist. You ever hear anyone suggest that we guys should think like a woman? No. If a woman said that she’d be ignored – if a guy said it he’d be kicked out of the man club.

I give advice, about men, to women who ask because I want to see things work out. But it’s time to retire the myth that thinking like a guy will get you the guy.

The truth is that men and women go about dating very differently. Women are geared more toward finding a relationship while guys are sort of set up toward just casual dating (and the reasons for that are more than enough to fill a future column).

But, like in so many other ways, I think the differences between men and women complement each other rather than impede us.

If you’ve read this column recently you know that the author of it got married about two months ago – to a woman who has always thought and acted very much like a woman. So much so that when I get close to her I develop – how shall I say – a certain sense of urgency?

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