A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Monday, 25 October 2010

Life Of A Salesman: A Short, Cautionary Tale

If I have any justification for having lived it's simply, I'm nothing but faults, failures and so on, but I have tried to make a good pair of shoes. There's some value in that.

Don't be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value.

Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.

He'd been a salesman for thirty years. Or a sales and marketing executive, or a regional performance-enhancement manager, or whatever you call them these days. He preferred the term salesman, pure and simple. He'd had other jobs before, but this had been his main breadwinning career. Thirty years. A long time. Too long, perhaps. Too long to be rising early, hammering the motorways, returning home late. Too long to be shooting the breeze, spinning the yarn, making the pitch, reeling in the line. Too long to be fooling himself he really was best buddies with all those buyers he'd smiled at and flattered and lied to through his gold-capped teeth.

The buyers. The customers. Aren't customers always supposed to be right? He'd learnt that they very rarely are. It was his job subtly to change their minds and put them on the right track -  the track which was, of course, advantageous to himself - then leave them with the impression it was the path they'd chosen all along. They just hadn't realised it. Easy when you knew how. A spot of charm, a pinch of psychology, a favourable angle, an initially underplayed hand leading to a straight flush. A punctual appointment, a win-win strategy, the soft sell, the final payoff. But, no kidding, there was work involved. A lot of bullet-point knowledge, mental preparation, sales-meeting role-play. All mixed in with a smattering of self-doubt and a tinge of fear, the fear of failure. Yet weren't even these so-called negative attributes good for you, too? Didn't they spur you desperately on, further and further up the ladder of success?

So the years went by. He sold more and more. He drove faster and faster. He idly noticed he was putting on a little weight and drinking nearly two bottles of wine each evening instead of one. He went shopping at weekends. He frequented supermarkets and DIY stores. He moved house. Then he moved into an even  bigger house. He put in kitchens and carpets and cupboards. He visited distant family. He neglected his own immediate family. He realised in sporadic shafts of illumination - perhaps when drinking a tasteless coffee and eating a cardboard sandwich at a service station, or when waking from some nightmare at four in the morning - that there was a gaping void at the centre of his life, an emptiness, a falseness, a lack of integrity. But he put all this to the back of his mind when he hit the road again, pretending he was a freeway hippie, a motorway maverick, an independent traveller. How foolish and tragic was this grand, yet superficial, insane but sanity-preserving illusion of freedom! He put on hold all those artistic, adolescent yearnings, those vague and cloudy dreams from his youth. He would recapture them one day, wouldn't he? If it wasn't too late...

This story has no neat conclusion in which all the ends are tied up and everyone necessarily lives happily ever after. Eventually he had burn-out. Probably a breakdown, though he never took medical help or advice. He explored a few exotic parts of the world. On foot this time rather than in a Ford Cortina or Peugeot Estate. He kept chickens. His parents died. He thought about becoming a priest or a chef or a Buddhist monk. He read a lot of books and watched far too many episodes of Songs Of Praise and Ready Steady Cook on TV. He learnt that everything's always in a state of becoming and never in a state of completion. He drank much less and tried hard to contemplate the divine in all things. 

This story's a fictional one, but loosely based on the life of a friend of mine, a person I once knew very well, someone who had a similar job to me. In fact at one time he almost seemed  like some twin or doppelganger, the brother I never had. I still see him now and again, but not as often as I'd like, for I'm too busy scorching down the motorways myself, and pounding the city streets with my sales presenter. But I hear, through mutual acquaintances, he's tolerably content. Apparently he's slowed down a lot but doesn't quite know what to do with the all that stretched-out time. Poor sod. Though I must admit I'm just a tiny bit envious of him. Anyway, that's quite enough of all this storytelling. I've got an important sale to make. I'll catch up with you later. If I've got the time...

(Author's disclaimer: this is a fictional story, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The three quotes at the top are from Arthur Miller.)               


George said...

As I recall, there is a line spoken by Willy Loman's wife in "Death of a Salesman." She's no Zen Buddhist, of course, but at one point she says: "Attention must be paid." Read it broadly or read it narrowly; in any case, it seems to have some relevance the the character in your cautionary tale. Attention must be paid to the salesman's life, the personal toll being exacted by his endless pursuit of "success," and he, in turn, must pay attention to the impact that his choices are having on his family. Who knows? Perhaps I am wading too deeply into my memory of Miller's play. In any event, this posting is thought-provoking.

Ruth said...

It must be a tough life, on the road, and trying to keep perspective.

But everything feels all right to me at the moment, as I'm still listening to Miles from your previous post . . .

And the Word veri is: gotta

gleaner said...

When reading these quotes I thought immediately of Arthur Miller but are they from Death of a Salesman?? Funnily, I also thought about Daniel Day-Lewis who married Miller's daughter and who also at one time had exiled himself away from the world and made shoes. ( a bit of useless trivia :) )

I like this piece of writing.

The Solitary Walker said...

I don't think they're from 'Death of a Salesman', Bella. I'm not sure of the specific source without doing some research. Liked the shoe connection.

Ok, in a rush, gotta go...

Phoenix C. said...

Very thought provoking. It makes me think not just of sales work, but any job that does not fulfil anything but the pocket.

I suppose it's the perspective with which one 'frames' things. For me as an artist/designer, I use selling, (which I really enjoy!), as a means of being able to live my life doing the art which fulfils me. But profit is never a measure of inner personal 'success', only external business success!

Some people don't seem able to separate the two, and they're the ones who can be aggressive, critical and dismissive of anything which does not have 'profit' as it's raison d'etre.

Yay! The autumn light is shining, and I'm going to stand on the doorstep with a mug of tea!