Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sales pitch (unedited)

I am in the wrong line of work, I am sure of it.

When I went to college I intended to be a newspaper reporter. I enjoyed writing, so it made perfect sense. I never found anything better to do, and that’s a shame.

As a college freshman I accidentally attended a meeting for the campus radio station. I thought it was a general meeting about journalism opportunities on campus, but it was the ceremonial assigning of on-air shifts for our low-watt FM station. People filed in to get a weekly shift on the air, and although I never considered being a radio DJ, I wound up with a Friday afternoon shift.

I’m sure I was horrible on air, but I learned a few things during that first year, primarily by listening to others at the station. To me it became important to sound like a professional, not a college kid talking to his buddies in the dorms. I hated when people sounded as if they didn’t know what they were doing. I wanted to sound as if I belonged on the air. I actually put thought and planning into what I did by the time I graduated to a weeknight shift, the best shifts to have on our campus station.

I flirted with the idea of pursuing a career in broadcasting, but decided I was a better writer than broadcaster. Right or wrong, there’s a part of me that will always regret that decision.

I don’t consider myself to be a stellar public speaker, but when pressed into action, I do OK. On Wednesday I attended a retirement gathering in honor of my mother, a county employee for the past 29 years. A brief presentation was planned, so I made sure to be there, despite the hardships of the past two days.

I was surprised to hear several people speak about her. A handful of people had nice things to say about my mother, not all of them related to her career as a county employee. It was quite an event.

The last thing that occurred to me as I made my way to the seventh floor of the county offices is that I’d be speaking about my mother. But after watching several people speak about her, I wondered if somebody from the family should say something. After a handful of people spoke, it seemed obvious that somebody should. I quickly crafted a speech in my mind and then the emcee of the event invited anyone else to step forward and speak.

A few of mom’s co-workers accepted the invitation, so I waited my turn. Once it was clear nobody else planned to step forward, I did.

I’m not sure I delivered the best message possible at her party. My point wasn’t that she’s a great mom, as well as a great county supervisor. My point was more along the lines that she will continue to be a mom, even if she is retiring as a county employee.

I used a couple of events in my life to emphasize the point, and peppered them with comedy. While I didn’t say it in so many words, I think my stories helped emphasize why she is important to me as a mother, and how I still need her in my life. Even if I didn’t say it explicitly, I think my message came across.

Several people complimented me after the program was over. I was rather tired that afternoon, it had been a long day-and-a-half leading up to this party, so I don’t remember who said it, or how it was said, but I heard someone make the statement that I should be in sales. Somehow my ability to improvise in front of an audience makes me a candidate for a job in sales.

That’s not the first time I have been told this. And circumstances surrounding the other times I’ve been told this were equally as puzzling. I still don’t buy it, no pun intended. I don’t care for the mentality of many sales jobs. Having my paycheck tied to how many people I coerce into making a purchase they’re not quite ready to make holds little appeal to me. The idea that “if you can sell, you can sell anything” makes me sick.

Sales may not be the career for me, but my speech at mom’s party yesterday affirmed something I’ve known for a long time, there are better uses for my talents than writing for a weekly newspaper. I just have to find one of them. And I will.

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