business courage-01

The Naked Ambition of Doing Business

One priceless lesson I learned as a teenager was during my very first foray into the business world.

In starting up the business, I decided to knock cold on the doors of companies to try and sell my services. At 17, the prospect of meeting face to face with successful people I didn’t know and asking them for their business and money scared the hell out of me.

The day before my first professional level sales jaunt (Not counting wholesaling fancy fantail guppies to local pet shops when I was ten years old.) I told my future mother-in-law how scary it was. She suggested I might overcome the fear by imagining my prospects naked.

Apparently, when approaching someone to whom she felt inferior, she’d simply imagine they were totally nude. I’ve since learned that this is an old standby gimmick. It’s supposed to elevate one’s low self-esteem by mentally demeaning others, thereby instilling confidence by comparison. I tried it. Once.

The prospect’s name was Arthur. He was a powerful guy in the food industry and owned a substantial wholesale produce company in the South Bronx. He was elderly, all of 5 feet tall, wore a dark, double-breasted suit and puffed a giant Dominican cigar that stunk to high heaven. Arthur’s receptionist sent me into his office and I took a seat in front of his desk. He was talking on the phone, ensconced in a high-back executive chair that towered behind his head, puffing on his cigar and barking to whoever was on the other side of the call.

It was terrifying.

I immediately began picturing him in my mind without a stitch. There was little old Arthur, suddenly naked, wrinkled and bizarrely running his empire from a Naugahyde throne, his ding-dong dangling between his legs, billowing huge blue clouds of smoke from behind a giant mahogany power desk. It was shocking to see him this way. He looked ridiculous. This works!

He went from intimidating to bizarre in a millisecond. I got through my sales pitch without a stumble. He loved it and signed up. I had closed a deal. But I also felt something else. I was ashamed. I was not at all comfortable belittling the poor little guy in my mind. Shame turned to guilt.

This game was so unnecessary.

On the rest of my calls, I did well enough just putting on a suit and sweating it out. No ambition driven trickery. I’m so grateful to have this example of courage in my own life. All I had to do was dress up, show up, be honest, know what I was talking about cold, and work hard.

Plenty of good people said, “Yes,” to my pitch, I learned the basics of closing deals in a wholesome way and established a fantastic business that taught me immeasurably beneficial lessons I still use today and teach my kids.

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