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For the last seven months I've been working a commission sales role for the first time in my life. Entering the job I had no idea how much it would teach me about business, negotiation and human behaviour. I thought it would just be another retail job, if I'm being honest. Then I was thrust in to a world of high-pressure incentives, complex services and products, confused customers, billing complaints, tech issues and 'positioning.'
My first manager was concerned at first that I might walk out on my coffee break and just never come back, like some past new initiates in to the crazy world of commission sales. But the truth was, as difficult as I found the challenge, I was fascinated by the environment, and began to find my own personal groove fairly quickly. This is what I've learned from what is one of the most educational positions I've ever held.
1) The customer is always fascinating. For real.
This position has almost fully cured me of social anxiety. I used to worry about starting conversations with people and talking about the same old boring things over and over again. Don't get me wrong, this did happen at first. I lamented that I didn't know the customers as well as my fellow reps who had been with the company longer, that I couldn't just jump in to conversations with the customers the way they did. Gradually, however, I learned that connections can in fact be built off the most seemingly inane comments if you mean them and say them with an open heart. From a comment as simple as "I like your nails," you can then branch out. "I always do the same color but I can never keep them up, how do you do it?" It became a challenge for me to see how quickly I could connect with someone and get to know them, and the reward was always, without fail, a fascinating story. Folks, everyone is interesting. EVERYONE. Ever seen Humans of New York on Facebook? Real life is like that. The more I connected with strangers who I would seem to have nothing in common with, the more I realized, damn it, most of humanity is really, really great, and actually very similar to me at a core level.
2) Tech support is a state of mind.
Okay, so this is only commission-related in terms of going the extra mile for a customer, but nonetheless, learning how to properly give tech support was a valuable lesson. The simple trick is: don't give up. The difference between a tech support professional and the average person is that the tech support professional works harder at finding a solution. Sure, it gets easier as you're able to see recurring themes and diagnose with immediate precision, but having all the answers is not what tech support is about. It's a state of mind. You will dig through forums for clues, you'll try every combination of fixes, you'll focus all of your mental capacity on the challenge in front of you. Tech support is the willingness to try.
Tech support is also Google.
3) Speak your truth and don't cringe.
This was a hard one for me. I empathize hard with cheap people. I am one myself. When I would state a price I would often wince or break eye contact or literally apologize. Eventually I came to realize- the price of our product or service is not a personal affront. It's just the price. It's the same for everyone, and it's what I have to offer. Many will complain, but many will also find it reasonable. Such is life. So rather than delve in to someone else's brain and make the decision that they are going to dislike what I am about to say- undoubtedly a negative way to start a conversation- I just speak my truth, and let them respond however they will. If they do have a complaint, we can work on things from there. But predicting a disappointed or upset reaction doesn't do any good for myself or my customer.
4) Let yourself go down the rabbit hole.
This is connected to the first item on this list. I find I'm more likely to get more out of a sale if I delve deep with my customer. Don't reign yourself back from speaking at length about how adorable corgis are. The more you know, the more tailored a solution you can offer them, which is ultimately better for both parties.
5) If you don't do it right the first time... it WILL come back.
Be thoughtful and thorough. Check and double-check that you've satisfied the customer's needs. Because if you haven't, you may get them out of the store for the next hour or so, maybe even a day, but they will come back. And they won't be happy about the inconvenience, or particularly eager to hang out with you again. When it comes to costumer service, if you want to half-ass things, you have to be ready for the repercussions, which will take the form of a real live human standing in front of you looking irritable and saying justifiably cranky things.
A little over a month ago my life changed drastically when my green card application to the USA was declined.
I had been applying for residence so I could live in Seattle where the person I love most in the world (Michael Johnston, for the record), is working a really good job at Microsoft. It was a shock, seeing as I’d been a super paranoid mess about making sure every document was correct and that I had sent in everything the government needed over the past year. I had also called many times to check up on my application and each time they told me everything looked just fine and dandy.
Turns out I hadn't submitted some necessary evidence right at the beginning (by accident) and the letter to tell me about my mistake never reached me (damn snail mail). Long story short: no appeal was possible, I had to leave and I had no idea what to do or how to feel. Well, I definitely felt upset but beyond that I wasn't sure.
This year was an unusual change-of-pace for me. I moved to Seattle to be with Mike, knowing no one else and unable to work or even go to school for most of the year. I had just come from having my ego brutally shattered by the negative effects of a year full of failing at running a business, failing at managing a house, failing at being a good daughter or girlfriend and just generally failing at being an adult. Or at least, that’s how it felt.
I mean, I tried my best in 2013 but the hits kept coming, even when I was on the ground. Renters who didn't pay rent, fleas, ants, mice, things breaking, lies, deception, let-downs, disputes, constant work (at some points a full-time job plus the business)- you name it, I experienced it.
I couldn't believe I had been so cocky and naive to take the world on like I did. I had been so foolish, so immature. Exactly what I wanted to avoid. I wanted to prove I was an adult and I ended up feeling like a stupid kid. Eventually I decided I needed to close everything up in the best way I could and walk away, feeling shame and self-hatred on the inside but acting, as I always did, like everything was okay, that this was all part of the plan. Except of course it wasn't.
I went to Seattle with Mike, brooding about what a dumb idiot I was in coffee shops while rain beat against the window, and I tried to remember myself. The confident Rose. The one who always knew exactly what she wanted to do. The one who was brave. The only thing is, it’s actually kind of hard to find yourself all alone, with too much time on your hands and in a city that just oozes angst (sorry Seattle. I still love you.)
Also, I got sick. Really sick. Seriously, chronically sick. I spent much of the winter wishing I could get out of bed and wishing I had something to get out of bed for.
But I also wrote a book. And every time I stepped in to the new world it healed me, every time I wrote I was free. Then I started writing another book. Along the way, mostly due to my new-found interest in fiction writing, I made some very deep friendships friends that I am so, so grateful to have. Seriously, when I was asked to join a weekly dinner group by one of these angels- that gesture made my life recognizable again.
I had friends! People who knew me! And they were so kind it made me feel like crying! Sounds dramatic, I know, but when you spend your days alone, bullying yourself, some kindness can shock the crap out of you.
Leaving my friends in Seattle was (and is) hard. Leaving that pillar of wisdom, patience and virtue known as Michael A. Johnston was (and is) even harder.
But it’s not all bad. I don’t know what it was, but I hit a breaking point. I didn't forget to take away lessons from the mistakes I’d made, but I forgave myself for royally messing up my 20th year. I thanked myself for not driving away my partner or any of the other people close to me, and for doing my best given my situation. I was tired of being a bitter, sub-par version of myself (after all, that really wasn't helping anybody), and tired of being afraid of failure. I wanted to be courageous again.
And a day after I got that letter telling me to leave, when the panic and shock had subsided enough that I could think, all of a sudden this feeling hit me, like some switch had been turned on inside my brain. I was ready for the world again, ready to take chances again. Maybe I'd fall on my face, but I'd try nonetheless.
Hence this post. I’m more terrified of telling everyone I know about my feelings than jumping out of a plane or seeing a thirty foot wave approach me. I don’t tell people what’s going on inside me. I just don’t. I never have. And that’s why I’m going to do this. Because I need to face that fear. Because if I had been able to do this in the first place I could have just asked for help when I needed it, rather than sinking in to despair. Because I owe it to my friends and family to be one hundred percent real and honest and able to accept their kindness. Because I get it now: no person is an island. No one stands by themselves in this big crazy world. We all survive through other people, and that’s not shameful, that’s just love.
I’m also dreaming big again. Do I know exactly what I’m going to do next? Not really. I have a few ideas- try and sell my book, which I’m just about to finish. Scrape up the money to attend a screenwriting program in Vancouver, if I can. That would put me closer to Mike, as well (Seattle’s only about a three hour drive away from Vancouver).
But that all depends on whether I can find a job and save up. This is life. It’s not easy, and everyone has a bad year occasionally. Or two. Or three. But it’s also beautiful. All I have to do is think of the smiling faces of the ones I love, and I’m thankful. And, added bonus, I've found my passion. I can write anywhere, anytime- all I need is a pen and paper. Or charcoal and bark. Or a stick and some damn sand. I know what I love. All I have to do is continue to work hard, love well and stick my neck out when opportunities come along.
This doesn't mean, of course, that everything is going to be one hundred percent fine and good forever. This is not a movie with a perfect, tidy ending. I have doubt. I know I’m going to have to work really hard to make any of this stuff I have planned actually happen. I know I’m bound to have bad years in the future. But I do know that a certain phase of my life has ended, and a new one is about to begin. And I feel really, really optimistic about this one. Everything is within my grasp. I just have to reach out and take it.
So that’s my year in review. A year which a couple of random Facebook photos or a chirpy, upbeat paragraph really could never represent. This is the real me. To all the friends and family that I am so lucky to have: thank you, I love you. You mean the world to me. I hope you have a love-filled holiday, and here’s to another wonderful year on earth.