Did you ever have an epiphany come to you in the midst of contemplation on a different subject? Like you were thinking or puzzling on one thing, and then that conundrum connected you to a non-related puzzle that had been tugging at you, and then the two combined and it made you go, “Ohhh…okay…sure. This makes sense!”
When the light reaches you, and it’s a good thing, it’s like that first sip of ice cold Gatorade (the green, original kind) after an hour long workout on a 90 degree day – refreshing, and uplifting. But when it’s a bad thing, the realization can slap you in the face with the blunt force of a smelly tube sock full of wet sand.
Today, I realized that I’m no longer cool. It’s an acute condition that I may have been afflicted with for quite some time now, and I just didn’t know. Smelly sock, wet sand, applied forcefully to noggin.
The details of how I opened the door to this discovery are not all that important; so naturally I’ll share every one with you:
I am a salesman. I work for a company that makes stuff. I sell that stuff to people who might use it to make other stuff. Or I sell stuff to people who fix the stuff that those other people made. I also sell my stuff to people who have stores. I convince those people to put my stuff on their shelves so they can also sell my stuff to people who make other stuff, or use my stuff, or fix my stuff – or other people’s stuff.
My job is to call on, advise, and serve, all the people who are connected to the ownership chain of my stuff. I also call on people who use stuff that’s sorta like my stuff, but the stuff they use is made by a company or companies that I don’t work for… competitors. That stuff might do the same thing as my stuff, but my stuff does it better, so I try to guide those people towards a discovery of that truth.
So now you’re seeing how this works; how I interact with people on a daily basis. It’s a real simple concept; the company I work for makes stuff and I sell it.
So this afternoon I was finishing up a deal with a company that makes stuff, and I got them to incorporate my stuff into the stuff they were making. It’s a nice piece of business with a company I really enjoy working with. I’ve been working with a young engineer (around 30 years old), and an even younger (about 25) supply chain guy.
Little side note here:
It’s Supply Chain now, NOT Purchasing Agent, or Procurement Officer, or Buyer. The people who perform this task are extremely sensitive about how they are referred to. As far as I can tell though, they’re still just buying stuff.
I’ve been meeting with these guys about once a month for the last 6 or 8 months. I know about their girlfriends, their dogs, their hobbies. I share my clever little stories and amusing anecdotes about my life on the road. Sometimes I turn the tales into parables about day to day issues that our two companies are facing as we try and make our products work together. I share this wisdom and experience with these younger fellas in order to create a relatable and mutually satisfying transaction. They laugh, they make good eye contact with me, and they seem to really tune in to my message…about my stuff. As most salesmen do, I feed off of that energy.
Our appointments are usually scheduled for around 11:00 in the morning, or close to the end of the day. I do this so I might be able to take these guys out to lunch or out for a few beers after work so I can properly convey my appreciation and the gratitude of my company for their continued support of our stuff…and so I can share more stories.
They always have a reason why they can’t go:
“Yeah, sorry, Large Man. I have a boatload of work to do.”
“Oh man, I appreciate it, but my dogs have been in the house all day. I have to go home and take care of them.”
When they both declined my lunch invitation this afternoon, I noticed that their eyes kind of shifted towards each other and the body language got a little antsy. They seemed eager for the meeting to end – it was almost like they didn’t want to hear any more of my stories. That was cool though, I was hungry, their facility was in a nice metro area, so I could pick any place I wanted. So I thanked them for their time and I left.
I drove across town to a nice little bistro, but before I went in for my mid-day nourishment, I sat in my car, answered a few emails, made a few calls – head buried in my phone, oblivious to the world outside of my European sports sedan/office. I walked in and headed to my favorite spot by the window.
As I stepped through the door, there was a table in the middle of the place with eight chairs that were becoming occupied by eight young professional men and women. They were just settling in, drinks being served, menus being passed around. THEN, two of those “young professionals” looked up at me with eyes that said, “Ah shit!”
YES, it was my two little bros. The two young men I had just parted company with didn’t have work to do, or dogs to feed, they had other young professional people to hang out with. Cool people, peers…young, cool, peers, with relatable little stories of their own. Tales about beer bongs, and inappropriate Instagram photos, maybe spring break stories…tales that Twenty Somethings share.
The gym sock full of wet sand still hadn’t hit me as I looked at them and smiled. I honestly just thought, “Oh cool. They found some buddies. Getting’ together for a late lunch…” It didn’t even hit me as I noticed their “Ah Shit!!” expressions. I just gave them a wink, and a wave, and enjoyed a nice lunch at my window table.
It was about twenty-five miles down the road when the dull thud hit me. I don’t know why, but I was just thinking about a golf tourney that I had recently played in. This golf tournament is a charity thing, and it’s a gathering of a great cross section of people. I think there are about fifty golfers from all walks of life, the ages are anywhere from 18 to 80. The neatest thing about this tournament is that you sign up as an individual, but with the exception of the defending champions, you don’t know who you’re going to play with. The foursomes are drawn out of a hat. The team that won the year before gets the opportunity to defend their title, but all the other teams are just randomly selected. It’s a way to make it more social, it prevents a team from stacking the deck, and it’s just cool.
I’ve played this tournament for the last four years, and three of those years I’ve played with a quality young man who is the son of one of my besticles. (A besticle is the male version of a bestie…it’s a best friend). I can’t say enough about my besticles’ son. He’s in his early 20s; I’ve known him since he was about 16. He plays with our basketball group in the winter; he’s really cool to my son – a good role model. He is genuinely respectful to his elders, and he’s polite to his peers…peers like me. When my name was drawn for foursome # 3 at this year’s tournament, his name was drawn next. He looked over at me and smiled and said, “We’ve been on the same team three out of the last four years!”
“I know! How cool is that!” I replied.
He didn’t really say anything after that.
For some reason, after lunch I was thinking of the golf thing and interaction with this awesome kid – let’s just call him Ethan for the sake of the story. I thought how great it was for him to be able to play golf with a mentor type person like myself, but yet someone who still considered himself a peer to this young man. Just before the sock hit me, I was wondering if it ever bothered Ethan the he has 5 or 6 of his own besticles there at the tourney. Cousins and buddies that are his age, contemporaries he’s known forever in “Twenty Something” terms.
Smell that sock? Do you hear that swoosh as the heavy end of that sock travels its short but devastating arc towards the center of my forehead?
Hmmm…maybe Ethan would rather play with his buddies. Hey, wait a minute! Maybe those guys that build that stuff, and buy my stuff, would rather hang out with people their own age…and tell their own stories! No! It can’t be.
My head was sort of pounding from the blunt force of the emotional sock trauma. So I pulled over and started doing the math, and made a few withdrawals from my memory bank.
OK…I’m in my 50’s, and they’re 25…Ethan’s like 23. When I was their age, did I like listening to sales guys tell their tales? No.
(When I was in my early twenties, I worked in Supply Chain. It was called “Purchasing” back then. I interacted with a lot of fifty something sales guys – old guys. I can’t remember ever going to lunch with one)
When I was 20, did I EVER get excited about playing golf, or tennis, or Parcheesi with someone in their 50’s? The answer is also, a fairly definitive… no.
I’ve been living in a fool’s paradise. Nobody has dogs to walk. Nobody in their 30s; the prime of their life, would rather do their work than go to lunch, or go out for beers. They would just rather do it with someone cool… and not 50… (OK, 55, but the point is the same.)
Not only would I not have hung out with “Fifty Somethings” when I was in my 20’s, I would have gotten together with my friends and talked about how pathetic…
Thanks for reading.
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