March 9, 2023
I remember the first time I hit an unbelievable target.
I was 18.
It was my second summer selling educational books door-to-door.
The first summer destroyed me.
So much rejection, far from my home and family.
The company I worked for shipped college kids hundreds of miles from everything they knew. The idea was to get them away from any distractions so they would just sell.
I toiled, on foot, all across Topeka, Kansas.
I knocked on doors from 7:59am until 9:30pm.
Hundreds of doors.
Six days a week.
For thirteen weeks.
Every day I thought about quitting.
I called my parents several times crying.
Somehow I stayed, made it through.
After 80 hour weeks all summer, I brought home $2,234.48.
Way, way less than minimum wage.
I was so defeated and afraid of that experience, that despite all logical arguments or better alternatives, I had to come back.
I had to do it again.
I couldn’t move on with something in my rear view mirror which terrified me so much.
So I came back.
The second summer we were in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Every morning my roommates and I would go to the local diner for breakfast.
Every morning I had a pit in my stomach knowing that just an hour later I would be, yet again, knocking on doors.
The first few weeks grinded by and although I was doing better than the previous summer, I found myself getting lapped by other sellers in the organization.
One by one my fellow sellers were reaching and surpassing that lofty goal of “500 units.”
Five hundred units signified several thousand dollars worth of book sales.
Given I made all of $2,200 my entire previous summer, conceiving of selling that much in a week was at first unfathomable. I just couldn’t see how it was possible.
And yet, week after week, my friends were hitting it. And then hit it over and over again!
I shifted from disbelief to panicked confusion and embarrassment to envy and anger…
And ultimately to being pissed off enough to get over the disbelief.
And then an amazing thing happened.
My seething anger trumped my fear.
I raised my hand and asked for help. One day, during the third week, I followed a seller who was killing it. I watched him closely and we talked in his car between every neighborhood we worked that day.
Light bulbs were going off in my head right and left. Watching a master at work showed me how off base my selling style was. I took copious notes and asked him hundreds of questions.
At the heart of the epiphany was selling larger packages.
I had been selling the three-book study guide set.
My new mentor was selling the eight-volume children’s set along with the study guides, the medical manuals AND the cookbook.
He tied it together with a vision of how all the books together had something for mom, dad, kids, everybody.
I saw how I could move away from selling reference books to a series of assets for the entire family.
At the end of the next weekly sales meeting a switch flipped in my head and my heart – and the game was ON.
After shopping for the week and doing laundry at the laundromat I left my roommates and went to the park.
I sat on a bench staring across a pond for a long time.
I visualized what it would be like to hit 500 units the following week.
It meant selling approximately 85 units of books per day.
I visualized Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… every day of the six-day work week.
I saw in my mind’s eye, in great detail, what it would look like to break through to the other side of that lofty number: 500 units.
Monday morning came quickly and I found myself sitting at the diner, anxious.
Not a fearful anxiety, it was a restlessness and impatience to get into my territory and get the week MOVING.
7:59am finally arrived and I was on top of it.
I paid more attention to making better maps of each street, drawing each house and annotating them with the names of families I learned of with each conversation.
I made appointments with what I thought might be the most likely buyers in the evening so both parents would be there to accelerate the decision making process.
At those appointments I would deliver my new pitch, which included every book in my bag.
Monday ended. I had sold 75 units. My best was 83 units but I only hit it once the previous week.
Tuesday, I closed 97. A new personal best. Maybe it was a fluke.
Wednesday, I only hit 65. That was a typical day for me and on the drive home (I had a car that summer, a 1981 VW Rabbit. Puke green. Bought from my grandfather for $750) I felt the comfort of the “typical” results start to lull me into contentment.
Thursday, I closed 82. A good day but I was behind. I hardly felt the fatigue of the 12 hour day as I stewed pensively on the drive home.
Friday was another personal best at 105 – my first day over 100 units!!!
Saturday started strong, 41 units by 9:30am. I had never had two packages close on a Saturday morning!
But nothing else closed by noon.
Nothing by 5:00pm.
I found myself with two appointments to go and it was already sunset.
The 7:15pm session ended and I walked out with 27 units.
I was short 8 units at 8:45pm on a Saturday night.
I was late for my last session.
But the family kindly let me in anyway….
… And ultimately bought 42 units.
It was my biggest package ever and the sale that brought me to 534 units. I did it – I broke through!
All I can remember after that was driving home at top speed (53 MPH in my old Rabbit) with my head out the window, left fisted arm raised in triumph, yelling at the top of my lungs through the mosquito-ridden Wisconsin night.
I had never felt such a feeling.
I did not think it could get better.
And yet over several more book-selling summers, I continued to hone my craft until I had my best week ever at 1,215 units.
The lesson I carry with me to this day is simple:
For whatever number seems out of reach, there is a way to blow by it with Belief, Strategy and Pissed-Off-Ness.
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