I’m sure many of you have reached a point where you wanted to tell your boss, as Johnny Paycheck once sang in his song, to “Take this job and shove it!” But, how many of you have ever actually had the nerve to do it?
When I was a young man, I had just earned my college degree in Data Processing, and was living with my parents in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Many of my friends had moved to Montreal, and after a few visits with them, I decided to move there. After several failed interviews for computer programming jobs, I finally had a nibble in the job market, but not in my field of expertise: I was Montreal bound to sell encyclopedias.
My parents freaked out: Their youngest child (me) was not only moving out, but moving over one hundred kilometers away. Making matters worse for them, was the fact that their perceptions of my disability, dwarfism, would make my new found independence much more difficult. They thought I was crazy, taking a job that would force me to walk door to door each and every day, just to make a living.
I loved my parents but I felt compelled to make this journey, like the migrating Canada geese, heading south for the winter. The whole thing went by in a whirlwind. Overnight, I packed my bags, traveled to Montreal, crashed at a friend’s place, and started attending training sessions on how to sell encyclopedias. After two weeks I was on the road in Ontario, trying to convince families that for just fifty cents a day, they could make the most important investment they would ever make: Their child’s education.
When one is being brainwashed, it is not always easy to notice what is going on. After a week however, I began to realize that the encyclopedia company was using all the same classic techniques on us rookie salespeople that religious cults use to gain converts:
- Separated me from all my friends and family by shipping me to Ontario.
- Crammed me into a motel room of like minded individuals (all of us rookie sales people).
- Kept us on a difficult morning to dusk schedule where we were either supervised, pounding the pavement selling their merchandise or sleeping.
The overall effect left us so fatigued we could not think straight, leaving us very pliable to the sales techniques used to convince us that selling educational material was so very important. Eventually a few of us tried to sneak off for breakfast without any of the managers present, just to get a break from the relentless coaching. The managers found us and brought all the other rookies with them to our breakfast hiding spot, and we were all reprimanded on the importance of being a team.
In my second week, I reached a breaking point, and was teetering on the edge of quitting before my “probation” was over. Management had made it quite clear that if we quit before our return to Montreal, we would have to pay for our own transportation. Against my better judgment, I decided to give it one more try.
What finally broke my spirit was the day my manager dropped me off in what appeared to be an upscale neighborhood of new town houses. Almost every backyard had toys scattered about, a sure sign there were young families with children who absolutely needed to have our encyclopedias. After making a few sales pitches, it quickly became clear that all of the townhouses were government funded, to help poor working class families. These hard working people could not even afford one extra cup of coffee extra per day, let alone a $2,000 set of encyclopedias that would take them five or more years to pay off.
I went to a local park, sat on a picnic bench, and cried for a few minutes. This was not what I wanted to be doing with my life. I spent the rest of the day enjoying the sunshine, and the laughter of children playing. When my manager picked me up, I told him to take this job and shove it. I paid my way back to Montreal, and soon thereafter found a job teaching computer classes at the downtown YMCA.
More than twenty-five years later, I have no regrets about trying out that sales job. As horrible a job as it was for me personally, it taught me how tough I really was, both physically and emotionally, and led me to many happy years living and working in the city I love most.