A young man was once asked about his future. He replied thusly.
“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”
Smart, but a little idealistic. I don’t really know of anybody who works in a field that avoids all or any of these three characteristics. For most of my adult life, I have worked in sales. Be it retail sales, the service industry and that one year in television production, it all comes down to sales. When you go to work and you’re not physically crafting something with your hands or tools, if you’re not fixing cars or building a house or grooming a dog, you’re selling. Almost anyone can do it, a few people are gifted and clearly squandering their talents doing it, and some just work very hard at it, grinding away everyday to earn a living and be successful. I like to think that I’m gifted enough but I’ve also worked hard on my game. I pushed myself to be the best at most jobs that I have had and things are starting to pay off for me now. I am at a job where I am performing well enough that I am moving up the career path within the company. Within a few years, I will be setting myself up to a position where I will be making a comfortable living and all without a college degree.
But, I have worked hard on it. And when it came to selling, I wanted to be number one. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to the whole place to stink with my fart for a week. Yes, I wanted to be Ricky Roma, because I learned to sell from watching Glengarry Glen Ross. The AV Club ran a terrific piece last week about the iconic Alec Baldwin speech in the film. The piece was very informative on a technical level but did not really get into the visceral experience of watching the scene. If you haven’t watched it, go ahead. I will wait.
Alec Baldwin is absolutely mesmerizing and if it weren’t for 30 Rock, this film would probably be the way that most of my generation would have remembered him. He has always been on of my favorite actors and I watched the hell out of this movie in high school. There was a time when I could quote the scene verbatim, but over time, I heard so many people attempt to do the same so poorly, I eventually gave it up simply out of spite. But, I still love it and have to watch it at least once a week. It’s something that seemed so seminal to me, I am surprised when people haven’t seen it. However, I still wanted to be Roma.
Fun Fact – In my stable of impressions, I do the Kevin Spacey-Al Pacino impression which is of course, entirely informed by this film.
Ricky Roma carries himself with such nonchalance, yet he’s boiling underneath the surface, ready to explode, which he does by the end of the film. That was always the approach that I tried to have in sales. To make it appear seemingly effortless to me, but to also be able to overwhelm when I needed to. I want to be able to hit for average and for power. And I always could. I could always talk my game since I was a teenager and as an adult, I had never had a job interview where I was not made an offer afterwards. Some of these jobs would require mandatory drug testing, but that’s besides the point. I studied Glengarry Glen Ross, absorbed the lessons of Blake and modeled myself after Roma and I was good.
Almost six years ago, I started a new job, in a new field, in a new city with people I had never met in my life. I applied for one position and was hired for one above it. I worked hard, I did well and I was good. But I wanted to be better. Most people would have sought advice of their superiors, which I did. Some might have observed others in their profession or sought out some sort of trade journal or self help book on the subject. Hell, maybe I should have just gotten into Mad Men a year sooner than I did, but I did not. I turned to my greatest teacher ever, the movies. But I had already taken everything I knew from Glengarry, what more did I have to learn? Where would I learn it from?
I went home one night and re-watched Boiler Room.
I had been a Ben Affleck fan before it was cool, when it was not cool and when it became cool again. And Boiler Room is one of his performances that immediately comes to mind when I think about him. He’s only on screen for maybe fifteen minutes altogether and really only has about three scenes, but they are amongst the most pivotal scenes in what it really a small movie. Boiler Room is the Wall Street for people my age and oddly enough, I watched it almost non stop for a few months while I was in the Marine Corps. Chop shop brokers in New York was literally half way around the world from Japan, but I could not get enough of the movie. I watched it consistently through college, as my best friend and I were true devotees of The ‘Fleck. But, until that night I watched it again, the lessons of the his character. They are lessons that I have in my heart and I fall back on them almost daily.
Wrong answer, no!
We expect everyone here to treat their co-workers with a certain level of respect.
The only question is, who’s gonna close? You or him?
We have a kinda minimal level of aesthetic professionalism here that we have to maintain.
That’s it Skippy, pack your shit, let’s go.
(These scenes, you’re going to have to Youtube on your own.)
I was a senior citizen compared to the kids I was working with, but I was determined to be the best at my job. I went back to work the next day with the wind in my sails and my head ringing with Affleck’s words. I wanted to be a winner, not a piker. I kept my head down and was promoted within a year. I have been in middle management ever since and now, I am in charge of the kids that I used to be like. They want to push themselves and I want to help them. I want to make them better at my job, because it makes me better at mine. I want to pass onto them the lessons I learned, even if they were just from a couple of my favorite movies. And I wake up every morning, going to work, trying to get the best out of myself and my staff and I am always, ALWAYS closing.
Fun Fact – When I was opening new stores and working as a trainer, I would often recall a scene from Good Will Hunting when I would watch the staff completely melt down. It does not feature Ben Affleck.