The Strange Tale of My First Real Job

Photo by Arturo Castaneyra on Unsplash

This article has nothing at all to do with guitar or music but it is a humorous recounting of events that really and truly happened.

I graduated university with a pretty average average, having experienced the highs, lows, and the middle of academic success. Not because of a lack of intelligence but more because of a lack of focus and interest in what I was studying. I think I just got bored with school and wanted to work. Looking back, I selected the wrong major and pigheadedly stuck to it even though I knew fairly early on it wasn’t really right for me.

SUCCESS KEY: Know what you want and develop plans to achieve your goals. As Zig Ziglar said, “don’t be a wandering generality, be a meaningful specific.”

When I finished university, I was living in a shabby apartment in Montreal with barely a penny to my name, not sure what to do next,. Why my girlfriend stayed with me still puzzles me. I eventually found a horrible part-time job working for a federal department. I was on a six-month work contract that didn’t get extended. My bosses did me a favor by cutting me loose. In the winter of 1991, I was on unemployment for a couple of months and having a rough time finding work – I got really good at playing Super Mario.

I eventually found a job ad in a newspaper from Ottawa (this was well before internet job searching). I applied for a job that I didn’t really understand from the ad; for a company I didn’t know the slightest thing about; in a town (Concord, Ontario) I had never heard of; in an unknown industry. I mailed off my resume (yes, it was that long ago) and about a week later, a very friendly fellow with a heavy English accent called me and told me a bit about the job and the industry – steam. He also told me I was scheduled for an interview a week later.


“They still use steam?” I said to myself.

I went down to the local library (remember, Stone Age, no internet) to look up what the hell a steam trap was and to try to find information on this company. I still thought I was applying for a job near Ottawa, only 2 hours away from where I lived in Montreal. I looked on a map and realized to my shock, the town was located over 6 hours away, near Toronto. Toronto! I had never been there before. All I knew was that it is was a big, scary place. I read on and found out as much as I could about this company and the industry so I could sound somewhat intelligent during the interview.

SUCCESS KEY: Before heading into any job interview, study all you can about the company you are interviewing with. Study their products, their industry, their competition, and their history. In this Information Age, there is no excuse to walk into an interview not knowing this very essential and basic information.

The night before the scheduled interview, I scraped my pennies together, got my vinyl briefcase and shoved a change of clothes into it, trying not to break my briefcase in the process. I didn’t want to show up at a job interview with a suitcase. I didn’t even own a suitcase and didn’t even have the money to buy one if I wanted to.

Early the next morning, I kissed my girlfriend (she’s now my wife of 29 years) goodbye and headed for the Metro (that’s Montreal for subway). I made it to the bus station, bought my ticket, boarded the bus with my vinyl briefcase, and I was off down the 401 in a Greyhound bus for the very first time in my life. I was scared but also very excited. Like the song says, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” That about summed it for me at that point in my life.

I arrived in downtown Toronto in the late afternoon, right in the middle of rush hour, after an oh so exhilarating six-hour bus ride . I thought I had landed on another planet. I had never seen anything like this place before. Luckily, the subway stations were pretty easy to find so finding one wasn’t a problem. I found a big map of Toronto on the wall and tried to find where Concord was. No luck. All I knew, it was well north of where I currently was and not even on the city map! Panic. Horror.

I found the nearest ticket booth and asked the man in the booth, “where is Concord?”

“Concord? Isn’t that a plane?”

Great! A comedian. He asked his buddy and in unison, they said, “North.”

“Thanks for nothing,” I thought to myself.

I had to figure out a way to go north. I got on the first subway I could find heading west and headed west. I got off when they announced that it was the end of the line. Then I found a bus heading north-ish. Thank God for transit transfers. I was heading in a sort of north-like direction and started to relax a little. After about twenty minutes into my bus ride, I noticed we were heading more and more towards the setting sun and realized we were going more west than north. So I got out and walked. And walked. And walked. Shivering, with my vinyl briefcase in hand, wearing my threadbare parka and my pleather dress shoes. I was frozen. It was early March and it wasn’t much warmer than -20C that day (that’s about 0F).

I walked east, then north, then east, then north again. I have a pretty good sense of direction so even though I was essentially lost, I knew I was sort of in the right area of where I had to be. By nightfall, I was starving and even more frozen than before. I found a Harvey’s Restaurant and scraped enough to buy a hot dog and a Coke (I still needed to pay for the motel). I had no credit card so everything was cash.

After my feast of a hot dog and a Coke, I asked someone to point me in the direction of the Journey’s End (now known as Comfort Inn) By around 8 or 9, I found the motel and at last, had a place to stay for the night. I had just enough cash to pay for my room. (When you pay cash for a hotel room, you have to pay up front.) I don’t even think you can do that anymore. I later found out, that I had been wandering around one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden parts of Toronto – I guess what you don’t know won’t kill you, and in this case that was pretty literal.

The next day was yet another adventure. Fortunately, my scheduled interview was at 2PM so I had plenty of time to wander around and get lost some more. Great! Even the cabbies didn’t know where Concord was. I eventually bought a map, sat at a coffee shop and figured out that I was about five blocks from my destination. I finally found a cab driver who knew how to get where I need to go and I made it to my interview with about a half-hour to spare.

Looking back now, I realize that I was going around in circles and could have made it in a quarter of the time. Again, Stone Age, well before anybody had GPS.

SUCCESS KEY: Don’t be a wandering idiot. Buy a map, study where you need to go and use your GPS. The GPS is a wonderful invention – treasure it.

I guess they liked me at that company because I lasted there almost 19 years, and worked customer service, and covered three separate and very different sales territories for them.

I’ve been in sales now for many years but to be honest, nobody ever really showed me how to do it right. It’s something I just stumbled into and I’ve learned mostly through trial and error. If I were able to do it over again, I would study the art of selling a lot more. There really is no excuse anymore since there are a ton of books, magazines, and audio programs available to help anyone who wishes to get ahead in the world of professional sales. So many of us accidentally fall into this life and are never fully convinced this life is for us. Choose to be the best you can be. Choose to be a sales professional and study your craft.

They can’t make it until they sell it. Without the sales professional, your company cannot survive. As important as management, engineering, accounting, production, warehousing, shipping, and marketing are to a company, nothing can happen until your company’s product and/or service can be sold. Sales professionals are the critical link to a company’s success, especially those of us in technical sales because of the highly specialized knowledge we have of our industry and how our products are applied. Salespeople have one of the most important jobs in any company. Salespeople are part of a profession and therefore, should treat it as such.

Given the importance of a salesperson’s role, they may be tempted to be arrogant. But being important doesn’t make you indispensable so treat everyone with the kindness and respect they deserve. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. A salesperson not only sells to their customers, they also sell themselves to their colleagues and to management. Treating people poorly will only undermine your efforts in the long run.

Salespeople are the eyes and ears of their company. They also represent their company to each and every person they encounter every day. Everyone you encounter can help make or break your success. Remember, “the toes you step on today may be connected to the butt you have to kiss tomorrow.”

I hope by sharing this very personal article, I was able to entertain, inform, and inspire you.

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