The Greatest Compliment
The greatest compliment I ever received was from a boss I worked under for one day in 2008.
At that time I was desperate for employment and had applied for a vaguely defined sales position via an even more vague classified ad in the newspaper. The dubious ad went something like this:
Make $1000/week selling high-end home care products with a wonderful team! Make your own hours, PT, FT. Call xxx-xxx-xxxx today to schedule your training!
Once “in”, I discovered I would be trained to sell Kirby vacuums in all their questionable, curious, and tempting glory. I spent two days in a room with a wide array of characters — elderly, new high school grads, men, women — as we sat, mystified, that a single machine could do so much. At the same time, I saw on the faces of the trainees that, like me, they weren’t convinced of the merits of this miracle product, so how in the world were we supposed to sell it to strangers?
The Monday following the Thursday-Friday training was my first day on the job. It was also the day I discovered I really, really, really hate sales. #selfdiscovery
A Day of Clarity
I started out meeting in a parking lot and piling in a van with ten other salespeople to be dropped off in our designated neighborhoods. I was the newbie in the group, so spent most of my day with the team’s supervisor, watching and learning the very literal tricks of the trade.
He and I, dressed in black slacks and dress shirts per company code, went from house to house pitching Kirby’s. It was dismal — I had flashbacks to my elementary school days when I had to go door to door asking neighbors to buy holiday wrapping paper for my school’s fundraiser — but, early in the afternoon, we were finally invited into a nice man’s home to show him our wares.
The visit didn’t end up in a sale for my supervisor, but I was able to see for myself the life he led that put food on his family’s table. He seemed to love it — the interaction, the promoting the product, the power felt from impressing an unwary customer — and appeared to truly believe in the value of the overpriced, multi-purpose vacuum cleaner.
Later that afternoon, I scored my own invite: a stay-at-home mom with toddler in arms allowed me entry into her home under the promise (made by my super) that I’d only be imposing for 15 minutes and she’d get a free vacuuming out of the deal.
Once in, my super left me to my own devices to market this miracle machine.
The whole time I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Here was this hard-working mom spooning peas and carrots to her toddler with a stranger on her sofa chatting up a $1,000 vacuum.
The woman, however, never accused me of any wrongdoing. She was gracious in all regards, never short, and even stopped for a moment mid-feeding to ask the 25-year-old me, in kind, motherly fashion,
“You seem really smart. Why are you selling vacuums?”
Her question shocked me into momentary pause.
The time soon came when she needed to bathe her son. At that point, I hadn’t yet cleaned her floor. I was only halfway through my pitch but, seeing her distress, I eagerly gave it up. I told her I’d go overboard on the promise for a single vacuumed room, that I’d shampoo her rug, vacuum her carpet and linoleum kitchen floors, and detail her stairs (at least the lower half of it, from the baby gate on down) while she took care of her son. My offer was thick with apologies and supplications, my self-imposed guilt now laid on thick by my conscience.
I cleaned her house and called my super to come and pick me up. Within five minutes I was out of her way and in the van headed through the dark back to my waiting car.
During that ride, I sat in the front passenger seat nearest the driving super. While the rest of them discussed their sales (or lack thereof) from the day’s efforts, the boss and I talked about dinosaurs in the Bible. It was news to him and my most recent revelation from my studies, so I spoke pretty passionately about it (imagine lots of hand gesturing and you’ll get the idea). That conversation somehow segued into me expressing doubts about whether I could successfully sell Kirby vacuums.
In response, my supervisor told me,
“I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about you that makes me trust you. I feel like what you say is true, like I can confide in you, and that’s why people will buy what you’re selling.”
Sure, maybe he was just buttering me up — maybe he said the same thing to every doubtful trainee! — but it was the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten and, many years later, I still remember it.
A day later I called in to the Kirby home base to tell them I wouldn’t be coming back, but thanks for the opportunity, anyway.
A Day of Charity
My bad first day ended up being a blessing to me. Sometimes charity is like that: unintended and unforgettable.
To this day, I feel bad for imposing on that poor woman. She’s likely long forgotten about me, but I’m glad I was able to vacuum her first floor for her. With that toddler, she needed it; I sucked up quite a few “lost” Cheerios from under her coffee table.
Though I did my best to shower her with as much apology and blessing (in the form of free housekeeping) as I could before leaving her home, what she gave me was more lasting and more valuable. That is, the confidence to take a moment to re-evaluate my situation.
I equally feel bad about quitting my job within a week of getting hired. I’d never done something like that before or since, but it was certainly a test of my work ethic. My supervisor, whether he was honest with me or was merely buttering me up, gave me a compliment that meant so much to me I have since been dedicated to maintaining its accuracy. That is:
Say it, do it. Preach it, mean it. Believe it, stand by it. Don’t believe it, leave it.
That’s trustworthiness summed up in a few words. I could expound, but I won’t spend (waste) the time.
I don’t claim perfection — sometimes my tongue slips and I spout things that aren’t true, say things I don’t mean — but I do my best to prevent those faux pas and/or apologize for them when realization and guilt hit me after the fact. Still,
Being trustworthy is its own reward. Sometimes it’s awkward, sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes it hurts, sometimes it requires giving up things (like a job), but it’s always, ALWAYS worth it.
Being told “there’s something about [me]” that makes me trustworthy and, therefore, makes people feel like I care about them, that I love them and care about them, is the greatest compliment — and highest honor — I could ever have gotten.
“…let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18