"Solutionism: the new optimism." --Dow Chemical Company's new slogan
A few months ago, I finally decided to apply for grad school. I have applied to the Masters in Civic Leadership program at Lipscomb University and am currently awaiting my entrance interview. In applying, I of course had to list my reasons for wanting to be in the program and what I hoped to accomplish.
It's well-documented in this blog what I hope to accomplish on a broad scale. After I said I would write about what this country's product would be as part of a Business Plan for America, I realized I need a focus. Our product, I believe, is our culture, that American spirit of ingenuity, optimism, and fortitude. What held me back from posting about this was the realization that we are losing that spirit, and it risks being supplanted by skepticism, partisanship, and helplessness. This realization gave me my focus: to begin my quest for a better America, I want to create programs that bring business and entrepreneurship education to the young, the poor, and eventually the masses. The programs would, over time, increase opportunities for success and remind people that we all have a hand in creating our own destinies by creating our own jobs, or making ourselves more marketable as employees, or becoming indispensable in the jobs we have already.
Having been meditating upon this project for a month or two, I was delighted when a young man--let's call him James--knocked on my door tonight and began to tell me about a program in which he was involved that helps teach people business skills. James said he came from Chicago and was on parole, and participating in the door-to-door sales program was required as part of his parole to help prepare him for the job market and prove his aptitude to future employers. I immediately thought about the Southwestern Advantage, a door-to-door sales program touted by Rory Vaden, author of Take The Stairs, as "one of the toughest and most rigorous yet exciting programs a young person can participate in."
James showed me the names of neighbors who had signed on to help him, and he had clearly perfected his pitch as he bantered politely and flattered me subtly. He wore khaki pants and a short-sleeved dress shirt with a tan argyle vest, and we both recited the phrase, "If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you sell good!" We spent about fifteen minutes chatting on my porch before he brought up what he was selling. I even asked him if I could give him my business card, and if he didn't mind, I wanted to connect with him later to learn more about his path out of crime and poverty.
James then showed me a list of magazines he was shilling. I think I concealed my disappointment, but every moment after that seemed like a waste of my time. I asked the price a few times, but it took him a while to finally show me that a three-year subscription would, at minimum, cost $80. "Oh, I can't do that," I told him. He tried a couple times more to get me to pick a different magazine, but I insisted I couldn't afford to lay out that much money for a magazine subscription. He mumbled something and then turned for the stairs leading off my third-floor porch and descended quickly. I watched him, confused, then realized he was actually leaving. Leaving! He didn't say goodbye or thank you or screw you or anything at all--he just turned and left after he realized I wasn't giving him any money.
My blood began to boil. As he made his way down our long driveway, I became infuriated that James had wasted my time, although he probably left in such a hurry because he realized he had just wasted his own time. Possibly the magazine sales are a scam, and possibly he doesn't even realize it. The fact that he had no interest in help from an outside source, though (he left without my card), led me to believe he had no interest in genuinely learning more about sales or entrepreneurship or anything else of that nature. Regardless of his intentions, what angered me the most was that in a situation where I would usually be guarded, I'd let myself be pulled in emotionally because his story spoke exactly to the situations I want to improve: the job outlook for the poor, the paroled, the people looking to lift themselves up through their own hard work.
Hustling is an art form, and it doesn't have to involve the typical urban connotation of hustling: doing anything necessary to make as much money as possible. That struggle-for-survival mentality doesn't have to survive in the future if we teach people how to hustle better, more productively, and legally. So, young hustler James, who left me feeling robbed of time and good humor, you have motivated me more than any ex-prisoner-makes-good story could. I aim to put people like you out of business--out of the business of selling magazines, that is--and teach them how to use their skills to establish a level of financial security like they've never imagined.