I once explained to a small group my ideas for selling an odd mismatched item. At the end of the discussion, in which I shared a rather off-the-wall approach that actually HAS worked before, one of the people asked me if I could sell ice to the Eskimos.
“No,” I said, “but I would sell them a freezer to store it in.”
Because that is what they'd need. That’s Sales.
Many, many people with far more research under their belt than me have written about Sales. Likely the world would continue to revolve without my input on the subject. That has never stopped me from giving input before.
My earliest memories are of selling. Daddy was a salesman while still in his teens: he sold suits at JC Penney's. Later, it was furniture at Levitt Brothers, Buyers Mart, and Kaufmann’s in Pittsburgh, PA.
I remember his Buyers Mart years the best. In addition to selling furniture, Dad was an assistant manager there. He used words like shrink, knock-down item, margin. Frames and Henredon. Plan, market, forecast, brocade.
I remember writing out envelopes for sales invitations in December. As the oldest, I was “allowed” to trim the onion-skin paper pictures that he used to create a weekly advertising page, which was driven downtown late at night to the Pittsburgh Press.
For Christmas in 1972 he got a bonus check, which was welcome in our family of seven, and he also got a marvel we’d only seen in the news: a Sharp calculator. I remember it cost almost $200, which was likely our total Christmas present budget for the family.
Daddy was so proud bringing it home, and I was just as proud when I took it to school the next year. (It meant I didn’t need to use a slide rule, so to me it was priceless.)
Behind all of this success was Sales.
Daddy taught, and I listened. He demonstrated, and I watched. Most people, when they met my dad, they liked him right away. He had a big smile that took over his whole face. He looked a person in the eyes when they talked. He listened to what was said and also heard what was meant.
Selling, he taught me, was helping someone understand they had a need, showing them you had what they needed, and ending up with what was yours now being theirs. Everyday.
I am a good salesperson. My father was excellent. He would have sold the indigenous people of the frozen tundra a freezer, alright. Then they would have left with a second one to use while they defrosted the first, and a warranty on both.
He stopped being excellent, though. I don’t know why.
Maybe it was a lifetime of sadness that caught up to him. Maybe it was the inner turmoil that his mother carried with her, turmoil that was passed along to my father and brother. I don’t know.
The man that could pinpoint exactly what others needed floundered when it came to himself. And to his family.
The thing about sales is… you need to go DO it, you need to show up and sell. It doesn’t happen from the couch. It doesn’t happen when you sleep all the time. It doesn’t happen while you ignore depression and dull it with sleep. Commissions need to be covered or they go away.
So, he changed directions. Sort of. He started down the road to be a minister. That road took him to the point that he became Pastor Pete with two small rural churches in up-state Pennsylvania.
He explained to me that it was still Sales. Different product, though.
You still need to help the person understand that they have a need, that you have what it takes to fulfill the need, and work towards what is yours becoming what is theirs.
Still Sales, and in this case the warranty never expires.
His calling took him to several cities and church homes; sometimes my husband and our children would go and listen to him preach. That same smile on the salesfloor was behind the pulpit. I recognized the focused listening shown to the soloist. The attention to the needs of the children. The patience to the members of the ministry board. The creativity shown during VBS and Christmas plays.
He was loved by his parishioners. He was excellent.
He stopped being excellent, though. I don’t know why.
Maybe that old turmoil got too loud after he retired. Maybe the lifetime of private actions got too hard to deal with once public presence wasn’t so important to maintain. Maybe he couldn’t listen to his own thoughts.
I don’t know.
The man that helped, truly helped, so many find their way was lost to himself. He couldn’t find his way home anymore.
My father could help everyone but couldn’t understand his own need. He pointed others to peace, even though several of his children could find no peace with him. The compassion that he gave to strangers but denied his family finally abandoned him.
In the end, my father couldn’t sell himself on staying. So he left.
I don't know why.
Suicide shatters. It is final. Absolute. Tragedy. It stops conversation. Awkward.
At his funeral I faced a seemingly endless line of grieving parishioners, all trying to understand why, why did the man that taught them God was their answer seem to find God was no longer enough? What did that say about God?
I tried to do what he would do, be the calm in the storm. “I’m Pastor Pete’s oldest daughter, I’m so sorry, I can see that you loved my dad.”
A salesperson, a truly good salesperson, needs to sell one crucial person everyday. They need to sell themselves. They need to believe, deep-deep-deep, in what they are selling.
My father was beyond good: he was excellent.
Sometimes, though, he believed things that weren’t true:
- That we all felt safe everyday
- That we could go a month or two without money.
- That a smile at night made up for angry silence at dinner.
- That a childhood of fear would blossom into a forever family togetherness.
- That being the world’s best grandpap was a do-over and made everything OK.
When the belief is gone the promises are empty. There is nothing left. The needs are unfulfilled.
I grieved ~ I still grieve~ over my father’s death. Over his suicide. In the same thought I can’t understand it and I’m sure it’s my fault. I cried during the nightmare of his funeral until I thought I would dissolve from the tears.
I mourned ~ I still mourn~ the loss of 'Pastor Pete', and wished that persona had been my father. I didn’t know the man that died.
I watched him help other people and give them the time he would not give his children. Maybe, maybe…
That’s what is left after suicide: maybe.
With suicide there is no warranty, no sure hand to make things better. No do-overs. Why write about this now? Because I’m an excellent salesperson.
I can, and have, helped people identify their needs and met it with what I have to offer. It was very handy in retail sales.
But I’ve done it in my personal life, too. I’ve sold the smile when I felt the sorrow.
Part of that is just life. Being an adult. Being responsible. Part of it is being unwilling to go deeper and face what’s really there. It’s taking the easy way.
That won’t get me where I want to be.
I need to lose the inner things weighing me down. The hidden reality of my visible struggle. I don’t want to sell myself on untrue beliefs. I don’t want what was his to become mine.
I’m learning to understand my own needs, struggles, and challenges and finding out what will meet it. I learning to understand how to sell myself the things I must have to be healed and functioning.
I am, after all, my father’s daughter.
If you have thoughts of self-harm reach out. If it’s too hard to reach out to family or friends contact @NationalSuicidePreventionLifeline at 1–800–273–8355. Or text to 741741 in the US and Canada (85258 in the UK and 50808 in Ireland) and communicate without speaking out loud.
I hope you leave a comment.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!