“How can I help you today, sir.” I greeted my first customer of the day at the door.
The man looked like a deer in headlights. He was shirking off his reaction to say, ‘no thanks,’ because in fact he needed help and for whatever reason he was not expecting that help from me, “Um, I am looking for a car.” He finally answered.
“Great! We have a few of those,” I quipped. My first dealership had been a BestBuy converted into a used car lot. We could fit 100 cars on the showroom alone, so we were surrounded by cars. I needed to help the customer narrow it down, “Do you know what features are a must for you in a car?”
The man shrugged, “I just started looking. I am not sure.”
“We aren’t fucking detectives here, come back when you have figured out what you want.” boomed a confident voice from behind me. Both me and the customer jumped at the intrusion of my general manager.
The man bristled, “How am I going to know if you don’t give me a chance to look?”
“How you gonna find anything if you don’t know what you are looking for?” My GM countered.
“Look man I am looking for a car. I am not looking to get hassled,” the guy snapped.
“Sir I am just asking you questions. How are we supposed to help you if you don’t even know what you want?”
The man clearly rattled by the confrontation bit back, “I know what I am looking for. I want a black SUV that can bring my payments down. I just wanted to see what was out there.”
My GM smiled big, “That’s all you had to say. That wasn’t so hard, was it? We got several outside. I will have Elizabeth here show them off to you.”
It was a terrible start to a first encounter and the man took it out on me. My GM hovered around the entire sale and stepped in every time I floundered over the customer’s nasty remarks, to the point I was a third wheel in my own deal. By the end of the sale, though, my customer and my GM were thick as thieves. After the customer left my GM pulled me into the office and sat me down. Never a good thing when you are in car sales. It’s the equivalent of being called into the principal's office.
“Elizabeth, you are a really nice girl. People like you, but you aren’t making a lot of sales.” He accused.
I sat there quietly waiting for the firing blow. I knew what he was saying was true. I felt the lack of sales in every paycheck I cashed. A part of me felt it would be relief to be fired. After all, I wanted to quit every day. I made friends with every customer I greeted and felt that friendship dissolve when negotiating commenced. It was disheartening to be rejected every day and make no money on top of it, so I waited in silence for the final rejection. It never came.
“You see what I did there?” He pointed outside his office at the empty space where the customer had been.
“Yea?” I asked, wondering where this was going.
“Stop being nice and start being assertive!” He said bluntly.
I was taken aback at this advice. As a woman and even as a kid I was taught to minimize myself, to be meek, to be caring and kind; everything a woman should be right? Otherwise, I would be treated poorly. “Um isn’t that rude?” I asked tentatively.
“It's rude to ask questions and do your fucking job?” he blinked at me like I was slow.
I hate confrontation and was uncomfortable with this line of questioning. He had done this for years and knew what he was doing. I clearly did not have the backbone to keep doing this. Perhaps that was why women did not get into the car sales industry, I thought to myself as I said, “It's just impolite to be confrontational with someone who is spending a lot of money, and people don’t respond well to women who are impolite, and I would not be buddy-buddy with me the way he was with you.” That last part was conditioned into me for most of my life. Men did not respond well to misbehaving women and if I did not behave it would somehow hurt more later.
“Did that guy think I was rude when he left here today?”
“No,” I answered. I tried to think of a counter to this logic. There was something that felt so wrong in what he was saying, “but he wasn't pleased with me.”
"Stop making yourself a punching bag and then maybe you wont get punched," He said overly aggressive. I realized he wasn't mad at me. He was worried about me. Either way I didn't know what to say, so finally he continued, “I made a sale, and that guy didn’t negotiate. You wanna see your commission on this one?” He slid an orange deal bag across his desk with a commission sheet stapled to the top right corner of it. I took a peak and my stomach whirled with emotions at I read $842. He drove his point home as I read, “Pleasing everyone won't pay your bills. You have to fight for it sometimes.”
I didn’t want to do this job anymore, but I didn’t want to work three jobs either. If I could get commissions like that just once a week, I could pay my bills and have something left over. I had never made that in one week even with all the jobs I worked. ‘It was greedy, though, wasn’t it?’ I wondered. I was ripping people off or tricking them. This wasn’t nice, it couldn’t be right, it wasn’t what a Lady should do. All that whirled through my head before the voice of reason rang out in my head. ‘Fuck being a lady,’ I thought. I was living off of rice and eggs, I was behind on my bills, I was overworked, and I still could not afford to live. When had being a lady ever made my life better?
I can’t say I emerged from that office a witty bad ass. I can’t even say I grew a backbone then. The seeds had been planted, though, and the realization that I was my only salvation watered their growth. I had a right to ask for my livelihood. I had a right to give shit back. I was worth more than a doormat and I deserved to have a livelihood.
It was a rocky road getting to a higher level of confidence and determination, but this moment was the start. I had always been taught that I needed to find a man that could help me live comfortably or that men would naturally take care of me. That had never been the case, but I had held on to my conditioning. Years of that had bread an idea in me that perhaps I did not deserve the things I needed. That simple conversation with my GM pushed me out of that thinking and started my journey into the person I am today. It made me realize that it was up to me how I wanted to live my life and the way I had lived it to that point had left me at the mercy of others.
I no longer live at other’s mercy. I no longer care about other opinions. Those people don't pay my bills and bowing down to them wont help me. Call me the wicked bitch of wherever if you must, but I can finally take care of myself and not lay in unrealistic guilt every night. I can go to the grocery store now and not once do I worry I can’t get the things I need. Its the most wonderful thing in the world and I am happy I had that confrontation.