The Tale of a Former Salesman

Whoops, I quit my job.

It wasn’t the first job I’d left but it certainly felt the most natural. For years I was an insurance broker for a large, well-respected agency. Every day was the same. Clock in. Answer emails. Prospect. Close. Clock out. Rinse and repeat.

For most, the day to day wouldn’t seem terrible. My colleagues were great; some of which eventually became close friends. I made decent enough money and, a few of my fellow agents earned enough commision to live a pretty extravagant lifestyle. I was generally respected as a career man and from an optics perspective, it probably looked like I had my shit together.

I did not.

A little backstory.

I studied radio production in college. I was always fascinated by the voices that resonated from my boombox as a kid. Where did they come from? How did the mechanics of it work? You turn the knob and immediately you hear someone’s voice, a talk show, or your favorite song. I knew that someday I wanted to be a part of that world.

I got my first taste at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport PA. I transferred there from The University of Louisiana specifically for the radio program. It was a small college station but the studio was state of the art. And because Williamsport was a small market WPTC had a fairly large listener base.

As part of the curriculum, no matter your focus, everyone was required to be live on-air at some point. My chance came sooner rather than later.

During a tour of the studio on the first day of class, the instructor introduced my classmates and me to a student who was working his format hour for the day. He briefly explained his duties and what to say during a break and then he looked at us and said, “Anybody wanna try?”

No one volunteered so he pointed at me, “You’ll do.” He quickly handed me his headphones, forced me in front of the microphone and said, “You have five seconds.”

All the blood rushed to my face as my limbs went numb. I do NOT embarrass easily and I am rarely at a loss for words but I’ve never felt more like the Little Mermaid when Ursala makes her sing to death or whatever than in that moment.

Through the headphones, I could hear the song coming to an end. It was something by Chris Cornell. The same guy who had just forced me to perform hit a button which suddenly shined bright orange. The mic was hot. He mouthed to me, “TALK”.

“That was Chris Cornell, formerly of both Audioslave and Soundgarden. Up next, a new one from Chevelle and later, The Silversun Pickups. Only on WPTC 88.1, the best in college radio.”

I just stood there; eyes wide and hands in the air like I was being robbed at gunpoint. Still not sure which scenario is scarier. The instructor killed the mic and smirked in my direction, “That was a start”.

I was hooked.

Decent Advice, I shouldn’t have taken.

From there I was determined to be as involved at WPTC as I possibly could. I volunteered for every on-air shift available. I hosted my own music specialty show from 10 pm to midnight called “The Redeye”. I even transformed a sports talk show that I was a part of, from a TV broadcast to an afternoon drive radio show. The show was prerecorded so I couldn’t take live callers which meant that it was essentially an hour-long solo monologue every day. That was challenging but by far my favorite accomplishment.

After college, I landed a promotions job with Great Media Philadelphia. Greater Media was the parent company for a few of the biggest radio stations in the city at the time; WMMR, Ben FM, and the ESPN radio station The Fanatic.

The job was part-time and entailed promoting the stations at remote broadcasts. We would dance around during commercial breaks, throw t-shirts into the crowd (if anyone was even there) and generally act like fools to promote the station’s brand. Although it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing, I was still THERE.

Someone told me once that the saying in radio goes, “Yeah the hours suck, but at least the money’s shit.” And that’s true for most of the folks in production. It was even worse for an entry-level, part-time promotions guy.

Nevertheless, I tried not to let my increasingly dire financial situation deter me. As repayment on my GIGANTIC student loans began I worked other odd jobs to try to supplement my income while jousting for a producer spot at 97.5 The Fanatic. Bartender, painter, laborer, you name it. I did it.

Eventually, reality delivered a swift kick to the gut. I wasn’t making enough money to survive. My student loans were on the verge of default, I couldn’t cover my housing expenses, and I was barely able to put gas in my car to get to the station every day. I was desperate and I needed to find something else.

During a conversation with a close family friend, the topic of sales arose. John had a presence. He was funny, possessed a booming voice and he knew exactly how to command the room. He was a regional sales leader for a national mortgage company. Well respected in his field and very successful. I’ll never forget his words to me.

“Rye, you’ve got charisma. You’re charming. People want to listen to you. Sales is the highest paying profession in the world and you have exactly what it takes to succeed.”

He ‘sold’ me. My heart certainly didn’t want to leave the radio station but my brain saw no other choice. In order to buy the things that I thought I wanted; a big house, fancy car, designer suits, I needed to give up on my dream and try something new.

At the time, one of my buddies had recently started a job with a young internet travel company. It was a sales position and he was doing WELL. Very well in fact. He was able to get me an interview and they offered me a job as a new reservation sales specialist. I was to be a solely commission based employee selling vacation packages to the Caribbean. Yay.

For a time things were good. I was charismatic. I did have charm. And people did seem to want to listen to me or at least let me sell them vacations. I was making more money than I had ever made before. I had benefits and my bills were paid. I was now able to afford the material things that I thought I longed for in the past. For a little while, these things shielded me from the truth. I was changing, and not in a positive way.

A few years later the website I worked for was sold and I could see the writing on the wall. The new company was altering my position. The sales team was making good money and they figured they could outsource the work for a fraction of the cost.

I tenured my resignation and obtained my insurance producer license in the state of Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter I was selling insurance.

The Bridge.

My morning commute to the office was 12 miles. It took an hour and a half. Every single day.

I’d leave my house and sit on West Chester Pike for 30 minutes. Occasionally, I’d notice a man in an older Nissan gripping his steering wheel like it was the ledge of a building he was hanging off of. One day I witnessed him scream at the top of his lungs as we sat in traffic together. I couldn’t hear him over the voices of Preston & Steve; the number one morning show in Philly, broadcasting from the same building that I used to work in, but you KNEW he was screaming. I couldn’t help but want to do the same.

Then I’d merge onto 476 and sit for another 30 minutes. I’d get off at Plymouth Meeting and make my way to Blue Bell where my office was. Along the way, just a few miles from my building, there was an overpass I would cross. It was a bridge over the Northeast Extension of PA Turnpike. The road that connects Philadelphia to the Poconos.

Before the bridge, there was an embankment without a guardrail. If you fell asleep at the wheel, there wasn’t much stopping you from the highway below. One, otherwise unremarkable morning, I found myself fantasizing about that embankment. It looks exactly like one of those stunt bonus ramps from the video game series Grand Theft Auto. In the games, you drive whatever vehicle you’ve stolen at the highest speed possible off of one of these ramps for bonus points. What would happen if I hit the gas and yanked the wheel to the right?

***

The trees on the passenger side of the car are a blur. The front tires hit the grass on the embankment, decimating the small shrubs in my path. My neck snaps forward. Slow motion. My grey Ford Fusion rockets into the morning sun. There are no sounds except Fountains by M83 is playing for some reason. The Fusion barrel rolls to the left, my tie floats upward as the car spins. Drops of coffee are floating about the cabin like when astronauts play with water in space. Traffic below screech to a halt as the front of my car hits the highway. Shards of fiberglass shrapnel pepper the road. Perfect landing, expertly executed, 10,000 points.

***

Have you ever gotten into your car, blacked out, and then you just magically appear at your destination? Yeah well suddenly, I’m sitting in my office. What just happened back there? I’m not crazy, at least I don’t think I am. WHY, the hell, would I fantasize about driving my car OFF OF A LEDGE and into oncoming traffic going 70mph below?? I absolutely don’t want to die, and even though my action hero scenario ends with me surviving, in real life that would surely kill me. Alright, let’s just relax here. Let’s clock in, answer some emails, prospect, close some deals and clock out.

The drive home is the same. Same 12 miles, same hour and a half. I park in the alley, sit in my car in silence for a moment before entering the walkout basement door. Mango, my dog is there to greet me, tail wagging. I sit in my favorite recliner for an hour and wait, no, I HOPE for my personality to reboot. I’ll eat some food and go to bed. The alarm goes off at 6 am so buckle up Vin Diesel, let’s do it again.

I replay this embankment fantasy/nightmare, whatever you want to call it, every day from here on out. Each time adding a new layer to the plot. One day I’m in a highspeed police chase. The next I’m escaping an earthquake as the roads break apart around me. The end is always the same; launch into the air and land safely below and somehow everyone is fine. Is this a metaphor or is it my imagination’s last-ditch effort to try and revive itself. Probably both.

All Aboard.

I think in many cases, individuals don’t change a whole lot after say, their late teens. Sure, everyone experiences things after that time that shape them. Maybe we become more cautious because of an injury we sustained crossing the street or maybe we cherish our relationships a bit more because of the mistakes we’ve made in the past. But I think for the most part; our core, the root of our personality, generally stays the same after about 16 or 17 years old. For example; if as a teenager you volunteered all of your after-school time to the folks of a retirement community, it’s probably safe to say that you’re going to be a fairly compassionate human for the rest of your life. On the other hand, if you tortured animals as a kid, there’s a much higher chance of you ending up on a true crime documentary. It’s important to note that this is just my own theory and, I obviously have no idea what I’m talking about but, it’s true at least in my case.

I knew exactly who I was by the time I turned 16. My philosophy was simple. Keep smiling, keep positive, keep making people laugh and I’ll be happy. And that’s it. I was happy. Incredibly happy all of the time, well into my twenties. I had time to, and more importantly, the mental capacity to do the things that I love. Write comics and jokes, draw, play basketball, speak etc.

I figured, it really didn't matter what I did for work; as long as I had those things, I’d be happy and able to live a productive life.

Remember when I asked if you’ve ever stepped into your car, blacked out and then magically you had arrived at another destination? That happened to me in my life.

I’d been riding an imaginary train to nowhere, every day for a decade. I didn’t really have any goals outside of what my company set for me. I no longer had time to do the things that I love. The little time I did have was dedicated to my family and sleeping.

I no longer had time for myself and it changed my core.

What an unbelievably sad concept. Living life every day and never having any time for yourself. No time to pay attention to the things that make you tick. No time to make yourself laugh or exercise your own creativity. No real time to dedicate to your body or physical health. No time for anything but to sell, sell, sell. What does that do to a person?

Maybe nothing. Maybe you’d be fine because you’re a stronger human than I am; plenty of people are and that’s awesome. But it almost killed me.

So, I Quit.

It’s been a month and ten days since I left. I now have a new revenue stream from my own company and a few from my passion projects. And as there’s humor all around us, the things I ran from are still very prevalent in what I do now. There’s still a large focus on standard business practices and I am forced to sell every day.

Answer emails. Prospect. Close

The difference now is that instead of spending every waking hour selling insurance or vacation packages to build someone else’s empire, I have the time to focus on myself. The time to keep smiling, keep positive and keep making people laugh so that I can be happy.

I’m still selling. I’m just selling a product I believe in again.

Me.