Tuesday, November 9, 2010

At the Table

A part of this job (the best and main part) is that I sit at the kitchen table with total strangers and engage them in a conversation about life, death and the value of their savings. Whether they buy or not, my intention is to leave as a friend, even if I expect not to see them again.

I am comfortable walking in to a home and establishing a rapport. It has been my training over 30 years to brainstorm designs and demonstrate my ability to build them. In that scenario, the goal was to secure an invitation to return with a solid proposal. The extent of the project could involve months and a hundred thousand dollars. My clients, of course, owned the home.

In this venture, the prospect, more likely than not, is a renter. Most are young with small children. The territory is an hour north of Burlington into an area full of hard workers and industrious people caught in an economy that is not thriving. Half the homes I visit are mobile, but permanently attached with precarious front steps and rusty hunks abandoned in the yard.

With a fire restoration, no matter how damaged the home, there was a snap shot of a moment and the life that had filled the space. The dirty underwear (now blackened) was in the hamper. The coffee table was littered with picture books, kids' toys, drug paraphernalia or all of the above. Whatever was going on at the time was now stepped over and looked beyond in the process of putting the lives back together.

In this, I notice a similarity. When you begin to see the benefit and necessity yourself, you are able to make the sale. When it becomes less about the sale and more about the people, perhaps you have found a calling…and a career.

Today, I looked a young man in the eye and behind his fear and desperation about what it requires to take care of his family, I saw a determination that inspired me to want to help. Even as he struggled to imagine how he could find an additional few dollars a week, he understands the need. Instead of turning his back to hide his shame, he faced the difficulty and looked for solutions.

Where most twenty-one year olds I know are comfortable in college with a beer in hand and game scores are their most important numbers, I am meeting more now who are burdened with the weight of their choices and bravely keeping their heads above the water. Where I accepted such challenges at an older age (still thinking I was so young and un-prepared), I at least had the resources and education to pretend I knew what I was doing.

This man was as blind as a deer in the path of a truck, but was not at all standing helplessly or hopelessly still. Laid off from one restaurant job, he was holding on to another week by week between Vermont seasons of tourism. Without a car to get to school, he takes classes online to meet qualifications to get into the Police Academy. His wife nurses precariously on the edge of bureaucratic funding decisions, facing the elimination of a job vital to their survival.

Their little son has learned to run just as soon as walking, and unable to afford day care, one or the other has to be at home with him at all times. They hope to have a Christmas tree and count on presents from the rest of the family to make up for what they cannot afford.

Suddenly, as clear as a bolt turning the night sky into day, the soulfulness of my job flashes and recedes. My compassion, spirit and experience can do much more than spill monotonously out on to the table. My story, like this blog (hopefully), may help as inspiration and example, but more importantly, I can sit with a man like this in support of his own story.

It does no good to sell the need and sign this family up for something they truly cannot afford. What might work now in the urgency of the moment may soon become too hard and is abandoned, the money already contributed wasted.

Instead, this man recognizes the need to care for his family and is willing to work hard to provide it. Putting all of my Mankind Project training to good use, I honor his commitment and support him in his effort. I can provide accountability by calling him in several weeks to see if he has made the changes in his budget to ensure he can add this part successfully.

The commission I receive becomes immediately secondary to the guidance and structure I might provide. When he is able, the pride will be immense that he has set a goal and could make the changes required to meet it. If ever there is a need for the insurance to pay off (and this is really a “when” not “if”), he can be proud of the protection he has provided.

My heart embraces the idea that something bigger is going on than just a family getting a spiel forced onto them. These are people working hard, not collapsing or running away. They deserve a good deal and I am delivering something that can really help. I honor their journey and bless their commitment.

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