I’ve done my time in the corporate world. Most of my adult life. Matter of fact, I held my first job at 12, selling newspapers in front of a convenient store, and questioned what most consider to be commonplace even as a preteen. They took our pictures in front of a soda machine and asked us to hold up a newspaper. There were three of us at the time. The other two guys held their hands in the air and stared into the camera. I on the other hand realized, even unbeknownst to me, the power of an image. I had listened to them explain the concept, that I assume they didn’t think we would even understand. We were a play on the old-fashioned newspaper boys that stood on street corners yelling extra! extra! Read all about it!
That was the image, that the paper business was going back to it’s roots to do something old fashioned hoping to make it seem modern. So as the other two stared awkwardly holding up a newspaper, I thrust mine high overhead a threw my mouth wide open, as I pretended to should extra! FLASH. The picture was taken.
I’ve since attempted to uncover the image of my first job at the Seneca Journal Tribune, however have yet to find it. Needless to say, that wasn’t the end of the story. We were selling newspapers for .50 a piece and were left unaccompanied in front of a K-Mart. My best friend at the time, and the one I convinced to join me in the first of my many ridiculous ventures, had used the 50 cents from his first sale to put in one of those absurdly stupid mechanical arm grabbing machines, and after two attempts, won a stuffed animal. Not to be outdone, I spent every. single. quarter. I received that day, and not only spent all of the newspaper’s profits but also didn’t get a prize, and had to explain what happened to the money at the end of the day to the staff (who didn’t fire me, thankfully).
So as I sat, my first paycheck for hours worked in my hand, I immediately had my mom take me back to the Seneca Journal, and hand in my entire check to cover the cost of the money I spent that first day. Needless to say, it didn’t take my entire check, however lesson was learned.
But what was the lesson?
Absolutely none at the time, at least not consciously learned. You can say I learned the value of money, the foundation of capitalism, or even the moral that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, at the end of the day you could leave empty handed and owing money to the man. However, it was this single event that made me realize that as I worked selling newspapers that stupid machine full of worthless and cheaply made stuffed animals made more money in a day by sitting there than I did by actually putting in an effort, yet we both thrived on the same thing: Presentation.
I had my picture taken, acting out a scene, it held shiny objects and played music surrounded by mirrors and locked behind glass. Presentation, and that’s the day I realized that I, a twelve year old, was a salesman. And that no matter how great something is, or how expensive it is, that the only thing that matters to the world is appearance. I could hand out blocks of gold that look like dog poop, and people would shun it and avoid my eye contact, never knowing that they passed up on opportunity.
Without making this too long of an article, because I’m sure I’ll revisit eventually, the message I’m trying to say is that one of the biggest issues facing our world is not hunger, it is not homelessness, it’s people defining what is valuable by the wrong criteria. Whether you’re a hiring manager that passes on somebody because of a wrinkled shirt, a business owner who passes on the next hot thing because you don’t understand it, just take a moment to think about whatever it is you are doing. Is it valuable? Does it just look like it is? Or is actually great and you’ll never know. How do you define what’s gold?