Hustle and a Smile

If you’re not sure what you want to do with your life, sell something. Not sure what to major in? Then don’t go to college until you decide; until then, sell something. In between jobs? Sell something. Want more social activity? Sell something.

It’s the universal skill set. “Sales” is just communication for commerce, but the “communication” part is universal. Short of living in a cave somewhere, pretty much all of your life choices will bring you in contact with other people, and all your goals will require them. Working together is essential. Sales is the skill of working together with a purpose. It’s leadership, even in a group of 2. It’s investigation and active listening and understanding. It’s psychology and research. It’s manners and culture. It’s the ultimate exercise in tolerance and respect.

In short, it’s all of life, condensed. And the best part is, you learn all this stuff really, really fast. You can get an incredible injection of knowledge and skill by spending even a single day selling stuff.

I used to have to drive this stretch of road north of Philadelphia every day for work. It was a crowded road with traffic lights every few hundred feet, but there were no other freeways that went where it went, so you were stuck on this commuter nightmare. And every summer day, there would be a person at every single one of those lights, selling cold waters and other soft drinks. There was a Costco or something nearby, and with a little effort you could go there, load up a cart with goods at bulk rates, and then sell them at traffic lights for a dollar a pop, making maybe 80 cents profit on each one. I would frequently buy them – and by the way, these hustlers had the best customer service you’d ever see, running out to your car as soon as you flashed the dollar in order to make 10 sales per traffic light cycle, always with a smile on their face.

One time, on my commute home after a 10-hour day, I saw the same guy I’d seen going in to work that day. So he’d worked longer than I had. I asked him how much he’d sold.

700 bottles. Seven. Hundred. At 80 cents profit per bottle. He would walk to the nearby store, load up a cart, and come sell until he ran out. Then he’d run back and repeat. That’s all I got from him before the light changed.

Think about that. A case of 24 bottles of water is around 4 bucks. It takes very little startup to do something like that – to buy something cheap and find a place to sell it for more. I ended up pulling onto the shoulder one day and talking to him for a while between light cycles, because I had to know more about him. He was just a regular dude, not much education and living in a part of Philadelphia that didn’t have much in the way of “normal” opportunities, and he decided selling water on the hot road was better than minimum wage somewhere. Can’t say I blame him at all. Apparently he’d work his butt off all summer and make close to fifty grand, and then just live on that the rest of the year when there was less demand for cold drinks, just doing odd jobs here and there and being happy. I made some remark about how his customer service was always amazing – he was polite, big smiles, would never approach a car unless waved over, etc. He said he had to – the biggest hurdle was if some jerk decided to complain about him the cops would come and kick him off or hassle him, so he made sure he was always incredibly polite.

All that knowledge and wisdom, and no gate-keeping. No boss, no credential. Just hustle and a smile.

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