An Independent Woman

Contrary to my stated desire of complete independence, I  was afraid of being alone.

My move to Philadelphia took me out of my comfort zones.  I always lived with someone,  even if I provided for myself, I knew there was someone to go home to, for better or worse. Now, it was different.  Every night, I came back to a beautiful empty apartment. To alleviate the feeling of loneliness, I purchased a human size doll, named John,  to keep me company.  I placed  him in front of the windows to scare potential intruders.  Never mind that I lived on the third floor and the only intruders could have been the birds. However, John managed to scare the windows washer, who almost fell off the ladder and broke his leg because he thought John was a dead man in his chair!  In spite of the incident, John continued to stay in front of the window,  just in case.  I had several locks on my door, and the floors were screeching at night… I still think there lived ghosts in that house!

The part I loved about my new home was the fireplace. I could stare at the freely dancing flames going in different unpredictable directions, yet confined to their home, the fire-place.  I only looked, never touched, I remembered when I was a child, I didn’t know that beauty could hurt and mesmerized by the dancing flames I went closer, and I felt pleasant warmth, and even closer, and it was too hot, and yet, I dared touch the flames and the pleasure turned to pain.   It traveled from my hand into my soul, then the pain disappeared and the ugly wound healed leaving a scar and a lesson. Now, in my Philadelphia apartment I only stared at the flames, protected by the fire-place grid and enjoyed the dance of the flames from a safe distance.

Yes, these were wonderful, but expensive pleasures… soon I discovered independence was costly! I needed to work even harder, to be more aggressive and take more rejection, so that I had the privilege of staring at the flames  in a luxury apartment.  My boss used to tell me sometimes it was  even hard for him to take rejection, but he had a secret way to motivate himself.  When business was down, and he had to make more calls,  and couldn’t take” no” anymore,  he drove  to the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia, and  look at the devastated houses, and told himself ” this is where I will live if I don’t sell.”  Then he took a deep breath and looked at a picture of his suburban home, his stay-home wife and the three kids. Suddenly, cold calling and rejection didn’t seem that hard anymore. It was what it took to have what he wanted.

I thought his story was inspiring and I wished I could motivate myself, I wished I didn’t feel rejected or took  it personally, but I did.  I was told times and again that is easier to sell something I believed people needed. That product was disability insurance!

As a rule, all small business owners needed disability insurance.

” What would happen to your business if you got sick? Did you think of your family? Your children? Who will pay your bills, who will take over your business?” They were all legitimate questions, and I was walking up and down Chestnut Street in Philadelphia “attacking” the various shop owners by asking these questions, which were so true but scary to the owners.  Some would say “no, thank you”, few, would take the information and ask me to not call them they will call me if interested, and a handful would listen, make an appointment and purchase the much-needed protection.  However, no matter how much I kept telling myself the rejection was not directed against me, personally, when the Hindu owner of one of my favorite shops said ” do not come back because I only get sick when I look at you, ” I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t somehow personal. I was the messenger of potential bad luck and this owner was superstitious. In principle, I liked superstitious people, they still believed in some type of consequences, for one reason or another. Deep inside, I couldn’t even blame him for not wanting to purchase the disability. In his mind, purchasing the insurance would have meant he was “attracting” sickness to his life and successful business. However, when he said he felt sick when he saw me, deeply hurt my feelings. I just couldn’t pretend it wasn’t personal.

As I was trying to find less ego hurting ways to improve my business, someone I met at one of the many sales trainings I attended, told me they had an opening in their company, teaching brokers about packages of municipal bonds, so they could market them to their clients.  It was a tax-free investment. I knew how important it was to rich people to not give what they earned to ‘Uncle Sam”.  I thought  teaching brokers about a  tax-free product would be less stressful than knocking at business owner’s doors.

My interview for this position was with a man named Henry.  He was about fifty, bold and square, with blue eyes which could have been still attractive if they weren’t blood-shot.

“We’ll have the interview over lunch.” He suggested, and the idea was appealing so we went to Bookbinders, then a Philadelphia landmark. I cannot remember what we  food we ordered, but I do remember what we drank.

“I’ll have a martini.” He ordered. “What would you have?”

I had to think fast… is he testing me if I drink alcohol at Noon?  Am I perhaps supposed to drink and entertain my future clients, the brokers? He ordered a martini…. if I order water, he’d feel  perhaps embarrassed if he wasn’t testing me….

“I’ll have a screwdriver,  with no alcohol please.”

That made it orange juice, since the vodka would have made it a screwdriver, but everyone seemed okay with my decision and I was offered the position.

I was given six months to train and get my license in mutual funds, and I was told ‘ll have to lecture about these financial products in front of large crowds of brokers, a majority men and also work with individual brokers who sold large quantities of our product. My salary was generous, and in addition, there was a yearly bonus if my clients, the brokers, were selling what I was hired to teach them how to sell.

My territory was the whole state of Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware and I was spending less and less time in my Philadelphia apartment and more and more in various hotels away from home.

My best account was in Pittsburgh, a broker whose client had a chain of restaurants and needed tax-free investments. I had spoken with him several times, but the time had come to meet him in person because he needed support understanding a new product, so he could present it to his rich client.

I flew to Pittsburgh and met him over dinner in the restaurant downstairs in my hotel.

“I thought, judging by your accent, you were a Chinese woman!” he said, visibly shocked I was a Caucasian in my thirties.

“Is this good or bad?” I said.

“You are very pretty,  I guess it’s okay”.

We sat down at a corner table in a poorly lit  site of the restaurant. I wondered if he would be able to see my charts… I had my brochures,  paper and pencil and was eager to explain the products.  After all, that was why I was taking him out to dinner.

We made small talk over drinks. About his family, his five children and his many charities, how active he was in his church.

What a good man, I thought, his wife is so lucky… why can’t I find someone like him, so dedicated to his family, church, business…I guess all the good ones are taken!

Over dessert I decided the time was right  to take out my pen and paper and prospectus for the new product and explain the benefits, so in turn he could explain them to his client. I  offered to come along on his appointment the following day if there were still questions.

As I was drawing charts and pointing out the tax savings, I felt something soft and warm going up my leg.

“Ah!” I screamed, and jumped off my seat.

“I am sorry, there was something crawling up my leg… wouldn’t expect bugs in a five-star restaurant,” I continued, trying to find the creature in the semi-darkness.

I couldn’t find anything, and the waiter assured me there were no bugs.

Reluctantly, I sat down, and continued to explain the “benefits of my product.”

“Do you think I explained this well enough, or should I come with you on the appointment?” I concluded my presentation and asked for the check.

“Oh, you explained it very well, ” he said.

We stood up and he escorted me to the elevator. I extended my hand, to say good-bye, but he pulled me towards him and whispered in my ear:

“It wasn’t a bug, it was my foot!”

The elevator arrived, he turned and left and I missed the elevator looking at his back disappearing through the hotel’s doors.

I pressed the elevator button again. After all,  i thought, his wife wasn’t that lucky!  I could definitely find someone like him, but did I want to?

The next day he called to let me know his client invested over a million in the tax-free product I so skilfully explained to him. The power of Uncle Sam was greater than lust!

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