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Marching onward: With things at their worst, be your best

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T.S. Eliot was wrong. April is not the cruelest month.

In Eliot’s signature poem, “The Waste Land,” he draws a metaphorical juxtaposition of the deconstruction of man while nature renews itself every spring, obsessing over depression, anxiety, alienation, impotence and all that other really cool stuff he enjoyed.

But he was wrong. April is not the cruelest month – March is.

Every year, we denizens of the northern tier of this space rock excitedly anticipate when March cometh like the great emancipator of all that’s mundane and unwholesome: movies too weak for major release dates, inane TV shows aimed at the galactically witless (guess who?), self-congratulatory awards programs preached at us by the dark doyens of depravity, not to mention a mess of vitamin D deficiency.

As the old saw goes, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb (or as John Belushi put it on “Saturday Night Live” – when it was still funny – March comes in like an emu and goes out like a tapir.

MILESTONE OF HOPE

Despite this dog-eared bromide of banal wisdom, we greet March each year with great expectations of renewed life, lifted spirits and, as a milestone of hope and promise, hope and promise right now, not in three or four weeks after it morphs into a tapir.

Self-appointed wise people will tell you that spring doesn’t officially begin until the vernal equinox on either the 20th or 21st of March, regardless of what some furry rodent predicts.

And from a meteorological point of view, March is a winter month.

Hogwash.

The National Weather Service categorizes winter as the time between the beginning of December through the end of February. And it lists March as a spring month.

STEADFAST RESOLVE

We all want March to be the slayer of winter, a time to put away the snow shovels and get out the sunscreen, to don summer apparel and roll down the car windows and blast the radio.

But alas, good times seldom spring forth in the cruelest month as we trudge through the last vestige of cold and windy despair, searching hopefully for that first robin redbreast or crocus bud popping its head out from the frozen tundra of our winterzeit die Schwermut (with a wink to Old Possum, that in case you didn’t know was T.S. Eliot’s nickname, who in case you didn’t know wrote “Book of Practical Cats,” which in case you didn’t know was the basis for the show “Cats,” that in case you didn’t know was a smash Broadway musical that ran for years, and in case you didn’t know was never made into video game so you probably never heard of it.)

Which is, by the way (and my point), the best part of the human spirit: our steadfast resolve as a people to keep marching onward when all seems bleak and hopeless and arduously endless.

CAVE OF THE DRAGON

March defines who we are.

And nowhere is that definition more apt than in sales, where we few, we happy few, remain defiantly energetic in the face of daily disappointment and setbacks, indifferent and rude customers, compassion-challenged bosses, impossible quotas and deadlines, ineffective products and moth-eaten territories, and yet, misunderstood and reviled, we assiduously march forth into the cave of the dragon every day with a smile on our face and a song in our heart.

And all that jazz.

SELF-IMPOSED LIMITS

I was recently reminded of this by a young woman new to sales and struggling, tormented by her fear of failure and full of self-doubt – unable, or more accurately, unwilling – to step out of herself and use the best tool available to salespeople: empathy.

She was stuck in her own agenda and couldn’t see over the walls of those self-imposed limitations.

Her perspective was all about her and the obsessive and omnipotent dread of rejection.

TURNING THE CORNER

After several weeks working with me, she came in one day and greeted me with a big smile.

“Things are going much better! I’m finally making some sales and starting to hit my numbers,” she gushed.

She went on to say what had changed her attitude and helped her turn the corner.

She had pitched a prospect and he had signed the contract and given her a check: her first sale!

EMPATHY, ENTHUSIASM

She was beside herself with delight, and her manager made a big deal of it, congratulating her in front of the entire sales team.

Sadly, the check bounced and she was forced to confront the prospect.

When she asked why he had given her a bad check, he said he was so impressed with her energy and commitment that he felt compelled to buy her product.

He told her she was a great saleswoman and that she had totally convinced him that she could help his business. He thought he could cover the check, but things were slow, and he just got caught up in her enthusiasm.

FACING IT HEAD-ON

“And that didn’t crush you?” I asked.

“Just the opposite,” she responded. “It hit me like a brick to the face that if I could sell a guy with no money, think what I could do with somebody with money. It was a real epiphany.”

In other words, when things were at their worst, she was at her best.

Facing failure head-on can do that for you.

MARCH’S PROMISE

Just like we face March, armed with optimism but ready to fight the good fight into another reawakening of hope eternal – March’s promise.

That is, as long as you don’t buy into another Belushi-ism that says March comes in like a worm-eating fern bird and goes out like a worm-eating fern bird.

In fact, the whole year is like a worm-eating fern bird.

Talk about March madness.

Sales consultant and professional speaker Rich Plinke of Allentown is the author of “More Droppings from the Dragon: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Sales,” available at www.moredroppingsfromthedragon.com. He can be reached at rich@howtoselltheplague.com.

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