Today is my one-year anniversary at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I spent the previous 18 years failing upwards in a career in sales and marketing, most recently selling paperclips to Staples. And if that sounds like a particularly dreary way to spend 50 or 60 hours per week, well, you have no idea.
It was about a year ago that everything came crashing down. I lost my job, the third in five years. My marriage of six years went up in smoke and I moved into my parent’s basement. Littlefoil was a champ throughout and adjusted to the changes much better than I did. It wasn’t until thereapist #5 that I found someone who knew how to help.
Thank you #5. Thanks also to my friend Kelly who worked at the MFA and brought my attention to a temporary, entry level sales job there. I started selling memberships at the front door…me, a forty four year-old washout, along with nine fresh-faced college students.
The plan was to bring in a little bit of income while exploring a new place, a new industry and a new career. And for the first time in memory, the plan actually worked. About three months later I accepted a full-time job as an Operations Manager and haven’t looked back. I have never had a job that I enjoyed as much as this one. Not camp counseling, not working at Tower records and surely not selling paperclips.
It was the first step in a forced reinvention which should have happened 15 years sooner.
So if you’re looking to make a life change, go ahead and do what I did, move into your parent’s basement and take a 55% salary reduction. It’s just that easy.
I’ve retrofitted my ideas about happiness and lifestyle and the future to fit my new situation and I’m feeling optimistic and hopeful and good.
And it’s partly because of #5 and partly because I moved out but mostly the job has been the thing. I wasn’t just being snarky about the paperclips by the way. That really was my job. Paperclip salesman. Ye gads. And good for all of the other paperclip sales people out there. We all need paperclips…it’s just that the paperclip industrial complex has a way of chewing up and spitting out gentle folk like me.
(Cue Alec Baldwin: “I used to be in sales, it’s a tough racquet…”)
But now, here I am, a man of the arts! A conduit between some of the most significant contributions to the human endeavor and the restrooms! A guide for the patron of the arts who also happens to be looking for the food court. Every day I bring people a little bit closer to history, wonder, creativity and the coat room.
Clearly, I don’t consider myself superior to the paperclip salesman, the robot salesman, the ball point pen salesman or the rubber duckie salesman. I applaud the record store clerks and waiters, the lawnmowers and the sales clerks, the car salesmen, the radio DJ's, the park guides at Sea World and the cold callers because at one time or another I've been all of those things.
Yes, I spend a lot of time directing people to the toilets but I get to do it alongside Degas, Kelly, Picasso and Marclay.
And sometimes, when I use a paperclip, I try to look back on what were such dark days for me only to find my memory a blurry fuzz. No need to bring it into focus though. My lesson is learned.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011. Year two, day one.