“Prove them wrong.”
That’s what my old boss, Max, used to tell me when all the negativity and “no”s out in the field would get me down.
“What do you want most in life?” he’d say, squinting at me through his tiny, expensive glasses.
“Success — to be successful,” I’d half-whisper.
“What the fuck, Shokoohe — are you asking me or are you telling me?” he’d roar back.
I was telling him, I swore up and down.
It’s not easy selling anything door to door, much less framed wholesale artwork, even more less as a relatively naive 19-year-old girl.
But fate laughed and let my gaze fall on a wanted ad back in 2007, and I followed suit, tripping over the door frame as I went in for my interview at the Art Place one April afternoon to see how I could make $400-$500 a week.
I was a hustler, baby.
If hustlers wore Buddy Holly-glasses and were former-suburbanite romantic idealists who’d dropped out of college and were living on a friend’s couch in Clifton, that is.
For 10 months, I pitched any and everyone I came across in my territory, sometimes selling 30 pictures in one day, sometimes none for a four-day stretch.
I ended up selling roughly 1,300 pictures in the greater Tristate area, being named Rookie Salesperson of the Year, moving to Columbus for two months with the company, getting wasted in a Las Vegas hotel during a company conference at age 20, realizing I wasn’t really getting anywhere, quitting and hitching a ride back to Cincinnati.
I sold 27 pictures in two hours to a Lebanese car dealer in Fairfield.
I sold around 30 pictures to Skyline Chili managers and employees.
I decorated people’s homes on Saturdays in countless new subdivisions from Lebanon to Northern Kentucky. I told white lies to make a sale, and I told the plain truth to make a sale.
I was a chameleon, a hustler, and a damn good one at that.
I learned how to sell myself to each and every person I encountered.
“They’re not buying artwork, babe. They’re buying you. Make them love Leyla Shokoohe.” This was Max’s credo. So I did.
And not in a fake way. The artwork was just the doorprize. I sold each and every person a little bit of my genuinity. I brightened their day. I gave them a hug. I cooed over pictures of their kids. I laughed at their jokes. I bonded with these people over our common ground as humans, just trying to fucking exist.
With all that, was I successful?
Let me take off my rose-colored glasses: hell no.
Not monetarily, which was most pressing as a recent college dropout with two months past-due rent, an unpaid cell-phone bill and mounting credit-card debt.
So I did the hardest thing my pride has ever had to suffer through: I quit.
Eight dollars commission per picture just wasn’t cutting it, especially as I lost my “want.”
“Want” — your drive, your end-goal reason for doing what you’re doing. Without it, everything truly is pointless. Why do you think so many businessmen are miserable? They don’t want to be soulless drones. No one does.
I’ve regained it, the passion that was misdirected, that fueled my fire, in a different incarnation. I’ve combined my love of music and passion for people into a position that has no real name, other than “what Leyla does.”
Have I found success? Not quite yet.
I’ve seen it. I’ve heard it. I’ve brushed hands with it. I’m inches away from it, growing closer everyday. Sometimes I get frustrated, downtrodden and doubtful. I’m working hard for something with no real shape, chasing this “success” for which I’ve created a definition that so many people around me can’t see and don’t — and possibly won’t ever — respect.
But I haven’t lost my “want.” These brief encounters with this intangible I keep chasing intensify my want, make it glow brighter than ever, carry me over every pitfall and mistake.
I’m really close, Max.
And I’m not just telling you.
I’m shouting it.
CONTACT LEYLA SHOKOOHE: firstname.lastname@example.org