The Art of the Sell

It's an odd notion that the advancement of human civilization revolves around on how good we are at convincing other people that we're worth investing in as people and as citizens. How successful we are at having others buy into what we represent - our idea for a new widget, or for the future, or merely our habits - boils down to how well we self-promote. We must be effective salespeople in order to be thriving, actively engaged members of society. The problem is, some of us are not very skilled at selling ourselves or what we stand for. It's not that we don't care, it's that we are differently-abled in how we perceive our value, and therefore, how we express it to others.

I'd go as far as to say people who cannot self-promote in an efficient and relate-able way are the people with whom I share the deepest affinity in life. We are the outcasts. We fail at easy self-classification. That is not to imply we are more complex or more meaningful people, but we fail at packaging who we are for easy consumption. Is this a failure of self-expression, or just a failure to care what others think? I think it's a bit of both, but I think the failure to care comes after years of realizing that our attempts at self promotion have inadvertently been written in a language few can understand.

While I do believe that we all must self-promote to a certain extent in order to succeed at life, I don't mean to infer that we must all become tech entrepreneurs or small business owners. What we must promote - and get others to buy into - is our own sense of relevance. We must figure out our place in the world as quickly and as proudly as possible, find really intriguing sound bites to convey it, and keep them at the ready for when anyone asks (which will be often).

When you meet a new friend, apply for a new job, or join a conversation at a party, your success comes down to your skill at convincing others that you're relevant. When someone asks you what do you do?' - they aren't intentionally asking you to justify yourself, but in every sense, that's what they're doing. I'm not saying they're wrong, or even doing it on purpose, but that's how people operate.

It's both easier and harder to self promote these days. It's easier since we have more access to others' good ideas, and more access to those who might see us and listen. It's harder because there is greater noise all around. There's more competition. There are so many more ideas within reach in social media, and each week, some new method for conveying an idea or premise, or some new self-promotion scheme tacked to social media gets invented. Just staying caught up on the art of the sell is a kind of full time job in itself.

Consequently, it's easy to feel left in the dust by more gregarious, socially aggressive and savvy people who are better at distilling themselves in efficient ways. Social marketers will always have a leg up on us. This is not dissimilar from how the very best ad people give presentations that are direct, easy to understand, and full of intriguing narrative. Other people we meet expect this level of efficiency and entertainment from us. They don't demand it from us consciously, but the ease with which we accumulate friends over our lives, and the ease with which we find easy receptacles for our ideas does depend on how well we meet their unconscious expectations.

I'm a terrible salesperson. Not because I don't know what it takes to sell something, but because I know what it takes and I hate doing it. If I was expected to sell anything, and handed a briefcase or a flyer or a box of frozen meats, or, god forbid, a basket of puppies, I would fall on my face.

I also hate selling things because of my experience fending off salespeople over the years. I hate them so much that I once wrote a ridiculous story about an alien invasion thwarted by a counter-invasion of irritating salespeople. It takes someone relatively adept at deconstructing human intention, or human nature, to sell things, and as much as it pains me to say, that's not a skill many possess. 

Like most people, I played it safe for most of my life. I'd assess and review ideas, and judge their effectiveness and relevance. That's a safe spot to be in, which is why I determined it's not where I wanted to be anymore. Despite how poor I am at answering the question 'What do you do?' to others' satisfaction, I now answer 'I'm a writer.' In my estimation, it's the only thing I do that actively engages me with the world and with others. That's good enough for me.


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