Expect the Worst

“Attack the illness, not the symptom.”


These were the genius words of my sales manager, Glen. I’m not sure why he said it. He wasn’t a doctor, and it had nothing to do with our business. Maybe he just thought it sounded like a smart thing to say. And I guess it was, if the goal was to say something that could easily end any conversation. Glen also liked to say: “You gotta hear no a hundred times before you hear yes.” This was a popular saying for people who were told no way too much. But those people, maligned and ignored, repeat the same words to others who suck at what they do. We can thank these same people for the battle cry: “Misery loves company.”


Glen, a lover of improvement and perfection and all things better, liked to put his sales force through training programs. It made sense. They have a ton of great mantras in those programs. Sales, to Glen, was a skill to be honed with practice, like a chef learning to bring meat to the proper temperature only by doing so time and time again. One day he brought in these two guys from a corporate sales training outfit that was coming through town with their circus tent and cheerleading ringleader. We sat in our conference room and listened as they made their pitch: pay $300 for a half-day of training and you’ll triple your business.


“If you can’t afford to do this program,” one of the clowns said, “then you can’t afford not to.” What an awesome line. It’s tough to combat that, especially when you suck as sales, which most of the people in the chop shop did. Their success was based on an overwhelming demand more than anything they did with great skill.


After the pitch was over, Glen got up and made his case for why everyone should go and why everyone should pay for it themselves. “It’s a matter of showing me you care about your own success.” So, of course, everyone signed up. Everyone but me.


“Oh, you’re going,” Glen said, pointing his fat little finger in my face in front of the rest of my associates. “You’re going.”


“But I can afford to go,” I told him. “So…I’m good. Right?”


He stared at me for a long thirty seconds. We had been in this situation before. I’m a stubborn bitch. I don’t like to be told what to do, and I hate listening to the advice of others. When Glen got angry or irritated, his huge head blew up like Violet Beauregarde, the girl from Willy Wonka who turned into a giant blueberry. His cheeks puffed and his eyes bulged out, as if little men were inside his skull pushing them out with all of their might. I suppose he was like a blowfish. And like those who have faced blowfish in the wild, most people shrunk back from Glen when he postured himself this way. I never did though. I liked to watch it. How do you turn away from the possible explosion of your boss’ head? That’s pay-per-view type stuff.


The stalemate ended, as it had before, when Glen exhaled (much to my dismay) and said, “Fine. I’ll pay, but I’m gonna take it out of your check.”


That was our little arrangement. He wasn’t taking anything out of my check. He said that to save face. He paid for my training, and what he got was much less than he had hoped for. Not just from me, but from the entire team.


The training was bullshit, as usual. A bunch of guys stood up and crowed about their grand success in the very same business in which we worked. The secret to their success? Well…you’d have to buy their cassette tapes for $400 to find out. But the basic premise, which they shared with us that day, was that they really believed in themselves. Completely ridiculous. The difference between these guys and the British guy that runs shells games for tourists on Michigan Avenue? Nothing.


So when our numbers didn’t change dramatically after the training session, Glen called us back into the conference room. He was pretty pissed. Purple face, eyes struggling for freedom, the whole bit. He screamed and insulted and paced and swung his short arms around like a third base coach giving signs to a blind person. And when he came unwound, which always happened because he was old and fat and always without breath, he wobbled back to the front of the room and looked out at us like a disapproving parent.


“I’m really disappointed gang,” he said, face now a light red, hands on his hips. “I expected so much more, especially after that training. Should I just give up on you guys?”


No one responded. He looked back at us, biting his lower lip. He was out of patience, out of ideas, and I’m pretty sure still out of breath. The silence began to steal the air from the room. Someone had to speak.


“Attack the illness,” I said. “Not the symptom.”


He looked at me confusedly.


“Take your own advice, Glen. Attack the illness.”


“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”


“The way I see it, the symptom is your disappointment.”


“And?” He flung his arms up in the arm. Exasperated would have been a suitable word.


“Well, if the symptom is your disappointment, then it’s pretty obvious that the illness is your shitty expectations.”


The closest I’ve ever come to seeing a man’s head actually explode was in the sixty seconds that followed. But in the end, I was the one that was left disappointed. Poor me.

One Comment on “Expect the Worst”

  1. Michael Pierce says:

    “Adjust your shitty expectations” should be the mantra of today’s younger generation. Their future economics are going to suck big time. Forget trying to decide if they need a 2-car or a 3-car garage. Instead, think iPhone app that can help you remember where you parked your car on the street. And while us old folks appreciate the help with our Social Security checks, we better get used to the idea of a double room at the nursing home. Yep, it’s all about expectations.

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