March 12, 2020
For as long as I can remember, I have been in the grips of low self-esteem. Maybe this happened because I was an only child of older parents who expected too much of me. Or maybe my Catholic upbringing browbeat me into feeling guilty. In any case, low self-esteem has fueled many of my least admirable traits, such as my lifelong eating disorder. It has pushed me to seek punishment before pleasure, as in exercise before eating. It has robbed me of self-confidence that people with half my achievements enjoy without reservation. Finally, it has convinced me to genuflect at the altar of intimidation groveling like a bad dog.
Groveling? Oh, the humiliation of it all! In my 45 years of running a business, I’ve done my share of it. Along with fawning, cringing, kowtowing and generally sucking up to some adversary who demanded such behavior, I was an expert. Just to reach some usually insipid business goal, we could also add “selling out,” sometimes figuratively known as “prostituting oneself,” all at the expense of my self-respect. Youth has some pretty misguided ideas of what constitutes success.
What exactly does it mean to grovel? It means reacting to insulting behavior as if it were totally deserved. It means choking back bruised feelings without revealing true pain. It means pretending to admit to full culpability. It means stifling anger.
I often would ask myself why I had chosen such a livelihood that required such personal degradation. Where was my backbone? Where was my pride? It appeared that when faced with the prospect of making a sale, those things were better left on the shelf. Your opponent in such a situation wants nothing of your “high-horse” attitude. If you can show the respect, approval and praise they seek, you will stand a much better chance of getting them to agree with you. At least that is what I thought in my early years.
Of course, regarding your sales prospect as an “opponent” is immediately labeling them as the “enemy.” But it’s no wonder. To pitch auto dealerships, I met with rude car salesmen who dished out the opprobrium quite liberally. In their defense, they themselves probably had to swallow such insults on a regular basis. It must have made them feel so triumphant to have me respond by groveling which likely they never experienced from their customers.
There were other prospects who took every opportunity to show me disrespect. From expectations of drastic price reductions to insisting on impossible fringe benefits, I was often asked for things over which I had no control. When I could not deliver, I was promptly shown the nearest exit. You would think that retreat from this type of abuse would be a relief. On the contrary, their unjustified scorn consumed me for hours, days, weeks!
Upon assuming full ownership of our company in the aftermath of a dissolved partnership, I was also confronted with the wrath of many creditors. They wanted full payment from me on the spot. My ex-partner was notorious for reneging on his financial responsibilities.
Rather than resorting to bankruptcy, I decided to try to arrange payment schedules. This triggered an unprecedented level of groveling. Many a tear was shed after a day of this type of disgrace. However, I eventually paid off all those debts. In retrospect, this singular feat amply feeds my one and only trace of self-worth.
Prior to acquiring the role of business owner, I was stuck in a bad marriage. My long-term strategy was to plan a route of escape. I realized that I would need to go out and get a job. So, shopping I went for some appropriate shoes. They sat in my closet for quite a few years until the time was finally right. With the divorce over and my new career in full swing, I finally chose to wear those shoes to a client meeting. Luckily, it went very well.
After the client signed my contract, we shook hands. As I turned to leave, I noticed that the soles of my shoes were disintegrating into a pile of plastic rubble right below my feet. At the time, I did not know that this is a phenomenon which occurs as a result of long-term storage. Moisture can be lost from soles of polyurethane composition. My mortification and embarrassment were indescribable. Not only did I need to walk down a flight of stairs, I had to carry my very heavy portfolio as well. Talk about walking on eggshells!
This very polite business owner didn’t say a word but I knew he had noticed. How could he not! Not only did I leave a trail of debris for him to clean up, I left my dignity splattered all over the floor as well to be mopped up like a puddle of spilled milk. Needless to say, he never sent the deposit check and the sale fell through. This inadvertent incident of groveling ranks as possibly the most unfortunate and cringeworthy memory of my entire career.
Once I had gotten to a point where I wasn’t so desperate to make every sale, I realized I didn’t need to. Age and money change everything. It was fortunate for me that my business began to generate enough revenue from returning clients. New sales became less of a regular occurrence. When they did, I decided to encourage the types of clients I wouldn’t think of as “opponents.” In fact, my best clients and I usually hit it off on first meeting as “friends.” This meant we could find common ground on which to enjoy the relationship.
Today, my life includes no groveling whatsoever. Thankfully, it is a distant memory of a time gone by. Was groveling necessary back then? Definitely not. It would have been more productive for me to search for the ideal type of client in my early years rather than trying to make every sale.
Furthermore, today I have no debt and no irate creditors. While there is no longer any need to betray the truth of my real character, I still contend that humility trumps conceit in most polite situations.
Since I now work from home, I am also happy to report that my shoes are made specifically for walking down my dirt road. My days of dressing up for business meetings are long over. Old age certainly has its benefits!
Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 45 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at https://www.midhudsonmarketing.com