I have spent the past week at a trade show doing my day job, working as a salesman to the aerospace industry. This week is not my first week back at work, but it was my first extended trip away from home. I have been lucky (if you can call any of this lucky) these past several weeks in that I have had the luxury to work from home while I deal with life. I have not had to spend extended days in front of coworkers or customers, but rather have been able to ease back in to things at a better pace. The calluses of my life as a traveling salesman have softened and worn off, something I did not realize until this week. In some ways this is a good thing, others not. I am looking at it with fresh eyes. I am reminded of what drew me to the job in the first place, while also being reminded of some of the less savory surface level circus qualities of ‘salesmanship’.
Before I took this job I worked as a process engineer. My days were finely focused on problems immensely important on small scale, but largely unimportant to the daily existence of the world. As an engineer I was metaphorically studying the effects of weightlessness on tiny screws; completely fascinating to me but completely irrelevant to most of the outside world.
My eventual move to sales was a hard pill to swallow. On one hand I have people directly dependent on my work so they can do theirs, it is satisfying to have a lasting impact. On the other hand I have to accept the stereotypes that come with being the ‘salesman’. I have attempted to balance this as best I can. I still introduce myself first as an ‘engineer’, still have a hard time accepting that I am in sales, still have a hard time realizing that as cool as the widget may be it doesn’t mean a thing if someone can’t afford it.
This introspective summer has pushed me back towards the analytical and engineering centric parts of my mind. I find myself attempting to break down the grieving process in to finite steps and systems. I want so badly for it to follow a process roadmap so that I can tweak and perfect it. Perfection is my goal, mere excellence will not be tolerated. But life doesn’t work this way. The more I attempt put to my life in order, the more chaos reigns. It’s an emotional version of Gibb’s Free Energy equation. The more I reduce my entropy, the more I increase my emotional enthalpy. I cannot create or destroy the grief, I have to either accept the chaos or bottle up the emotional heat until it explodes. Potential transfers to kinetic.
Working the trade show this week with fresh eyes exposed to me the two depths of my job. I have been afforded some very deep and meaningful friendships with my colleagues and customers. At the same time I am reminded how ‘shallow’ our daily interactions are with most, how inconsequential most of life can be if you let it. It was three solid days of “How’s the showing going for you? Getting lots of foot traffic? When did you get in? When do you go home? What do you guys do again? Can I answer any questions for you? Can I scan your badge? Today seems a little slower than yesterday… it's slow right now, but we were busier earlier today… take one of our handbooks… do you have any internships?”. Add in 9 minute industrial videos playing on continuous loops on 52” flat screens everywhere you look and you find yourself going slowly insane.
When they update Dante’s Inferno for modern times the industry trade show will be the fourth circle of hell, following the third circle encompassed by an airplane full of farting businessmen and the fifth circle represented by a Trump rally.
I have to work very hard to not get pulled in by these surface level interactions. It is so tempting to stay above the surf, to tread water. It's easy. It is the emotional equivalent of eating a bag of potato chips; yes, you will get full, but it won't sustain you long term. On the other hand, diving down and embracing the deeper relationships is painful. It is hard. It opens old wounds and causes tears, and sometimes embarrassment. But it also provides some sustenance. I cannot live full time in either place, instead I am working to find a way to bridge the two worlds.
The easy, hollow, surface interactions become the hard shell around my exterior, protecting the deeper, softer, emotions inside. It is a thin shell, but also tough in places. The interior has a more nuanced, fuller, character, but is too rich to stay in all of the time. It is too tender for this world, and not everyone deserves it. The surface defenses make the inside possible. We all live our lives moment to moment. Sometimes those moments are boring, and sometimes they lead to unexpected new worlds.
As long as it's talking with you/talk of the weather will do.