Yesterday, Stanley came in with a tax problem. No biggie. He just needed to file a few simple tax returns and then call the IRS to make a payment arrangement. He only owed about $1500.
Stanley had much more going on than his relatively minor tax issues. His wife had died from cancer about fifteen years ago, leaving him with young teens to raise. Then he lost their house in the mortgage crisis. Next his brother was killed in Afghanistan. Now his parents are rapidly declining. The losses he has suffered leave him in the minus energy zone, as happens with depression, but of course you know Stanley will have something else to face.
Stanley is a commission salesman, selling to small businesses, schools and municipalities all over Connecticut and Massachusetts. I won’t tell you what he sells, as that might identify him. It used to be that a commission salesman would build up a territory for a company, and then he would have commissions from that territory as long as he lived, even after retirement. Back in 1990, Stanley figured that if he worked for the company until he was 60 and developed the territory, he would be all set.
But that world doesn’t exist anymore. The company has been acquired by a hedge fund, and they are now gutting the assets of the company. They are clawing back from Stanley the accounts he has developed over 25 years, and claiming the commissions for their own. While he once made a neat $75,000 a year, he can now hardly pay his rent.
So what to do? I put him in touch with another client who has a school supply company. The other client is happy to have a salesman with an established territory which includes schools. We are also doing some stuff to avoid the non-compete clause in the abusive employment contract issued by the hedge fund.
But here’s the point: It ain’t 1990 anymore. We have been witnesses to a reordering of our society. The middle class has been under attack by the financial class, and there is no sign of things getting better.
So what to do? Choose survival. Look at the assumptions you have about how to do business, how to conduct your family, how to do life. Some of it works in today’s world and some of it doesn’t. Put your survival and that of your family first, and align your actions along that principle.
Your children can no longer glide through high school and expect to make a good living. You need to consider how your children can be prepared to face a lifetime with a skill and independence of mind. Your children must have a skill. There is no room in the future for slug buckets.
Your children will need to stand on their feet and be enterprising and intelligent about changes in the society. You can teach them this, but first you must gather them into the family. They must know that you rely on them. They know they rely on you. Sweeping up the shop for mom or dad is more important than soccer practice.
We can’t blame our problems on bad trade deals – we can’t do anything about trade deals. We can do something about our marketing, our continuing education, our customer service.
Back to Stanley: He is being oppressed by the financial class. He has lost control of his finance. He will never win this battle with this despised financial class, so he has to get out of the way. He needs to choose survival, and then decide and plan how that can be attained. He needs to jump to a non-oppressive company (yes, they are out there) and add another line to his sales portfolio. Then he needs to work like a beaver (or as they say in Europe, like an American). Once he takes control, he will not be so depressed by his losses.
Author’s note: Stanley is not the client’s real name. For our purposes here, I’m going to call all male clients Stanley and all female clients, Stella. Stanley and Stella are going to have a lot of problems, and hopefully a lot of solutions! (What great American play features Stanley and Stella?)