by Thomas E. Anderson, II
Living the college life. Two weeks before graduation, I was pulling an all-nighter in the architecture studio at Columbia University. Around 3 AM I sat straight up in my chair and said “I can’t do this for the rest of my life.” It felt like a lightbulb going off in my head. I loved the college life! The flexibility, spontaneity, getting up when I wanted to…setting my own schedule. What’s not to like, right? But the pressure was on. Everyone expected me to get a “great job” after I left school. And that’s exactly what I set out to do.
What do I want to do in life? I was hardly 2 weeks into my job search before I discovered a major problem. I did not have enough experience to get a job in architecture. I had not participated in any internships. On top of that, I would have to attend grad school for another 2-3 years to become a licensed architect.
And that was out of the question. Even though my resume spoke of 10+ years of musician experience, I doggedly pursued a position at an architectural firm.
Wake up call! Finally, I got a call back from an architecture firm. I was so excited to find out if I was a prime candidate for their position. After taking a look at my resume the hiring manager said:
“I see that you have a lot of experience in the music industry. Have you ever thought of pursuing a career in music?”
This question was pretty common. I had 12 years experience as a musician. My dad had even encouraged me to start a music business. But I was determined to do things my way.
Starting my own business. One day, while looking through the Richmond-Times Dispatch, a different type of job posting caught my eye:
Start your own business and make lots of money.
I was fresh out of college. Aside aside from work-study; my only other jobs involved playing the piano. I was technically self-employed, so starting my own business sounded really intriguing. I immediately called XYZ to set up an interview.
New Amp – Old Car. I walked into the office very optimistically and blinded by dollar signs. They called me back for the interview. It went so well they invited me back for a second. When I arrived for the second interview, so did about 20 other people. As my heart started beating a little faster I thought, “ok…this is different.”
Our presenter, Jake, stepped to the front of the room and began giving us an overview of a totally different company that was not XYZ Management. He mapped out a business model that resembled a pyramid and told us that the new people could test it out after the interview. Jake talked about perfume/cologne sales and explained downlines and uplines, commissions, consignment and compensation plans. My heart started beating faster, but the information that he was giving me was so good that I couldn’t stop taking notes. It’s like a whole new world had opened up.
By the time I had reached entrepreneurial euphoria, Jake closed the seminar, called 10 interviewees our of the room and informed the survivors that we made the final cut. Then he told us what we would be doing for the day. We were to hit the streets of Richmond selling perfume and cologne until 5 PM. It was about 11 AM at that time. I had a really bad feeling walking out to the back of the building with the cologne and perfume boxes. I thought “I wonder how were going to get around Richmond to sell this perfume and cologne.” Well I didn’t have to wonder for long.
As our team of 4 walked outside, my team captain “Amp” looked at me and asked “so where are you parked?” (Jake told us to pick nicknames at the introductory meeting – I picked “Thomas.”) Even though I knew which question was coming next, I pointed to my car. And yes…the next question was…”can we take your car?” Ok – pause…
This is my team captain. He will be starting his own XYZ Management business soon. And he does not have a car? Hmmmm…
With our other 2 team members looking at me, I caved in to the pressure and agreed to drive.
Hitting the streets. When we finally reached the East End of Richmond, Amp told me to pull up to random people on the streets to ask if they wanted to buy cologne and perfume. We stopped at used-tire repair centers and approached the repairmen. We stopped by the neighborhood Valero to approach an elderly man while he was pumping his gas. We even visited the flea market and tried to sell the imitation fragrances to the vendors. I really felt like somewhat of a stalker…lol. But the next place we stopped takes the cake.
The gossip shop. “Amp” told me to pull up to the barbershop where I was a regular customer. I’m thinking, “oh…it’s the middle of the day…who’s going to see me selling perfume and cologne on the street.” So I go in. And the first person I see is “that” person. You know – the person who is just waiting to get her hands on the kind of juicy gossip that will get back to your circle of influence before you do. Lo and behold, before I got back to church, one of my cousins approached me and asked me about my job search. I told her about my experience with Enigma Management. I was expecting her to engage me in conversation, but instead she replied with “yeah [that person] told me that she saw you out on the street selling perfume and cologne.” To make a long story short, after “Amp” told me to pull up to his friends house and he spent about 10 minutes inside talking to her, I made up in my mind that I wasn’t going back. But I didn’t tell anyone.
Wake-up call. Something good did come of all this though. I did make a couple of sales from my friends and family. But most importantly, I visited my cousins, Keith and Pat, to pitch this knock off Issey Miyake and other fragrances. They listened to me and asked me questions about whether I saw myself doing this long-term. I told them about the business opportunity and then Keith told me to give his brother, Kevin, a call. Later that next day, in the middle of my conversation with Kevin, he gave me the cold-hard truth. He said “I don’t think your daddy sent you to Columbia University to end up selling perfume and cologne on the street.” After that conversation with Kevin, I decided to quit Enigma Management, follow my dad’s advice and start my music company, Teaiiano Music. That was the best career decision I ever made. I knew that there was more to my life than working a 9-5 job. The purpose of any job is to learn, get experience and earn money. But I believe that work has a purpose outside of a 9-5 job. Everyone has strengths that can be exercised outside of a traditional work environment. Our strengths give us something to fall back on. The thing that I have always been able to fall back on is music. When everything else went belly up, music paid the bills. Music is my passion. That same summer, my aunt Gayle told me “one day you’re going to look around and just about everything you own will have been purchased with music money.” Well, that time is now.
Deceptive simplicity of life. A few years ago, I met with John Moses, an intellectual property attorney based in Arlington, VA. In the process of explaining the ins and outs of IP, he said to me “intellectual property is deceptively simple.” That statement rang in my head as I walked back to the car, and I thought “such is life – deceptively simple.” I don’t know about you, but I usually make life harder than it needs to be. Instead of taking out a surfboard and riding the waves, I usually pull out a cement kickboard and try to swim. But when I decide to simplify life and do things naturally, everything just flows.
Thomas E. Anderson, II is a musician and consultant who has enjoyed self-employment since age 10. No stranger to paradigm shifts, he overcame the stigma of childhood obesity and the death of his mother at 17. My Future in Focus has become Thomas’ motto for facing life’s challenges. For more information on his services, click here to visit his coaching site.
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Giving Credit Where Credit is Due:
Columbia University – http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=3162612
Perfume Bottle – http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=3821701
Skiing at sunset – http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=2993172