What Are 3 Experiences From Your Youth That Made You What You Are Today…And Why?
By Ben Baker
When I was in grade six or seven, Chuck Taylor leather high-top sneakers were the “it” thing. Growing up where I did and going to the school I went to meant that I was exposed to a lot of kids who came from families far wealthier than mine. Not that I came from a poor background; I did not. We were middle class and lived in a reasonably sized house, but my parents never had any ambition to be the ones who “kept up with the Joneses.” This came to a head the year all my friends got Chuck Taylor leather high-top sneakers, and I did not. I am sure that if my father thought it was the right thing to do, he could have paid for them, but he wouldn’t. I am sure that I protested loudly and told my parents that they were being unfair to deny me such a necessity.
Looking back, and now with a child of my own, I get it. It was about teaching me the difference between a want and a need, what is important, and what is nice to have. We all have those in our lives – things we desperately want, but, do we need them? Is having that better car or bigger house going to make us a better person? Is it going to really affect our personal brand and how it is perceived by others, or are they just things? I am all for creature comforts, but they do not make me who I am as a person. You could take away my house and my car, and my brand would remain the same. Who I am as a person, and who you are as a person, should not be determined by the things in our lives. A million-dollar home is not your personal brand; it is a thing. It is an achievement that came from your success, but it is not you. Take the time to think about the things in your life and whether they are a want or a need and how they influence your perception of yourself. For me, if you take away the love of my family, the respect that others have for me, and my desire to help others, then yes, you have taken away things of real value to me. If you take away my house or my car, I may be upset for a day or two, but I will go on, and thrive, as long as the core important factors in my life remain intact.
As the elder child in my house, I grew up being expected to sit at the table and converse with the friends of my parents. Looking back, this was one of the best things that my parents ever did for me. It taught me how to listen, how to converse, and about how to share controversial ideas in ways that people would accept, in premise, even if they were not ideas that they shared.
One of the people I met and learned to love and respect was a man who was a professional salesman. To the best of my knowledge, the man had no formal university education, but he was probably one of the smartest people I ever knew regarding understanding the human psyche. He grew up in the era of salesmen on the road and had all the stories to go with it. Many nights I listened to him tell stories about his adventures and the different products and services that he had sold over the years.
Then, one day, I had an opportunity to go and watch him live on stage. At this point of his career, he had become the pitchman for one of the educational seminar systems of the 1980s. This was the era where you filled a room with people who wanted to change their lives and showed them, for a fee of course, how you could teach them to do it. He never taught the course. Instead, he was the setup man, the guy (and in those days it was pretty much all guys) who came into town and convinced a room full of people that they had to sign up for that seminar TODAY. It was all about immediacy. It was all about demonstrating to people that their lives would change if only they would lay down their money TODAY and take a course that would show them the path to riches.
Watching him in action was magical. The turn of phrase, the deliberate actions, and the timing were incredible. Day after day, pitch after pitch, the cadence was the same. The nuances that sold the program never changed from audience to audience, and the crowd kept buying. After a week or so, I had to ask him how he did it. How was the speech so perfect that it never seemed to change? It did not seem to matter if someone asked him a question in the middle of his talk. He would just answer it and move on like nothing ever happened.
This is where the magic of the persona came into play. Now, this was a man in his fifties, who looked about fifteen to twenty years older than he was. He had a slight hunch in his back, his beard and hair were grey, and he wore hearing aids. What I was about to find out from him was most of that was an illusion. The hearing aids were not hearing aids, but speakers in his ears. He had a tape recorder in his pocket, and it played his speech into his ear every single night. When someone asked a question, he put his hands in his pocket, thought a moment, said that was a good question, and answered it. What he was really doing was hitting the pause button on the tape recorder. When he was done answering the question, he would put his hands back in his pockets, pause and look at the audience for a moment, hit the play button, and start again. On top of that, the beard, the grey hair, the clothing, and the thicker glasses all were part of the act. It made people perceive him as being older and wiser and therefore more legitimate.
What did I learn from this? Many things. Mostly, that a person will sometimes play a part to advance their objectives, but you need to look deep to see who people really are. My dad’s friend was, and still is, one of the warmest, most generous, and dynamic people you will ever meet. However, when he was on stage, he was playing a part to gain an advantage. I leave it up to you to decide whether that is right or wrong. In today’s world, those pitchmen and women still exist, but in far fewer numbers. That way of selling does not work as well or as often in an information society. It is too easy to be found out and too easy to be discredited.
The most important lesson that I learned was the magic that can happen when you are on stage. How, if you are prepared and honest in your craft, you can take an audience to places they have not been and teach them something of value. Words, and the turn of phrase, can be a powerful ally to help achieve goals and objectives. It is not as much about what you say, but how you say it, that can influence people in your direction.
Why is this story so important to me, and why does it make up part of my personal brand? The lessons I learned from these people about dedication, family, and teamwork was that the whole is much stronger than the individual parts. Those are characteristics that have grown up with me and have helped to make me who I am today.
Sign up for Annex’s Personal Branding workshop hosted by Ben on November 21, 2018.
About the Author
Ben is an international speaker and an author, contributing both to magazines and other people’s books over the last number of years. His book “Powerful Personal Brands: a hands-on guide to understanding yours” was released August 1, 2018. You can download a free chapter at www.PowerfulPersonalBrands.com.
Ben believes in giving back to his community and with that, he volunteers. Whether it is for his congregation, festivals in the area he lives in, or through mentoring youth at the University level, Ben believes that he may not be able to change the world, but he can influence his corner of it.
Ben wants to be the storyteller of your brand. He wants to help you understand who you were, where you are today and who you want to be. Ben wants to help you communicate your value to others, in their language so that they listen, they understand, and they engage.