When I'd finished university (many, many years ago now), I boomeranged back to my parent's house and started looking for work in the music industry. After being unsuccessful for a while, I found myself needing some sort of stop-gap job to help me get by. I applied for, and succeeded in getting hired for a job waiting tables at a local(ish) restaurant.
I did not get on with waiting tables (for a number of reasons) and after three days I called to say that I wouldn't be working there any more. This is the shortest period of time I have ever been employed for.
Or more precisely, was.
If you've read my previous post (which you probably should do if you haven't already) you will know that I just scored a job as a face-to-face fundraiser for a fundraising agency. You will also remember that despite being in high spirits about my new found gainful employment, I was apprehensive about my abilities in this field.
When Monday rolled around, I got myself out of bed at a suitable time to spruce myself up and travel, once again to the New Farm offices for my training day. In all honesty, this was a fairly uneventful day. Training was given in an appropriate manner, being taught how the company operates, and some of the skills and techniques we would be developing in our career as fundraisers. I made copious notes in my little Moleskine notebook, and even managed to ask questions to make sure I was armed with as much info as possible in preparation for the following day out in the field.
At around half 2, much earlier than anticipated, our little group of trainees was done with the training, given our ID badges, uniform (consisting of shorts, charity branded t-shirt, and straw sun hat), a piece of paper with the charity's pitch written on it, and strict instructions to memorise the pitch because if we didn't know it in the morning we'd be sent home.
Once I'd got home I dutifully set about learning the words that would be so crucial to my success. I started by writing it out, roughly from memory, in a way that matched my way of talking. Twice. I then started to run through it in front of a mirror (in a very un-Taxi Driver like manner I might add), and finally ran through it a couple of times with my Mum via Skype (thanks Mum!).
I had it memorised. Enough to be passable on Tuesday anyway, so I gave myself a break, prepared a sandwich for lunch, packed up my bag, and retired to bed early to have a good sleep. Sadly, I didn't get a particularly good sleep because the day's training, combined with the act of memorising a sales pitch and the knowledge that I'd be putting it into practice, had heightened my aforementioned apprehension.
Nevertheless, I managed to wake up in good time to get ready and catch the bus to the designated location on Tuesday morning. I arrived early and had to wait around for my team leader to arrive so I grabbed a cup of tea and ran through the pitch in my head a few times whilst surveying the area. The location was a small stretch of shops next to a very busy road, opposite one of Brisbane's major hospitals.
This fundraising area only needed two people to work, and I was to spend the day paired up with my team leader, who happened to be a very nice lady from the Netherlands. I ran through my pitch with her to start and she gave me a couple of pointers, but in general it was apparently a lot better than some first day pitches she's heard. Success!
Then began the fundraising.
With quotation marks to highlight the section titles, the general process of face-to-face fundraising is first to "approach" people and stop them so you have a chance to talk to them (most will not stop and pass by with a swift excuse). Once stopped you have a chance to "build rapport" by conversing with them for a couple of minutes. After the friendly chat, and rapport is sufficiently built so that the person you've stopped feels a bit more comfortable with you, you give them your pitch. The pitch consists of an "intro/short story", in this instance it involved a question to grab the person's attention before outlining the "problem". All serious tone for that bit, before happy smiles because there's a "solution". And because there's a solution, you can then "empower" the person, telling them that they'll feel great about helping out. Then you "close" and sign them up. Boom.
There's a lot of head nodding and positive reinforcement involved and it's disturbingly scientific. That's why it works.
The day officially started at 08:45, I started trying to flag people down by about 09:15. By 10:45 I had scored a sign up. I happened to be the first newbie to do so in fact. A glimmer of hope for my abilities perhaps??
As the day progressed I struggled more and more, until the point where I was having something akin to an anxiety attack. That's not happened to me before.
I can't remember ever being particularly good with people. I am quiet, introverted, and am not good at conversation, or small talk; even with my friends and family. This poses a problem when I'm stood on a busy street, tasked with introducing myself and stopping complete strangers and striking up a conversation with them.
Most people would tell me at this point that "You just have to do it. What's the worst that's going to happen?".
Let's start with the first bit. I did just do it. I approached a lot of people.
And finish with the second bit. The two worst things that happened on Tuesday were a reply of "None of your business" to the question "What have you been up to today?". And "I know what you guys do, I have cancer and am at the point of donating pieces of my body to research instead of money". The first I just shrugged off, the second was slightly more shocking but the statement was delivered in a sort of jovial manner, it was just difficult to react to.
What actually happened to me when I approached people was much more disturbing. The approach was easy enough to start with, be smiley and confident, and a number of people stopped. Then my mind went blank and I just kind of stared at people, starting to sweat, shaking and pretty much being incapacitated. At first I managed to stumble through the pitch to a point, missing a few sections here and there and generally being awkward. After a while I'd lost every bit of confidence in myself, doubt crept in and I could barely bring myself to approach people.
I started seeing the look on people's faces as I tried to flag them down. No-one wanted to be stopped, and they all looked as thought it pained them slightly to give me the excuse that they were late, or didn't have anything to give. I've been one of those people before, being stopped with a view to having their money taken, I never wanted it either. I noticed the change in my own body language; I couldn't smile, I couldn't stand up straight, my arms were heavy as I tried to wave at people and shake their hand.
"Hi, I'm Tom" I'd say, far too quietly.
"Really sorry, not today" they'd reply.
"OK, that's cool." I'd mumble as they carried on walking past.
I didn't want to stop them. And that's entirely the opposite of what a fundraiser should want.
So I called it. I'm not suitable for the job of fundraising. When the day began I'd said to myself that even if it was horrible I'd see out the week, so by lunchtime when I nearly had a breakdown I felt pretty awful for giving up halfway through my first day. But it was the right thing to do. My team leader made a call, I agreed to stay for the rest of the day so she didn't have to switch to a different location, and I planned to return my gear the following day.
Over the remainder of the day I calmed down a bit and felt the relief of not having to try any more. I did consider trying a few more approaches but couldn't bring myself to do it still. I watched my team leader happily chat with a number of people, and easily score signups with some really nice people. I don't understand how it's done, and I am in awe of those that can do it.
In an attempt to not concentrate on the negatives; I've had an experience, and proven to myself that I'm not cut out for sales, or interacting with people in that kind of way. Plus, I have now broken my record for shortest amount of time in employment, I wonder if I can get it down to one day at some point? I've also learned that Fundraisers do a fantastic thing, it's a remarkably difficult job, and they do it day in day out, making a difference. I should be proud with my sign up, through that one person there's the potential for me to have raised upwards of AU$1,500 for charity.
More importantly however (and please don't worry about this bit), the experience has also made me think that something might not be quite as it should be in my brain place. I've put up with a number of things in my head for a very long time now, passing them off as quirks, or just parts of my personality but now I'm considering the possibility that they could be things that affect my way of life in a negative way if I don't try and address them.
And finally, it's made me realise that I'm ready to come back to the UK.
I'm not enthusiastic about staying here, it's not necessary. I'm living here exactly as I would be in the UK, or if I was in the States, or Japan, or anywhere in the world really. I just don't have my friends and family out here, and they're what seem to hold me together most of the time.
And before I get far too sentimental, let's fast forward to Wednesday. Which happens to be today.
I booked another couple of plane rides...