Do you remember the old phrases: He is as good as his word, or My word is my bond, or A handshake is all I need (in the way of a deal)? Do you remember when we didn’t think lawyers were the first people we had to call before we made a deal? Do you remember when a contract was just a page or two? Do you remember when your friends returned your phone calls promptly and a RSVP meant something?
What happened? What happened to someone following through on a commitment of “Yes” or “I’ll get back to you?” or “I’ll be there.” I fear our children will have fewer of these kinds of business or personal encounters. The irony is that we have much faster and easier methods of communication yet all it seems to have done is to make life more complicated and less trustworthy.
I don’t like this change. Not one bit. And, frankly, I still rail against it, and expect better of my friends and those I work with. I know that having expectations usually only leads to being let down, but I can’t help still hoping that people will behave as I try to do–with a sense of honor, follow through, and respect.
My former work life should have taught be well not to have these expectations since showbiz is notorious for its flakes and deal breaking. But, I never got used to it. Late in my showbiz career, a good friend betrayed me, and it really broke my heart in a way from which I never fully recovered or regained my enthusiasm for working in the entertainment business. I left that business shortly thereafter. As with so many things that seem bad at the time, I look back at that incident as a positive life change, though it didn’t feel like it at the time.
Now I am better at minimizing my expectations in launching my second career as a writer and, more recently, as a radio show host. To get my column launched, I sent out thousands of e-mail messages addressed to specific editors, publishers, webmasters, and others in charge at newspapers and websites across the country and, later, around the world (only in English speaking countries).
Yet, I still had modest expectations that some small, but reasonable percentage of the recipients of my e-mail messages might take the time to read some of the samples I sent and respond. Maybe they’d say, “Thanks, but no thanks” or, better yet, maybe they’d say, “Love your writing; we must have it.”
I got about a 2% response rate and about a ½% “we’d like to have your column” response. That comes out to one out of every 200 e-mail messages I sent led to my column being carried by a newspaper or website. The first of these, I might add, was The Santa Barbara News Press when Arthur Von Wiesenberger, one of its publishers, sent me a wonderfully warm e-mail response offering my first “official” job as a columnist at a paper.
But, one out of 200! You need thick skin to take that kind of rejection. To be clear, that meant that 196 out of the 200 e-mail messages that I sent were either not read, deleted, or rejected as spam–who knows?
The other thing that puzzles me occurs in my personal life and also relates to e-mail messages. As my mind and interests are varied, I used to like to share a variety of links, music, photos, jokes, and such with my friends. Over time, it became clear that most preferred not to be bothered. This is yet another puzzling change in human intercourse.
My more recent experience in trying to secure sponsors for my radio show was the straw that broke this camel’s back. Naturally, the first places I sought sponsors were with friends in businesses that I thought would be a good fit with my show and audience.
However, as I’ve stated earlier, the methods of doing business seem to have changed. I got lots of encouragement, lots of “I’m interested,” and ultimately lots of “I’ll get back to you” with few actually getting back to me at all. These weren’t strangers that I sent unsolicited e-mail message to but, rather, people I worked with, I hired and paid for their services, and in some cases considered friends. And they, too, were not being up-front and honest.
Why wouldn’t they just say “No?” I followed up several times until it became clear that they were unable or unwilling to give me that “No” as if ignoring my request could possibly be better? Or, as my wife has suggested and is probably right, they just had other priorities in their lives and would get to it on their schedule, not mine. And, that is the lesson for me to learn and to pass on to my boys.
My boys will live, work, and play in this different world where common courtesy often is the exception, but if they understand “the game” they will be better prepared and less disappointed. Business will still get done and friends will still be friends. . They will eventually enter and have to learn to deal with this “brave new world” in which business and personal affairs are conducted in such a haphazard and unprofessional manner.
But, I still don’t like it.