By Jeff Fortney
Recently, I decided to clean out a storage area that had not seen the light of day in many years. I asked my son to help, and there amid old mementos was the yearbook from my senior year in high school.
Following are reflections that arose while going through the yearbook with my son, but bear with me; they do pertain to the payments industry, too.
My son found it quite humorous to peruse the pictures, laughing at the clothing and hairstyles that were popular in 1974. He was also intrigued by the cryptic messages written by many of my high school buddies, most of whom I drifted apart from shortly after graduation.
Two pictures stood out to him. One was a baseball picture of my friend Bob. My son wondered about both the picture and the caption. You see, I was the sports editor of the school newspaper, so I'd been approached by the yearbook staff for a picture suggestion.
The deadline for printing the yearbook was before the first baseball game of the season, yet they needed pictures for the team's page. I suggested they go to practice and take pictures there. Specifically, I suggested they take one of Bob up at bat. His swing was full and would make a good picture. I also said, "He doesn't even need to hit the ball to make it a good picture."
Sure enough, that picture made the yearbook. What I didn't know was that they had told him about my comment. When he signed my book, he wrote under the picture, "This one I hit."
Bob and I met in middle school. Our friendship revolved around our mutual interest in baseball. He was the starting catcher our senior year, but like many a high school student, he had no desire to stand out and tended to be just one of the many in our class of 1,530 students.
The second picture that intrigued my son was of Chris. I knew it was Chris, but not everyone in our school could have known that because the picture was of a streaker, taken from the rear, who was wearing only a ski mask and hiking boots while running through campus.
Chris was the class clown. He found humor in most everything and wasn't shy about sharing it. This made him known by most and led to his election as our class president. It also tended to make him acceptable to the popular crowd, although he was not a formal member of that group. He didn't care about that though; he just wanted to be Chris.
Streaking was a popular trend among young people in 1974, and Chris decided we needed to have a streaker or two dash through campus during school hours. He devised a route that would prevent him and his co-conspirators from falling into the clutches of the faculty. He even planned to the minute when to emerge from the men's room, selecting a time when everyone was in class.
The time was leaked to the press, and I encouraged the photographers from the school newspaper to be at the designated place at the specified time. I told them they were likely to get a good picture. They got several, indeed, but only one could be printed.
Unlike Bob, Chris didn't care if some thought he was peculiar. He really didn't try hard to stand out, but instead just tried to be himself.
Sadly, I learned at a class reunion that Bob was diagnosed with leukemia and passed away two years after graduation. Chris studied abroad and ultimately decided to go into music, an art he did not pursue in high school. He formed a band in San Francisco in the early 1980s, and has had a very interesting career. You may know him: his full name is Chris Isaak.
Being different didn't guarantee that Chris would be successful, nor did blending into the crowd make Bob a failure. But, for Chris, acting in accordance with his true nature helped him stand out. He was also willing to take chances. It wasn't one particular chance that made him successful, but rather his accumulated efforts that eventually led to a successful career.
In merchant sales, if we try not to stand out and do not differentiate ourselves, we will find success harder to achieve. It will also be harder to maintain any level of success unless we stand out to our merchants as their trusted adviser.
We all have a choice. We can choose to be part of the crowd or try to distinguish ourselves by doing something different, something that sets us apart. That may be something as simple as wearing a bowtie or it could mean completely changing your sales approach. The first or even the second effort may not succeed, but commitment and action will ultimately have an impact. Don't let lack of initial success keep you from trying again.
Many in my class who chose not to stand out when young ultimately took chances, and their thriving careers now reflect this. Some chose to be different later in life; others started their rewarding adventures shortly after graduation.
So what are you waiting for? Why not take a chance and stand out from the crowd? It doesn't matter if you are new to the industry or an old-timer like me. Ask yourself if you're doing anything in your career that you didn't do last year or the year before. What first step can you make toward trying something new?
Chris leveraged his efforts to become a successful musician. Unfortunately, Bob didn't have the chance. Yet having known him, I can guarantee he would have chosen a direction all his own and stood out. You have that chance, that is, if you choose to take it.
Jeff Fortney is Vice President, ISO Channel Management with Clearent LLC. He has more than 17 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-618-7340. To learn about how Clearent can help you grow faster and go further, visit www.clearent.com.
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