Thursday, January 9, 2014

1/10/14—Competing Less and Paying As You Go

This is my cell phone. The drug dealers, pimps, ho's, gang members and convicts amongst my readership will recognize it as a "burner". Everyone else might know it as a pay-as-you-go phone. See, I don't really need a cell phone. So I pay $100 a year to enjoy 10 cents-a-minute and 20 cents-a-text coverage wherever I go. I use less than $20 of that coverage each year and text the rest of my balance to charity. 

The cell phone itself is part of today's story, as is that sparkly pink wristband that looks like it was burped up by My First Barbie. See, I'd had a pink pay-as-you-go flip phone for years. All it did was make phone calls. It could text, too, but it didn't have a keyboard, just numbers. I bought it used. Add the four years that I owned it and it was probably six or seven years old—ancient for phone technology. So it was time to turn it in. 

I went to a Radio Shack right next door to an AT&T store, figuring that would provide a bifecta of phone shopping experiences. But I never made it out of the Radio Shack. The reason? A rotund, loud, pimple-faced teenage girl who took it upon herself to be my salesperson. She turned out to be one of the most competent salespeople I had ever encountered in the kind of store you go into expecting to consult with someone who knows more than you. 

She showed me where the pay-as-you-go phones were and held out this phone. Instead, I reached for a flip phone. As a cell phone luddite, I wasn't sure I was ready for something that looked like a grown up cell phone. "No, you don't want that," she said, handing me the white phone with the keypad. "This will do more for you. You'll get more value from your pay plan and texting will be easier. It's brand new."

"But I don't text," I said. 

She replied, "but one day you will. And you'll want this phone."

I surrendered to her expertise and on the way to the register, we stopped and she said, "you'll also want one of these in case you drop your phone." I perused the cell phone covers and chose black. Then she reached out for my old cell phone and said, "I'll transfer the data for you." 

Now, this chick was kind of bossy and lacking in finesse, but she knew her stuff. Since my new phone had just hit the shelves, she wasn't up on the particular model, so it took her a few minutes to figure out how to move the data from my outdated phone to a new one. It wasn't as straightforward as switching memory chips. But once she got the data transfer going, she helped another customer out. Then another came in and asked a question and she turned to her older associate and said, "would you show her where the XYZ is? I'm helping a customer." 

His eyes widened and I got the impression he outranked her in the Radio Shack hierarchy. Then she shamed him by offering, "or you could finish up this lady's cell phone..." referring to me. It was clear he wasn't capable of that, so he helped the other woman. Normally I wouldn't be so patient or pleasant. I'm not the best customer in the world sometimes. But this particular day I was taken by this girl's skill and her attitude actually amused me because she was just so...annoying...haha. 

Once my phone was done, she asked me to wait as she walked across the store. Once
Awesome sunset captured by my burner.
there, she called out to me, "silver or pink?" I said "pink" and she came back with the totally-inappropriate-for-a-50-year-old-yet-somehow-garishly-appealing sparkly pink wristband. It was on clearance for somewhere around $1. I waffled a bit, but she convinced me it would help me text. Even though I don't text. So that's how I left with a phone I didn't have to program, a black protective case and a sparkly pink wristband. But I also left with a lesson. 

This girl's competence was obvious. She didn't need to prove it with any arrogant bravado. Nor did she need to wield it at the expense of her co-worker. I was so impressed with her casual up-sell capabilities, supported by benefits. I was impressed with her product knowledge, most of which was self taught, I discovered. She was funny in a "I'm so glad I'm not a teenager anymore" kind of way. She didn't have to push it. I have no doubt this girl could be a top achiever anywhere she worked.

As an emotional, paranoid self-employed writer given to crises of self confidence, I've had to be extra careful to swim only in my own pond. What I mean by that is that I've had to work hard to understand that there is enough work, enough success, enough praise, enough respect and enough money out there for everyone to win. So I never have to win at anyone's expense. Nor do I ever have to worry about what my competition is doing. There is no competition in my pond. There is no lack of money or success or opportunity in my pond. There is no need for me to dip into anyone else's pond to get my needs met. In fact, I don't even care to know "my competitors" exist.

It's not about denial. It's about knowing that I have the power to create my own reality and my own success. And if my reality includes competitors I have to compete with for limited funds and success, it takes attention and relevance away from my competence. It takes away from my customer relations. And it takes away from the colleagues I work with, like it did with that girl. It does this because it means I have to work from a place of fear, not confidence. Lack, not abundance. Competition, not cooperation. Helplessness, rather than creatorship. Competition is not an arena that helps you show your power. It's one that zaps you of your power.

That said, it's nice to have a little something nipping at your heels to keep you evolving as a professional and as a person. And, of course, you have to be aware of your marketplace. But when you compete with yourself, you fish in a pond you create and rule. When you compete with others, you fish in a pond where there are limited resources that have already been created according to a communal vision. 

Each time you look outside your own pond for anything—clients, affirmation, self esteem, resources—you immediately limit your possibilities. Because wherever competition exists, it exists under the conditions of limited resources and options that have to be shared. Otherwise, it's not a competition. Someone has to lose in order for you to win. It's a mindset that can kill a freelance career, because fear is a heavy burden to bear when a paycheck isn't guaranteed. Besides, think of the people you know who thrive on competition. Are they people you'd consider balanced? Trustworthy? Humble? Gracious? Do you really want to swim in their pond?

So today's post challenges you to look at where you might be competing or winning at the expense of another and consider if competition makes you more of the kind of person you admire or less. It also asks you to explore whether or not you believe you live in a world with limited resources. The way I see it, if we've come here to expand as souls and spirits, we should give ourselves as much room as possible by taking away the limitations of ego and communal ponds. And if you can be kinder to others in the process, all the better. 

Oh, and the salesperson at Radio Shack was right on all fronts. The wristband makes it easier to text. I do text more, but that's "more" in the context of me only turning the phone on once, maybe twice a month. And the phone she sold me absolutely does more. I can get email on this phone and even view Facebook in a pinch. And I can take pics that garner praise on my Facebook page. It's kind of like a weak excuse for a smartphone (you can't do smartphones on pay as you go, so it's the best alternative out there.) I'm getting way more value for my 10 cents a minute. She was so right. Now I can't wait to drop the phone for the first time to see how my protective case works. ;)

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