T.S. Eliot was wrong. April is not the cruelest month.
In Eliot’s signature poem, “The Waste Land,” an opaque trip of obscure images and arcane quotes (in a variety of languages, just in case you missed one of Eliot’s major themes: that he’s smarter than you), he draws a metaphorical juxtaposition of the deconstruction of man while nature renews itself every spring, obsessing over depression, anxiety, alienation, impotence and all that other really cool stuff he enjoyed.
But he was wrong. April is not the cruelest month—March is.
Every year, we denizen of the northern tier of this transitionally dynamic space rock that’s rapidly deteriorating into a miasma of hyperbole and hysteria, excitedly anticipate March cometh like the great emancipator of all that’s mundane and unwholesome: movies too weak for major release dates, inane TV shows aimed at the galactically witless (guess who?), self-congratulatory awards programs preached at us by the dark doyens of depravity, not to mention a mess of vitamin D deficiency.
As the old saw goes, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb (or as John Beluchi put it on Saturday Night Live—when it was still funny, before it decomposed into silly, doltish callousness—March comes in like an emu and goes out like a tapir). Despite this dogeared bromide of banal wisdom, we greet March each year with great expectations of renewed life, lifted spirits and as a milestone of hope and promise—hope and promise right now, not in three or four weeks after it morphs into a tapir.
Self-appointed wise people who always know the wrong thing to say will tell you that spring doesn’t officially begin until the vernal equinox on either the 20th or 21st of the month, regardless of what some furry rodent predicts, and from a meteorological point of view, March is a winter month.
The National Weather Service categorizes winter as the time between the beginning of December through the end of February; and lists March as a spring month.
So there, all you buzzkill balloon poppers.
We all want March to be the slayer of winter, a time to put away the snow shovels and get out the sun screen, to don we now our unencumbering, gaily decorated summer apparel and roll down the car windows and blast the radio (an electronic audio device, for you millennials). But alas, good times seldom spring forth in the cruelest month as we trudge through the last vestige of cold and windy despair, searching hopefully for that first robin redbreast or crocus bud popping its head out from the frozen tundra of our winterzeit die Schwermut (with a wink to Old Possum, that in case you didn’t know was T.S. Eliot’s nickname, who in case you didn’t know wrote Book of Practical Cats, which in case you didn’t know was the basis for the show Cats, that in case you didn’t know was a smash Broadway hit musical that ran for years, and in case you didn’t know was never made into video game so you probably never heard of it.)
Which is, by the way (and my point, finally), the best part of the human spirit: our steadfast resolve as a people to keep marching onward when all seems bleak and hopeless and arduously endless.
March defines who we are.
And nowhere is that definition more apt than in the wonderful world of sales, where we few, we happy few, remain defiantly energetic in the face of daily disappointment and set-backs, indifferent and rude customers, compassion-challenged bosses, impossible quotas and deadlines, ineffective products and moth-eaten territories, and yet, misunderstood and reviled, we assiduously march forth into the cave of the dragon every day with a smile on our face and a song in our heart.
And all that jazz.
I was recently reminded of this by a young woman in one of my training classes who was new to sales and struggling, tormented by her fear of failure and full of self-doubt—unable, or more accurately, unwilling, to step out of herself and use the best tool available to salespeople: empathy. She was stuck in her own agenda and couldn’t see over the walls of those self-imposed limitations. Her perspective was all about her and the obsessive and omnipotent dread of rejection.
We had been talking after classes about her problems, and I was working with her to better organize her objectives and strengthen her focus. After several weeks, she came in one day and greeted me with a big smile and a twinkle in her eye.
“What’s up?” I asked. “You look positively positive.”
“Things are going much better! I’m finally making some sales and starting to hit my numbers,” she gushed.
She went on to tell me what had changed her attitude and helped her turn the corner. She had pitched a prospect and he had signed the contract and given her a check: her first sale! She was beside herself with delight, and her manager made a big deal out of the occasion, publicly congratulating her in front of the entire sales team.
Sadly, the check bounced and she was forced to go back and confront the prospect. When she asked him why he had given her a bad check, he told her he was so impressed with her energy and commitment that he got carried away and felt compelled to buy her product. He told her she was a great saleswoman and that she had totally convinced him she could help his business. He thought he could cover the check, but things were slow, and he just got caught up in her enthusiasm.
“And that didn’t crush you?” I asked.
“Just the opposite,” she responded. “It hit me like a brick to the face that if I could sell a guy with no money, think what I could do with somebody with money. It was a real epiphany.”
In other words, when things were at their worst, she was at her best. Facing failure head-on can do that for you.
Just like we face March, armed with optimism but ready to fight the good fight into another reawakening of hope eternal—March’s promise. That is, as long as you don’t buy into another Belushiism that says March comes in like a worm-eating fernbird and goes out like a worm-eating fernbird. In fact, the whole year is like a worm-eating fernbird.
Talk about March madness.