(This is part 2. Part one is here.)
I walked into my first dealership one January morning and with a whirlwind of energy, greeted the parts manager with a smile: “Hi, I’m Roger Knowlton with Premier Autoware. I’d like you to have one of my pens – careful it tends to develop feet and walk away. Say, I’ve got some problem solving items for your body man. Does he handle the P.O.’s or do you?” Sometimes for variety’s sake, I shook it up: “It’s a straight-back pen. If it doesn’t work, give it straight-back.”
Premier taught me to memorize the sales pitches, and I honestly didn’t really know what I was saying, especially when it came time to sell the items – “You know that problem with brake lines that crimp and break?” – Honestly, I didn’t know the problem, but the mechanics I talked to always seemed to know what I was talking about. So I continued spouting our “solution-oriented” items, and sometimes by the grace of God, they bought. I hadn’t even owned a car until my uncle Jack took me shopping after graduation, and here I was, a non-car guy getting thrown into the world of body shops and dealerships and service stations…and sales.
I hated it.
These were dark days. I can still smell the curry and spices (there were many Indian residents) down the hallway of the little studio apartment building I had moved into. I found this tiny place (each “apartment” smaller than a dorm room) very near my old dorm, Forbes Hall, and thought it would do me fine. But it was winter in the Midwest, and on top of seasonal affective disorder, I was doing something I was never cut out to do, not to mention feeling very lonely and losing more and more hope by the day.
Walking along the sidewalk in some nameless town one day, I was carrying my case full of solution items for mechanics in one hand and my display book in the other. I don’t remember praying very much that winter, but here was an exception – I stopped and looked up at heaven, and said, “God, do I have to do this the rest of my life?”
It turned out the answer was no. I heard about another sales job working for a company called Mahon Marketing out of Chicago. They needed a manufacturer’s representative for central and southern Illinois. I applied, had good rapport with the owner Bruce, and was hired. I hadn’t proved much of anything at Premier – maybe I could start proving myself at Mahon. Or not. After a year and a half or so with Mahon, still living in Champaign, I applied to work at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I moved north and went to work for them in the Chicago-land area, and after a year or so transferred out to the Washington, D.C. to help my friend John start a church.
And so it was that I found myself four or five years out of college, living in Northern Virginia working for Enterprise…and still not having proved much of anything. I hadn’t shown myself to be much of a salesman, nor had I proven myself in the rental car management area. All in all, I seemed to be decidedly mediocre. The church that John and I had started, however, was off and running. Cedar Run Community Church was a breath of fresh air in my otherwise stale life.
And then one day I took a walk to talk to God. If you’ve never been there, Northern Virginia, suburbs to D.C., is really quite beautiful, with miles of trails made from converted train lines, and I loved to hike these and talk to the Lord. It was a glorious day, and I found myself asking my Creator some questions.
What had I done wrong? What was my problem? Would I ever be able to go into ministry? And sometimes, when you ask God questions like this, out of His goodness and grace, He answers. And His answer would be the turning point of my life.
To be continued…tomorrow.