In job hunt, ramp up your pursuit, expand your search

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

One of the hardest jobs my father ever had was selling books door-to-door. But for a college student in the 1950s, it was the best road to “big money,” he claimed, especially when time and energy were computed against financial return.

“And, you learned about people, yourself, and applied psychology,” my father once wrote. “You developed both a philosophy about life and organization of life–or you starved!”

One day Dad and a fellow salesman were sitting on the side of a rural road trying to deal with their lack of sales and growing homesickness.

As the young men talked, they absentmindedly picked up small rocks, flipping them across the road at a barbed wire fence, attempting to hit one of the wire strands. At 20 feet, the percentage of success was limited. At the same time, their frustration over lack of sales was depressing, almost pushing them to turn in their sample cases and head home for more secure and regular-paying summer jobs.

As their level of anxiety rose, their aim at the barbed wire fence declined. Finally, in utter frustration, my father picked up a handful of small rocks and threw them hard at the fence, hitting several strands of wire as the rocks sprayed.

“That’s it!” yelled his companion.

“What’s it?” my father replied, scooping up another handful of rocks, hoping to vent more anger against the fence.

“Throw those rocks again, the whole handful,” he commanded.

And my father did, and again several rocks hit the target.

Then the realization hit my father, too. The young men began to recall what their sales manager had told them in the weeklong sales school at the beginning of the summer.

“The more calls you make, the more presentations you can make, and the more sales–and money,” he had counseled them. “And, don’t let non-sales bother you. Non-sales are not failures, but teachers. Learn from them.”

“And, remember,” he had concluded. “Beyond failure lies success. So go out and make a lot of failures every day, and in the process you will find success. You have to trust the law of averages. If you make enough calls, the old law of averages will rescue you.”

My father and his buddy didn’t talk about the sales leader’s advice; they didn’t have to. The handful of rocks illustrated perfectly what they had been taught.

Homesickness waned, and a new spirit rose within them. They picked up their sample cases with one hand, a pile of rocks with another, and flung them at the fence hitting several targets, energized by their new discovery.

Fifty-five years later, I’ve passed this story on to my daughter, from her beloved grandfather, as she searches for her next steps after college graduation.

With the job prospects so limited, it’s time to grab a large handful of dreams and throw them at those opportunities.

Failures, laced with learning, surely await. And with diligence and persistence, the law of averages still stands ready to usher in success.