Journal Entry–Sunday, February 11, 2001
by E. Amado Williams
Disclaimer: The following commentary is not, on the writer’s part, an affront to anyone who endorses or subscribes to network marketing. No personal attack or malicious connotation is intended.
I lost a friend today. No, death did not swoop down with a cloak and smother his life. He did not pack his possessions and move to a place where communication does not exist. He was not caught up in the rapture and called to heaven. He simply found me to be dead weight; thus, not worthy of his time and friendship.
My friend, Smiley, and I have known each other for years, dating back to the early nineties when New York was my Emerald City. I was fresh out of the University of California at Berkeley with a Masters of Science in statistics and the promise of a bright career in software engineering. Smiley had finished from the University of Rochester with highest honours and the assurance of a long-term career in electrical engineering. We were racing for the grand career pennant. Smiley’s finish line, to which he saw himself as a manager, was well within his view. Mine was five years out and entailed better things; it involved me being an independent consultant.
We excelled in our respective fields. Smiley became a lead engineer, overseeing numerous projects, slowly making his way up to manager. I positioned myself in international systems and networked to develop relationships in London, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Chicago. As the years progressed, Smiley moved higher up the corporate ladder. His level in happiness did not rise with him, though. He had reached a comfortable level and was becoming complacent. However, he wanted more money; he wanted more status symbols. I had begun to do small projects on the side and continued to receive glowing references that put me in front of numerous clients who wanted my software engineering expertise. Smiley focused on acceptance; I focused on success. By the mid nineties, Smiley had capped out and became disgruntled. I departed New York and moved to Chicago to work as an independent software development consultant. My dream was now a reality.
As the years passed, I secured consulting positions that gave me the exposure I needed to move effortlessly within the software engineering medium in Chicago. I even learned how to work smarter, opposed to harder, which gave me the opportunity to balance out my life with writing and a little bit of modelling. Recently, I ran into Smiley in Chicago’s Union Station. He is still doing electrical engineering, which he related to me with the zeal of a dental patient about to have teeth pulled. When he spoke of a business venture that a friend and he had started, he perked up and conversed with me like a man who had passion coursing through is veins. The thought of him, as an electrical engineer, running his own firm providing electrical engineering solutions and services piqued my curiosity. I was interested in what he was doing, as well as how he was since it had been years seeing him.
We met at a restaurant in downtown Chicago called Wishbone, an eatery known for its New Orleans flair for breakfast. It was a good central spot for our reunion. Immediately after we sat at our table and the waitress took our drink orders, to which Smiley asked for only the customary cup of coffee and handed his menu back to the waitress, he launched into a “show and tell.” There was no satisfactory preamble of pleasantries involving marriages, careers, family, or the ubiquitous topic of the weather. We did not even reminisce about our days in New York. Without any tact, he simply opened a portable presentation guide and rattled off pages of information on network marketing. As Smiley poured out his rehearsed speech with ease and grace, I listened with false enthusiasm. "If you bring on four people under you and they bring on four people under them, and so on, you can reap the benefits of residuals. You can spend more time with your family. You can buy a bigger house. You can purchase the status car you want..
My mind tossed the words that Smiley spoke and his approach around like a tiny ship on a raging sea. It became apparent to me that he did not see me at any point during his presentation. He saw Amado who is ambitious, going places, making and keeping friends, well-rounded, influential, and easy to approach: a man who could shine in network marketing. He had overlooked Amado who is in control of his life and calls his own shots. Had he taken the time to reacquaint himself with me, he would have discovered more about me than he had apparently assumed. Though I’m not married, I spend every weekend with my siblings, nieces, and nephews. I feel that my condominium serves its purpose of providing me peace of mind, rather than a huge house. I have a sports car that gets me to where I need to go without any problems. I travel extensively, domestically and internationally. I tithe ten percent. I give to both the American Heart Foundation—having suffered a heart attack—and to the Cancer Society—having lost my father to cancer.
After I pondered Smiley’s capricious lecture, I poised myself and composed a response to explain my position and my interest. Without beating around the bush, I relayed my response to him: “I must be forward and let you know that I am not passionate about anything that does not allow me to employ my degrees. For any other matter, I will add that I am not on fire for anything that does not promote a positive, Black-owned business. When I say Black-owned, I mean Blacks starting it and driving the bus, not some spun-off subsidiary from a White-owned establishment. On a worldly level, since I work for myself, I am dedicated to my career first and to having a balance in my life second. I am not interested.”
My declaration was unacceptable. Smiley paused and stared at me with piercing eyes, and then he told me a few things about myself. I was not supportive of his goals and ambitions, and my imperial attitude was shocking. I was a selfish egomaniac. I have always flaunted my “have” status. My vainglorious attitude has made me a moral monster. He flagged me as an anchor that would stifle his progression. I was not aware that my flaws had manifested in such a way that people who have conflicts with stances I take on certain positions see me as a self-important, arrogant snob. Smiley promptly arose, put his coat and hat on, tossed three dollars on the table for the cup of coffee he drank, and walked out of the restaurant after a perfunctory handshake.
I have had the opportunity to attend a network marketing convention. Everyone was so happy and bursting with cheer, almost like kids at a birthday party. I found it odd that people can be so exorbitantly happy without covering up some amount of disappointment in the process. When the time came for the audience to acknowledge the person who was responsible for the network marketing venture, everyone roared with a standing ovation. The audience, comprised primarily of American Blacks, whistled, clapped, and cried tears of joy. The man who had innovated the venture, a middle-aged White man, simple looked on with the expression of a man having a complicated bowel movement. As I scanned the room containing the overzealous American Blacks, my heart sank every time my eyes beheld the White man looking back at the cheering crowd with a stone face.
Am I evil for wanting to be the creator of my own glass ceiling? Is there anything wrong with American Blacks starting their own businesses without riding off of the coat tails of some business that is established by some Whites? Is using your college degree an extravagant or unrealistic expectation? I watched Smiley snake his way through the maze of tables as he exited. My hope was that he had started his own business where he was the president, owner, or chief executive officer. Am I selfish for expecting excellence from my people? Smiley had accomplished great things as an electrical engineer and I believed that he would be a leader of greater initiatives in his discipline. As I reached into my book bag to retrieve a book to keep me company, I kept hearing the ill labels he attached to me because I did not subscribe to “pyramid,” network marketing...Yes, I have come to terms with the fact that I lost a friend today.