How Doing Sales Taught Me to Move Through the World

I’m a street artist who’s been selling my paintings to the general public for two decades. Almost any weekend of the year, you can find me set up in the center of some thoroughfare, talking art, psychology, color theory, or giving directions to Bourbon Street (that last one if I’m home in New Orleans).

I encounter people from all over the world, from every conceivable stratum of society. In just the last week, I’ve had intimate conversations with brain surgeons, witches, Nebraska housewives, train-hopping street kids, high school teachers, bridal parties, and middle managers attending an ophthalmology convention. I meet more people in a single night than most do in a year. It is exhilarating, exhausting, entertaining, and ultimately it pays my bills.

Because in the midst of those thousand conversations, what I’m there to do is make a living. That’s why I’ve paid my booth fee & dragged my stuff to that particular spot & centered myself in a manic human river. I’ve got to engage and direct people’s attention where I want it to go. I can’t get distracted by visiting friends or a stranger’s conversation about his tattoo, cuz I’m out there for ME. My goal, for a pre-determined amount of time, is to show, and hopefully, sell my work.

This is a wonderful training ground for moving through the world, because in some fashion, we are all sales people. The thing we are selling is US: who we are, what’s important to us, what causes we fight for, how we want to earn a living. You might be the most altruistic woman in the world, doing everything you can to help Mogadishu refugees, but you’ve gotta sell your vision to the right people to make that happen.

And, you can’t do that unless you vet, not just the people who come into your life, but the events, jobs, addictions and hobbies that are only too happy to consume you.

There are only so many hours in a lifetime – YOUR lifetime, and every moment, every person, leads to the next. If you don’t pay attention to where you focus your energy and invest your time, someone, or something , else will do it for you.

When I’m out there, talking art, the space in which I do it is MINE. It’s sacred. I’ve paid to be there, with my talent, my sacrifice, my time, and my cash. It is up to me to steer the conversation to where I want it to go, watch the response of the crowd, and focus my greatest energy to where I believe I will find the greatest result.

Patterns emerge from the microcosm of selling to the public to the macrocosm of how the world works:

Someone belittles my work, or a drunk tries to distract me, or I get hit on. None of these things are why I’m there, so I shift my focus to someone else, and engage them instead. By taking my energy away from what I don’t want, the connection loses its power, and the person usually moves on. If there’s a conversation that I WOULD like to continue, I’ll offer my card and say I’ll be happy to resume it at a later date – I can’t indulge even these small luxuries when I’m working. I always try to be gracious, but the world is too big, and there is not enough time, to deeply engage with everyone who appears along my path.

There are only so many moments in a life, and mine is sacred. So is yours. Learn to say NO to what you don’t desire in your life, so you can say YES to what you do want. Decide who you want in your path, and why, and for how long. Keep that clearly in your head, and you’ll get where you want to go.

To see more about making a living doing what you love, please check out my book here, and if you wanna support my work, prints are available here. Thank you!

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