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I recently had to face what I thought would be an uncomfortable personal conversation. I fussed all morning, then went to visit the person involved. No problem; all went well.

Devon reminded me that I was borrowing jacks. The expression comes from a story written by J.P. McEvoy and first published in the Reader’s Digest back in the 1950’s.

A fellow was speeding down a country road late at night and BANG! went a tire. He got out and looked and drat it he had no jack. Then he said to himself. “Well, I’ll just walk to the nearest farmhouse and borrow a jack!” He saw a light in the distance and said, “Well, I’m in luck; the farmer’s up. I’ll just knock on the door and say I’m in trouble, would you please lend me a jack? And he’ll say, why sure, neighbor, help yourself – but bring it back.”

He walked on a little farther and the light went out, so he said to himself, “Now he’s gone to bed and he’ll be annoyed because I’m bothering him- so he’ll probably want some money for his jack. And I’ll say, all right, it isn’t very neighborly – but I’ll give you a quarter. And he’ll say, do you think you can get me out of bed in the middle of the night and then offer me a quarter? Give me a dollar or get yourself a jack somewhere else.”

By that time the fellow had worked himself into a lather. He turned into the gate and muttered. “A dollar! All right, I’ll give you a dollar. But not a cent more! A poor devil has an accident and all he needs is a jack. You probably won’t let me have one no matter what I give you. That’s the kind of guy you are.”

Which brought him to the door and he knocked – angrily, loudly. The farmer stuck his head out the window above the door and hollered down, “Who’s there? What do you want?” The fellow stopped pounding on the door and yelled up, “You and your damn jack! You know what you can do with it!”

When I started selling, the sales manager used to share this story regularly as a reminder to not assume what will happen on a sales call.

Do you borrow jacks? Do you conjure up dragons to slay as you worry about your business, or a relationship, or whether you’ll be able to make a sale?

Did you notice the guy didn’t get his tire fixed?

Many salespeople are afraid to ask a potential client their budget for the work or service they want done. When I ask why they won’t ask for the budget, they trot out a litany of things they are sure the customer will say or do when the question gets asked. They’re borrowing jacks. In real life, when you ask for the budget following the procedure we outline in the book Profitable Sales, you’ll get an answer almost every time.

Here’s another scenario. Something goes wrong on a job site when you’re not there. When you hear about it, do you work yourself into a lather over incompetent employees, that blasted sub, or the owner from hell? Or do you take a calm, open-minded approach to figuring out what went wrong and why it happened so you can solve the problem?

Borrowing jacks can make any difficulty worse. It can stop you from addressing an awkward situation because you’re sure it’ll go bad. It’ll keep you from having necessary conversations because you’re afraid of what they’ll say.

It also won’t improve your relationship with whoever owns the jack. Keep a calm head and do what needs to be done. The results are seldom as bad as your imagination.

Michael’s Comments

I recently read a post on Paul Sellers blog and came across a submission by one of his admirers. I’d like to share it with you:

To laugh often and much,
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of little children,
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends,
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others,
To leave the world a little better place than we found it …whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition,
To know that even one life breathed easier because you lived,
THIS is to have succeeded.  
(Variously attributed to authors: Bessie Anderson Stanley or Henry David Thoreau)

As you get older, you start reflecting on your life, and that often leads you to change the way you think about yourself, your family and your friends. It also makes you wonder what you could or should have done differently over the years. At 77, I have a lot to reflect on.

Consider this an end-of-the-year reminder that your life won’t be defined by the jobs you built or the awards you won. Your life will be defined by how you conduct your life, interact with family and friends, and your priorities.

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