Failure? No! Just Temporary Setbacks

Failure? No! Just Temporary Setbacks

From Chicken Soup for the Soul 20th Anniversary Edition

Failure? No! Just Temporary Setbacks

To see things in the seed, that is genius.

~Lao-tzu

If you could come to my office in California to visit with me today, you would notice across one side of the room a beautiful old-fashioned Spanish tile and mahogany soda fountain with nine leather-covered stools (the kind they used to have in the old drugstores). Unusual? Yes. But if those stools could speak, they would tell you a story about the day I almost lost hope and gave up.

It was a recession period after World War II and jobs were scarce. Cowboy Bob, my husband, had purchased a small dry cleaning business with borrowed money. We had two darling babies, a tract home, a car and all the usual time payments. Then the bottom fell out. There was no money for the house payments or anything else.

I felt that I had no special talent, no training, no college education. I didn’t think much of myself. But I remembered someone in my past who thought I had a little ability — my Alhambra High School English teacher. She inspired me to take journalism and named me advertising manager and feature editor of the school paper. I thought, “Now if I could write a ‘Shoppers Column’ for the small weekly newspaper in our rural town, maybe I could earn that house payment.”

I had no car and no babysitter. So I pushed my two children before me in a rickety baby stroller with a big pillow tied in the back.

The wheel kept coming off, but I hit it back on with the heel of my shoe and kept going. I was determined that my children would not lose their home as I often had done as a child.

But at the newspaper office, there were no jobs available. Recession. So I caught an idea. I asked if I might buy advertising space at wholesale and sell it at retail as a “Shoppers Column.” They agreed, telling me later that they mentally gave me about a week of pushing that beat-up heavily laden stroller down those country roads before I gave up. But they were wrong.

The newspaper column idea worked. I made enough money for the house payment and to buy an old used car that Cowboy Bob found for me. Then I hired a high school girl to babysit from three to five each afternoon. When the clock struck three, I grabbed my newspaper samples and flew out of the door to drive to my appointments.

But on one dark rainy afternoon every advertising prospect I had worked on turned me down when I went to pick up their copy. “Why?” I asked. They said they had noticed that Ruben Ahlman, the President of the Chamber of Commerce and the owner of the Rexall drugstore did not advertise with me. His store was the most popular in town. They respected his judgment. “There must be something wrong with your advertising,” they explained.

My heart sank. Those four ads would have made the house payment. Then I thought, I will try to speak with Mr. Ahlman one more time. Everyone loves and respects him. Surely he will listen. Every time I had tried to approach him in the past, he had refused to see me. He was always “out” or unavailable. I knew that if he advertised with me, the other merchants in town would follow his lead.

This time, as I walked into the Rexall drugstore, he was there at the prescription counter in the back. I smiled my best smile and held up my precious “Shoppers Column” carefully marked in my children’s green Crayola. I said, “Everyone respects your opinion, Mr. Ahlman. Would you just look at my work for a moment so that I can tell the other merchants what you think?”

His mouth turned into in an upside down U. Without saying a word he emphatically shook his head, “NO!”

Suddenly all of my enthusiasm left me. I made it as far as the beautiful old soda fountain at the front of the drugstore, feeling that I didn’t have the strength to drive home. I didn’t want to sit at the soda fountain without buying something, so I pulled out my last dime and ordered a cherry Coke. I wondered desperately what to do. Would my babies lose their home as I had so many times when I was growing up? Was my journalism teacher wrong? Maybe that talent she talked about was just a dud. My eyes filled with tears.

A soft voice beside me on the next soda fountain stool said, “What is the matter, dear?” I looked up into the sympathetic face of a lovely gray-haired lady. I poured out my story to her, ending it with, “But Mr. Ahlman, who everyone respects so much, will not look at my work.”

“Let me see that Shoppers Column,” she said. She took my marked issue of the newspaper in her hands and carefully read it all the way through. Then she spun around on the stool, stood up, looked back at the prescription counter and in a commanding voice that could be heard down the block, said, “Ruben Ahlman, come here!” The lady was Mrs. Ahlman!

She told Ruben to buy the advertising from me. His mouth turned up the other way in a big grin. Then she asked me for the names of the four merchants who had turned me down. She went to the phone and called each one. She gave me a hug and told me they were waiting for me and to go back and pick up their ads.

Ruben and Vivian Ahlman became our dear friends, as well as steady advertising customers. I learned that Ruben was a darling man who bought from everyone. He had promised Vivian not to buy any more advertising. He was just trying to keep his word to her. If I had only asked others in town, I might have learned that I should have been talking to Mrs. Ahlman from the beginning. That conversation on the stools of the soda fountain was the turning point. My advertising business prospered and grew into four offices, with 285 employees serving 4,000 continuous-contract advertising accounts.

Later when Mr. Ahlman modernized the old drugstore and removed the soda fountain, my sweet husband Bob bought it and installed it in my office. If you were here in California, we would sit on the soda fountain stools together. I’d pour you a cherry Coke and remind you to never give up, to remember that help is always closer than we know.

Then I would tell you that if you can’t communicate with a key person, search for more information. Try another path around. Look for someone who can communicate for you in a third person endorsement. And, finally, I would serve you these sparkling, refreshing words of Bill Marriott of the Marriott Hotels:

Failure? I never encountered it.

All I ever met were temporary setbacks.

~Dottie Walters

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