Today’s national holiday is…
Why? Because today marks the anniversary of when, in August of 1872, Aaron Montgomery Ward, of Chicago, produced the very first Montgomery Ward’s mail order catalog. It was by buying the goods and then reselling them directly to the customers that Aaron Montgomery Ward removed the middlemen at the general store and to the benefit of the customers drastically lowered prices.
The very first catalog consisted of an eight by 12 inch single sheet of paper which included the merchandise for sale, the price list, and the ordering instructions. Montgomery Ward’s single page list of products grew into a 540 page illustrated book selling over 20,000 items.
It was soon after that the Montgomery Wards catalog was copied by other resourceful merchants, like Richard Warren Sears. The first general Sears catalog was mailed in 1896. Many others entered the field, and catalog sales grew. By 1971, catalog sales of major United States firms exceeded more than $250 million in postal revenue.
Ah catalogs. At one time these beloved treasures were a highly anticipated mail item. We would get excited to take a peek and see what they had this month. At some point however, catalogs became a little overwhelming. Your name was put on a list, and now when you open the mail box, 10 lbs. of glossy booklets fall at your feet, all filled with junk you wouldn’t give as a joke. I routinely receive a catalog for elderly sleepwear. I know at the ripe old age of 39, I should start thinking of my future more, but slip and fall resistant pajamas are not on the top of my list.
This made me think about how we come across to others. When we meet others are we a catalog of usefulness, or a dreadful mashup of clutter?
We all hope to be the useful kind. We expect people to be excited when they meet us. We want them to realize the treasures we have within. Yet, for many, the initial introduction isn’t a clear indicator of that. What usually happens is we keep all of our uniqueness under wraps. We only open the pages to those we know and trust. Otherwise we feel exposed, and vulnerable; feelings that most humans find excruciating. Being open allows others to see us. It allows them to make judgments about us. It takes away the power we assigned ourselves. Or does it?
If I remain closed off to the world, how am I in a power position? Howard Hughes is one of the most well known examples of what I call a confusion of power. I won’t go into the deep history of this man, or dismiss the mental crisis he was facing. I will simply state this: A man with wealth and fame at his fingertips was hiding himself away from the world in a literal manner. He stayed behind locked doors and didn’t allow anyone to enter it without just cause. Behind those doors he felt he was in control. He couldn’t be touched, or hurt. To him it was a logical choice.
From the outside however it was crazy. People told stories, some true, some made up completely. They talked about him, judged him, and ridiculed him on the other side of the door. The control was never in the locked room. The control was locked outside in the hallway where everyone could manipulate it. The same thing happens when we become so closed off and afraid of being hurt by the world that we lock ourselves away. We convince ourselves that we are safer alone. After all, we can’t be hurt if they cannot touch us. The truth is we can be hurt even more when we isolate ourselves. When we keep ourselves hidden away, we leave our story to the imaginations of others. We lose the power of telling our own story.
When I look at one of those catalogs, they tell me everything I need to know. I know if there is food, tools, bathing suits or cars inside. I make a determination based on that fist impression as to whether I go any further. Some I keep, some I toss. The catalog doesn’t care. The catalog has not failed in life if I don’t open its pages. And neither do we.
Opening up to the world and showing who we are is the true power move. Allowing yourself to remain vulnerable and open to possibilities is empowering. If someone isn’t looking for what you have to offer, life goes on. Those who are attracted to our gifts and talents will be drawn to us like metal to a magnet. Those who need something else, will not. The key here is to open up. Let others see you. Engage with people you don’t know yet. Be open to making a new friend, acquaintance, or more. Be proud of what you have to offer…even if it is elderly sleepwear. Someone will be better for finding you in their life.