Bragging Doth Not A Healthy Life Make

I first saw the play of Death Of A Salesman by Arthur Miller in 1963. I was eighteen years old and had just finished my freshman year of college.

The play was slow moving and had no impact on me emotionally. It was boring. I saw the 1985 movie version of it starring Dustin Hoffman as Willie Loman, the main character.  I liked Hoffman’s performance, but not much more.

Then this past weekend, I read the play again (2018), and it stunned me. It was powerful. I related to the characters in a deeply personal way, especially the main character.

The play is about a man, Willie Loman, who lives in the 1920’s. Loman has worked as a traveling salesman for thirty years. Willie believes that success is based on being liked. He brags to his sons about his successes, but in reality, there have been few if any.

He’s being let go by his employer for erratic behavior.

Willie’s superficial view of the world is collapsing in on him. Willie is becoming unhinged.

Willie believes in the myth of the American Dream, but for Willie the myth fails to come true for him or his family members, especially his struggling son, Biff.

Finally, Willie commits suicide, believing his life insurance policy will help Biff get ahead and experience success.

I related to Willie, then I said, “No, I don’t. I sympathize with people who wind up like Willie.”

My biggest lament about Willie is that he talks of his dreams, but does not follow through. He wants to have his own business, but stays on as an unproductive employee, engages in self-destructive behavior (womanizing – devastating when children find out), makes up stories about his successes and shares them with his sons, and doesn’t realize that success is not about being liked, it’s about having courage to go out and take the risk to start your own business.

I have a suggestion for anyone who wants to start their own business and has children:

  1. Feel lucky if you have a small home starting out. You’re double lucky if you start the business in your home. That way your children learn firsthand what it takes to start a business. Our family started out in a 900 square foot home.
  2. No need to brag to your children during this time, they know exactly what’s going on. They see mom and dad counting the sales receipts and collected revenue on the kitchen table.
  3. Your children observe every victory, and every set back you experience. They witness firsthand what’s it’s like to experience anxiety over trying to grow the business. They’re able to celebrate the hard-fought victories of leasing the first warehouse.
  4. They celebrate moving into a larger home, not much larger, but at least large enough to celebrate a small victory.
  5. They are able to understand that a small vacation with the family is a direct result of saving small amounts of money from the hard-earned profits of the business. The family enjoys the vacation that much more.
  6. After going through all this, odds are your children will start their own businesses. The help you will have given them has already been accomplished by their observing and experiencing firsthand how a business is essentially started from nothing more than an idea.