Would You Willingly Sacrifice
Today's column is going to be about mutations, and how they determine the course of our lives. This column may not, however, be what you might expect. I am talking about real mutations, not fictional ones. To explain, when I look about the world, and I am endlessly fascinated by those among us who have exceptional talents and skills, seemingly from birth. As a case in point, consider Michael Jordan. While there are many basketball players who have been born with a set of skills, and have then worked endlessly in the gym to become exceptionally proficient (think Larry Bird...), there are others who have simply been born with an unbelievable combination of motor and cognitive skills that allow them to run, jump, and shoot baskets better than anyone ever born. To my way of thinking, Michael Jordan's abilities are so far beyond what has ever been seen before that he represents a clear example of human mutation in action.
While Mr. Jordan represents a vivid example of human mutation, there are vastly more of us who simply have an in-born proclivity toward a certain type of behavior. Finding the path that is really suited to our talents and skills, however, is frequently difficult. Einstein, for example, had very poor grades in primary school, and only began to show his genius when he final broke through into the realms of theoretical physics. Can you imagine if he would have been sent to a trade school early in his studies? Ironically, that's how many European school systems are set up today, with those who do not excel by an early age being sorted out, and then precluded from ever going to college. Einstein the baker would certainly not have had nearly the same impact on our theories of the origin of the universe...
I'm now going to tread into dangerous territory, as I am going to take this entire discussion of mutation and include myself in the picture. Before you get the wrong idea (of which I may well not ever succeed in convincing you...), I have no illusions that I have anything approaching the skills of a Michael Jordan or an Einstein. I am merely mentioning their incredible accomplishments to illustrate a point, which is that all of us are born with the ability to do something particularly well. That becomes relevant to many of my previous columns about entrepeneurship, and the desire of many of you to open a comics shop. Follow along with me for a ways, and I think you'll understand my meaning.
I'll begin, by telling you a story of my youth. In 1961, I was six years old, and living in a very plebian (as in white trash...) trailer court built next to an illegal landfill in Jackson, Michigan. I had just immigrated to America from Germany with my mother and stepfather, and could barely speak English. Even at that tender age, however, I was smitten with the collecting bug. While I already had a subscription to the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED JUNIOR comics, my real passion was collecting Lincoln Head Cents. I had been introduced to coin collecting by the manager of the trailer court, who showed my mother that you could buy $50 bags of unsorted pennies at the bank in large cloth sacks, and then go through them to find all sorts of great deals. One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting at the tiny kitchen table of our trailer, slowly examining 5,000 pennies for hidden treasure. I loved sorting coins so much that it was frequently a cat fight to get me to stop, and go to bed. Even at the age of six I would rather sort coins than eat, sleep, or even watch cartoons. Most certainly not the behavior of a "normal" kid."
For what it is worth, I still have all the coins that I collected when I was 6, 7, & 8 years old, as well as all of the stamps that I collected when I was 9, 10, & 11. My original childhood aspiration was to become a coin dealer (which my mom was to a small extent), but I suffered a rude awakening upon my first efforts. At my first coin shows it quickly became apparent to me that part time dealers, working on very thin margins, dominated the field. As working adults, they had vastly more working capital to bring to bear, so there was simply no way that I could compete with them. That's why I eventually switched over to buying and selling comics.
The key element to this story is that I was born with the burning desire to buy and sell. I have no idea why my particular mix of genetics produced this outcome, but I love commerce, and I am never any happier than when I am sorting collectibles. As a case in point, those of you who see me at conventions frequently remark to me about how I have been standing at some dealer's booth for many long hours, or even days, slowly picking out comics that we need for our website sales. The reason is quite simple: I feel enormous personal satisfaction in picking comics from bargain boxes. Ironically, in many instances it would be far more cost effective, and wiser, for me to go ahead and make an offer for the entire deal, rather than slowly picking individual issues. But somehow it is wired into me to really, really want to sort all day long (sometimes 12 hours at a stretch...) because it answers some sort of overwhelming internal hunger that I feel. Strange, but true.
My point in telling you these stories is nothing more than an attempt to illustrate why I have to struggle to not roll my eyes when someone tells me that they cannot wait to open their own comics shop. It's not that I don't think that many people have succeeded in the business of comics retailing without my specific skill sets, but rather that I worry that whatever talents these potential comics retailers possess may not serve them well in the comics business. For me getting into this business was a no-brainer, as I felt the calling so strongly that I gave up my full ride scholarship to college at the age of 19, in order to then live in a 1963 Chevy for 4 months while selling comics at conventions all around the country.
So the question boils down to whether you want to be a comics dealer so intensely that you would willingly sacrifice all of your creature comforts? When you really, really want something badly, no sacrifice is too much to bear. But that's exactly the point of today's column. I strongly believe that, more often than not, everyone is born with a specific calling. Without seeing clear evidence of a potential comics retailer first manifesting that genetic predisposition, I am always more than a little dubious of their chances for success. With enough hard work, it certainly can be done, but I strongly believe that the road to success in comics retailing is much harder if you don't already have that wired-in passion. But don't take my word for it. Check around with all of the successful comics dealers you can find. I think that you will discover that each of them has their own story to tell, oftentimes quite similar to my own. Muties, one and all.
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