Summertime is when all the music teachers and students disperse to various music camps, institutes, and conferences. The music teaching world is very local. The summer music world is location-independent.

We are in Claremont, Calif. right now, for the National Cello Institute, which is more international than national and my son has so many friends from Australia that he’s started talking with their accent.

As he plays his solo here, everyone assumes he wants to be a professional cellist. We all know that being a professional musician is a goal against long odds. And as Seth Godin wrote a whole book to explain (one of my favorites), the only things worth doing are things that are so hard you almost can’t stand the odds.

Because I’m a career coach, I think things like what if he loses a finger? What if he joins the Peace Corps? What if he just simply changes his mind? I want him to be ready.

Sometimes he tests me, “What if I want to stop playing cello?”

I know the correct answer, so I say it: “You can stop whenever you want. I only want you to play cello if that’s what you want to do. I love you no matter what you choose.”

I think he asks me that to make sure he has a choice. So I add explicit options and tell him that he could sell anything.

My older son says, “Mom, don’t tell him that. He’ll be a drug dealer.”

My husband says, “I know you think he’d be good at sales, but sometimes I wonder. The only thing I see him selling right now is himself.”

So I had an idea. I decided we’ll do a sales aptitude test so that both my son and I can relax a little bit about cello. He will still practice piano and cello four hours a day. He will still travel all over the country for lessons and performances. But all that will feel less risky because we will know he can fall back on sales.

I tell him, “We are taking a field trip to Staples in Los Angeles.”

“Dude! I love the Lakers.”

“No. The store. Staples is a store.”


“You are going to sell office supplies.”

He complains but then he stops complaining when he sees that I’m going to be paying a lot of attention to him and it will be like a performance.

We bring the cello into the store. It’s two hundred years old and it is very sensitive to changes in temperature so we never leave it in the car.

You know that experiment people did in school where kids carry around an egg as if it’s a baby in order to understand how much work it is to have a baby? That’s what I feel like we do with the cello. But it’s more like we have quadruplets.

We go to phone chargers. I tell my son he’s selling the Dual Device Rapid Car charger. He says he wants to sell one to me because he wants one for our car.

I tell him I’ll buy him one if he can make a sale to someone else. “Find someone looking at chargers and tell them why this one is great.”

People tell me that my son is a great cellist because he’s fearless. I can’t tell what that means in music, but I can see it here.

He walks up to a woman my age and he tells her she should buy the charger. “This will make your kids love you,” he says. “Also, my mom told me if I could get someone to buy one of these then she’d buy me one.”

The woman looks over at me.

I am dying. I am pretty much the worst sales person ever. Selling is about making a connection with people, which means you have to care about them. This is why sales is impossible for me but my son is incredible.

The woman bought the charger. Well, at least she put it in her shopping cart. I gave my son credit for that.

I told him his next mission is to sell a chair.

He says no.

I tell him he can pick any game he wants if he sells a chair.

I give him a choice of chairs. I tell him, “You do best selling when you sell something you like.”

He picks a pretty gross looking blue swivel, gives it a whirl and waits for someone to approach.

He learns another lesson in sales which is that it’s much harder to sell a product with no leads than if you have a sales funnel in place. He summarizes this lesson during a spin: “Mom, no one is buying chairs right now. I need something else.”

So we go to the pens. I hand him a 6-pack of pen style highlighters, saying, “Sell these and I’ll give you any game you want.”

He examines them and says, “I’ll buy these. Sold. Now you buy me a game.”

I like his spunk. I like that he sort of cheated because it’s something I would do. Cutting corners is a great career skill. It’s a sign of a winner.

I make him buy the pens. Then we pick out a game. And in the game aisle, someone approaches him.

“Is that your cello?”


“I used to play cello. How long have you been playing?” Dragging a cello with you is a great conversation starter—I recommend it if you feel shy at parties.

My son chats a bit more and then explains that I’m making him sell stuff to ensure he has a backup career if cello doesn’t work out.

The guy loves the story. He says, “I’ll buy something.”

Another sales lesson: people buy stuff because they like you.

My son says, “Can you buy these highlighters?”

The guy says sure, and without even asking me about how this affects our deal, my son picks out a second game. I buy it.

Later, I fish the empty game box out of the garbage and put it on my nightstand. It’ll be a great reminder that it’s fine for him to go after his cello dreams because he has a backup plan as well.