I walked in to a tough meeting two days ago. A salesman was bearing his heart to his sales manager. He was visibly upset. In truth he isn’t a salesman just yet. He is interested in the job. We’re in the middle of a vetting process. He was twisting with self-doubt about his ability to do the job. He’d been quiet during the previous day’s seminar and now I understood why: Being a salesperson is tough work. Speaking in front of your peers isn’t easy. Adopting and adapting to new ways of thinking about work and purpose are challenging. He was outside of his comfort zone by a long shot. The fears and doubts that many great salespeople use as motivation were suffocating him.
I was a mess after my first day of becoming an outside salesperson. Nobody was giving me any direction. Advice was superficial. Training seemed more intended to shatter my enthusiasm rather than stoke it. I’d always been told how to do my job and then, suddenly, the safety net was gone. I was pretty sure I’d made the dumbest decision of my life at the time (although there were plenty more dumb decisions to come). It took me one entire year to understand how to do the job. I was brilliant at the ‘fake it till you make it’ thing. And then it all started to come together and the job was fun. I started to find a style and a ‘voice’ that worked for me (artistic language, yes, but there is art in salesmanship).
I’m always a little amused when someone tells me that he’s a ‘natural salesman’ or a ‘born salesman.’ Makes me think of Robert Redford in The Natural. The hand of God touched Hobbs. He’s gifted. But then I’m reminded that Mozart didn’t compose any original work until he was nearly 20. He copied everyone before then. That his father was a well-respected children’s music teacher. That Mozart played the piano until his fingers were deformed. We call Mozart a ‘genius’ but the truth is he had a wicked work ethic. As do all the greats. We talk about ‘the 10,000’ rule but in simpler terms the most successful people work harder than anyone else who’s doing what they’re doing. And it takes a lot of time.
The only thing I could think of to share with the salesman was that it’s ok to be afraid. It’s ok to doubt yourself and to doubt your choices. There’s a lot to learn from fear and doubt if you take the time to understand why they’re happening. It’s ok to fail. We’ve all done it. As I’ve written before I’ve learned far more from failing than from succeeding.
But it’s not ok to let your fear define you, or gobble you up, or extinguish your fire. Fear and self-doubt should never define a man. His response should.
Incidentally, the salesman did confident work that day. Well done my friend. Push on.