Do this ONE thing to change your life.
Despite your career aspirations (and don’t want to hear this), working in sales benefits almost everyone. My path was six years in retail followed by two years in outside sales. Both experiences taught me invaluable skills relevant to my career and life. If you didn’t have the luxury (or as some might describe “horror”) of experiencing a sales job like I did, allow me to impart upon you the single most important life lesson I learned: rejection is no big deal.
No, really. Let me paint a picture for you of a terrified journalism college student. She’s clutching her audio recorder with sweaty palms and practically hyperventilating at the thought of interviewing sources (a.k.a. her own classmates and peers) about their opinion about hard-hitting news topics like the health benefits of drinking Jamba Juice smoothies.
This was me at 20, studying journalism at Arizona State University. I’d work myself into a crumpled, neurotic mess whenever I needed to approach strangers to engage in small talk.
Thankfully, I had enough self-awareness to realize that my crippling shyness was going to hinder my career as an aspiring journalist/writer. This awareness was driving force behind me pursuing a sales position at an incredibly successful Fortune 100 company selling payroll and HR benefits solutions to small businesses. This was a far cry from the creative writing I enjoyed, but I knew I needed it.
I went from sweaty-palmed college student, to an even more sweaty-palmed (but well dressed!) salesperson, masking my insecurities with a winning grin and convincing small business owners of the value of my company’s services. It was a masochistic exercise in personal development.
Part of my job was cold-calling. Literally walking into businesses– in person– and trying to chat people up and convince them to schedule a meeting with me.
I would hype myself up before walking into a building several times before actually entering. This choreographed “dance of apprehension” was comprised of me entering, leaving, then re-entering offices, backing in and out as if I were an SUV being maneuvered into a compact parking space.
I’d say that the worst moment I ever experienced was when a business owner screamed at me in front of all of his employees. The lumbering red-faced man bellowed at me, “What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see how important I am? Get the f*ck out of here!”
Okay, actually that never happened.
In reality, I think the worst reaction I ever received (a result of an unannounced in-person visit) was when a man assertively told me, “I don’t have time to listen to your sales pitch.” Fair enough. Of course I fled outside where I could burst into tears in the privacy of my car.
“FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY.”
– my cousin, Kelli.
(Also, apparently, the motto of Jimmy Choo CEO Tamara Mellon, according to The Guardian).
Here’s the thing– once you get used to the initial shock of rejection, it almost becomes fun to embrace failing– just because you had the guts to go for it. I’m not here to tell you that fear goes away– it doesn’t, actually. But as a salesperson, you learn to embrace the fear and roll with it. My cousin’s great mantra has always stuck with me: “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” My fear of talking to strangers will never be diminished completely. But, saying this mantra is like saying to yourself, “fuck it” and allowing your drive to overcome the discomfort you feel.
A sales career teaches you how silly it is to worry about rejection because you are rejected almost on a daily basis– typically in the form of polite let-downs versus whatever your worst nightmare is.
Once you get over the fear of the “worst case scenario,” almost any task seems worth pursuing because you’re no longer afraid of what the outcome might be. The thought of being rejected seems harmless once you’ve been there so many times.
When you are rejected on a daily basis as a salesperson, you realize how much emotional baggage is tied to the notion of failure and rejection, and you learn to shrug it off. You shamelessly and unabashedly approach situations with a new sense of calm and detachment.
Today you might be afraid of not closing the deal or not booking the appointment (if you’re in sales). Or, perhaps you’re afraid of something more personal– scared of starting a new chapter in your life, worried about hurting someone’s feelings, feeling vulnerable about having your ideas criticized, or launching a project for fear that it might turn out to be a bitter failure. I’m not saying it doesn’t suck to be rejected– it burns. It stings. But, it diminishes over time. And eventually, the thrill of the audacity of trying outweighs the bad.
I’m not saying you won’t fail. You probably will and you ought to experience it and learn from it. A salesperson knows that after experiencing various types of rejection, you realize that there isn’t ever just one opportunity to “succeed.”
In my experience, you are going to encounter multiple opportunities to achieve your goals. Which means even after you totally embarrass yourself at a meeting, or botch an introduction, or put your foot in your mouth, or hear “no” for the first or zillionth time– just know that you have many more opportunities to try again in your future.
When it comes to interviewing strangers, I haven’t completely eradicated my sweaty palms, but now enjoy the thrill of it. And honestly, sometimes I do totally embarrass myself– but at least I have the guts to try.
Shameless‘ Frank Gallagher was my father… but we never let him sleep outside in the snow.
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