I grew up a timid child.
I was destined to be the girl who played by the rules, did what I was told, and stayed out of trouble. Fear kept me in check.
I never challenged my mom. I never tried out for volleyball. I never jumped in the water.
I was scared of everything. Of falling down. Of strangers. I would lie awake with a pounding heart, afraid something would happen to someone I loved in the middle of the night. Sometimes I’d consider that someday I just won’t wake up again, and my mind would spin.
My fears seemed irrational. There weren’t traumas that triggered these feelings, they were my own exploration of failure, pain, and mortality.
This fear was limiting, paralyzing at times. I was gasping for breath.
And then, of all summer jobs I could have picked at 19 years old, I decided to sell knives. Sharp shiny objects that I didn’t know how to use… In strangers homes.
I called strangers, and I sold them knives. Ha.
I quit after my first week. Drowning in discomfort, battling the head-shaking of my disapproving parents, and the risk of making no money at this commission-only gig made it an easy conclusion. The answering machine screened endless calls from my well-intentioned manager. I had orders I held (wait, but that’s money!) just to avoid the confrontation I knew awaited me. With dreams of “make $20k during your college break!” put to bed, I began doing administrative work at a local law office. Yes, this was easier.
My manager drove an hour to my tiny hometown, and we stood at the gas station until the sun slowly disappeared. We talked of everything, nothing to do with sales or business. As he retrieved my orders, he mentioned an upcoming management candidate meeting.
“You should come to the next meeting with Jessie.”
Before I could contemplate the idiocy of going back to a place I had just quit, I blurted, “Sure.”
This is one of my first memories of pushing to do something that was entirely uncomfortable in order to get something I wanted.
And it surely didn’t stop there. Coming back sparked me just enough to try again. I had to face some deep-seeded rejection insecurities just to set appointments. I would hold my breath, furiously dial, and read a script to unconsciously spit the words out. Once scheduled, I would force myself to the door, knock before I could hide, and walk in unknown homes.
One foot in front of the other. Focused on one motion before the next, as getting ahead of myself would surely cause me to bolt. It was as if I channeled every ounce of my impulse I could extract from my desire to succeed, and used that as strength to take the next step.
Staccato. Bobbly. But eventually I would get through each action. Sometimes I had to read a quote or call a friend who could coax me. Other times I gazed up at my bulletin board littered with sales newsletters and incentive scales to remind myself of the why.
And then this incredible thing happened. I set appointments. I made sales. Customers were easily referring me. I started getting recognition.
That feeling became addictive.
I began paying attention to feedback, how customers were reacting to me, and examining things I said. I ferociously took notes at team meetings and attended conferences where I could learn more. My appetite for this fuel grew insatiable.
At some point down the road, rather than robotically going through the motions, I started to connect the things I was learning to things I was doing. What was rapport and how did I built it and why did it matter? What started as scanning the kitchen for “Pictures, Pets, and People”, shifted to asking questions and enveloping in the stories and lives of my customers. I was turning the process into real human connection skills.
This became my first entry into building a business and owning my destiny, discovering life outside of 9-5. I wanted to pour myself in, and quickly this knife-selling job became a lab where I could develop myself. In the office of my Pontiac driver’s seat, I became a dreamer, a leader, and an entrepreneur.
But I surely didn’t start as a sales pro.
SALES TAUGHT ME HOW TO COPE WITH PAIN:
A customer saying no or hanging up can either hurt you, numb you, or teach you. What I learned early on is that while numbing was the easiest coping mechanism, it wouldn’t have anything to teach me.
It was at that point that I decided in life, I’d rather feel pain than feel nothing.
I wanted to learn from the no. I wanted to understand what it was that made people want to say yes or why they chose no. I wanted to know why these rejections, that weren’t about me but about a business transaction, affected me and made me feel defeat.
Rather than run from this, rather than ignore and make excuses, I chose to use these difficult lessons as my mountain to climb and as my ultra-marathon to run. Daily, I would walk into this discomfort and sift through the emotions it left me with.
You desensitize fear’s power over you when you practice facing it repeatedly. Over time, that anxious feeling doesn’t lead to paralysis, it’s energy you channel to propel yourself forward.
Allowing myself to feel is what made me hungry to learn more. You can’t figure out how to ask the good questions until you allow yourself to sit in the difficulty. And as soon as I had conquered another peak, I found the more there was to learn.
FALLING (AND FAILING) IS HOW YOU LEARN TO STAND:
Getting knocked down is the best thing that can happen to us. When you fall, you’re already down. You’ve encountered the worst. And while you may have cuts and bruises, you learn how to lick your wounds and stand upright again. With each experience, the muscles you use to stand again strengthen.
It is my longheld belief that success in sales is most largely achieved from choosing to get up over and over (and over) again.
The best sales practices in the world will never work one-hundred percent of the time, just like every person you date won’t be the one you should marry. Taking time to zoom the camera out and detaching enough to see the whole picture is where the ability to see what you could have done better comes into focus. Being honest with yourself, humble enough to ask for feedback, and soaking in the mentality and objectives of those who have been successful is where your discovery is.
And the growth comes from choosing to face it again.
Failure is a measuring stick. It’s the only thing that indicates how bad you want something. When you decide to try again and again, you learn what is worth working or fighting for.
Failure is an equalizer. It’s the one thing we all experience no matter what social class, background, or neighborhood we grew up in. We all posses the choice to do, or not to, in the face of it. It gives us all a chance to show up.
Failure is the differentiator. It demands the reaction that separates those who deserve the success awarded to them for facing it and breaking through, from those who walk away shrouded in “what if”.
To get what I wanted meant leaving my comfort zone, being bold, being daring, asking for what I wanted, being shot down, trying again. Because I learned wanting something bad enough, meant I might need to break through some walls to get there.
And I discovered I was always able to stand up again.
I believe, whether or not we admit or like it, we are all in sales. And while many of us have actually chosen that path, not all of us understand or enjoy it. You don’t have to be a superstar or a pro to succeed, and the learning and triumphs are how you can choose to enjoy it.
I wasn’t born a salesperson, but it was learned over time. The lessons and process have changed me as a person.
Whatever it is that you are scared of pursuing, afraid to ask, putting off… The possibility is real that the thing on the other side is worth pushing for. And whatever vehicle you use to get there will only serve to teach you and give you more resilience and power to get to the next one.
Mine was sales… Maybe yours can be, too.