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Stop me if you’ve been here before. You feel like you’re biking through a long, windy tunnel. It’s dark, steamy, and almost impossible to see what’s coming ahead. There are hills and valleys that you’re pushing through and, no matter how long you’ve been going, you still can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, promising a checkered flag for all of your efforts. No podium awaits. No medals or trophies being handed out. No cash prize to soothe the aches and pains.
If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. There are times in our careers where we’re pushing hard with what feels like infrequent rewards and almost no breaks.
It seems like a lot of us feel that way right now. Sales can be a hard, lonely, exhausting profession even during a good year. Throw a pandemic, economic collapse, massive layoffs, and social justice issues on top of it and you’ve got quite the toxic combination.
But I’ve been through the wringer enough times to tell you that things will get better. You will make it through that tunnel. You always have an extra gear; if you know where to look to find it. Knowing where to look means having strategies for pushing through a difficult time, while staying motivated and sane.
For anyone that feels this way, here are a few things I’d recommend trying:
Let’s start with what may be the core issue: your “why”. Simon Sinek wrote that your “why” is “the one constant that will guide you toward fulfillment in your work and life”. Friedrich Nietzsche said that “he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”. In its simplest form, your “why” is your reason for doing something. In this case, it may take some soul searching to really find if what you thought was your “why” really intrinsically motivates you.
Greatness takes diving into the depths of one’s soul and performing at a high level over a sustained period of time. The only way to accomplish that is to have a deep enough “why” to push through the barriers: the early mornings, the late nights, the rejections, the highs, and the lows. Yearning for more money will only get you so far.
My “why” came two decades ago when I contracted an autoimmune disease that spiraled out of control. I was holed up in a hospital bed for the better part of four years. I wasn’t sure if I was going to see daylight again, breathe fresh air again or even survive the night. I feel like I was given a second chance and I intend on making the most of it. I feel a responsibility to not only provide for my family but to be a great role model and show people how sales can change your life. It’s what inspires me to not only achieve but to do it the right way: by helping out as many people along the journey as I can.
The next step for pushing through a tough time is to set concrete goals. Goal-setting is one of the most important skills you can learn in your career. I set goals every month for what I want to accomplish and build the systems I need to make sure I achieve them.
A common philosophy for setting goals is to make them SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented. If you’re newer to goal-setting, these are great benchmarks to make sure you’re setting goals the right way.
An example of this may be that you want to make 1,000 cold calls this month. You’ll notice that this passes the SMART test. Additionally, this goal should be a leading indicator of something larger. Do the math: if you make 1,000 cold calls, how many meetings do you produce? How does this compare to your quota and what your peers are creating? Will this help you achieve your longer-term goals?
One thing that 2020 has made crystal clear for me is that the “re-evaluation” of goals is an absolutely essential [yet often overlooked] aspect of goal setting. Nobody could have predicted your entire industry would collapse due to a pandemic, and it feels unreasonable to expect your original goals to stand with zero consideration to the reality of your situation.
Evaluate your ability to hit the inputs that ensure your outputs are attained. If the inputs are compromised, you will need to adjust your output goals. Your main goal now might be to survive and keep your business afloat rather than hitting that million dollar marker. Perhaps your re-evaluation will cause you to reconsider a bunch of paradigms you held close to the chest, and lead to a breakthrough and re-imagining of your business and how things operate.
Setting small attainable [and flexible] goals will help you on your path to a larger goal. It will keep you motivated, happy and determined to press on.
Let’s say there are no near-term payoffs in your job. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be rewarded for your efforts. If others won’t reward you, reward yourself. Something I like to do is gamify my job and my goals. If I achieve a task, if I reach a new “level”, I will reward myself with something.
You can customize this for each of your goals. For achieving a major financial or career goal, I may celebrate with a steak dinner or a nice night out with my family. If it’s a smaller goal, I may just pour myself a nice glass of tequila. Trust me, sometimes it’s just an accomplishment to make it through the damn day and my shoulders instantly relax as soon as I close the laptop after sending my final email.
You don’t need to wait for the “big moments” in life to celebrate. Gamifying your career not only helps you stay on track and motivated, but you also have a lot more fun. Find small wins through each month to reward yourself to stay motivated and enjoy the journey.
A lot of top performers will take a challenge head-on and work themselves to the bone trying to accomplish their goals. While that intensity can be invaluable, there needs to be a time when you turn it off. Sometimes, this can mean taking a week (or longer) to leave home and relax on a remote beach in Costa Rica. But if you can’t get away, there are a few ways that you can take a shorter, refreshing break.
One way I do this is by walking. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that he “walks himself into a state of well-being and away from every illness.” I practice taking gratitude walks, where I will spend the time reflecting on things I’m grateful for. Putting those positive things in front of my mind can change my whole perspective.
I’ve found solace in writing too. Sometimes it’s engulfing myself in a blog post like this. Other times I’m working on a bigger project, and I’m in the midst of my second book right now. But there are some days where I just open up a notebook and write whatever is on my mind. Those words are just for me and help me clear my head.
I make a point to surround myself with great people. Seeing a smile on my children’s faces can turn my entire day around. Having a conversation with a good friend can lift my mood. There is no such thing as a “self-made man or woman”. We all have companions on our journey and it’s important we spend time with them.
Times are tough right now. If you feel like you’re climbing a never ending mountain: you are not alone. You can reach the summit. You can master your current situation.
In order to do that, you may need to leverage some of the above tips. Just trying to power your way through issues with brute force and willpower isn’t enough. Trust me, I’ve tried that and failed.
Spend some time with yourself to understand what will be helpful. What’s your “why”? What do your goals look like? Are you rewarding yourself for your efforts? When’s the last time you took a damn break from your cell phone?
It’s possible to climb this mountain and have fun along the way. Give the above tactics a try and let me know how it goes. See you at the top.
Scott Leese has spent his entire career building and scaling sales orgs at SaaS companies, wrote a bestselling book “Addicted to the Process”, is currently the CEO/Founder of Scott Leese consulting and the Founder of the Surf and Sales Summit. You can find out more over on LinkedIn.
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