When you are in sales, part of the expectation is that you entertain prospective or existing clients. I started in sales late in my career, and even in 2010, roughly 90% of my clients were business owners who were men – about 95% of those were white men - and about my age or older. I will admit, I tend to carry a more au courant mindset than many of those customers. But I felt that it was my job to entertain them where they wanted or expected to go, so I learned to drink scotch and order steak. Sometimes, I felt like I was Don Draper (or would it be Dawn?) in “Madmen”.
So, for about the first 2 or 3 years of being the Head of Sales, I was all steak and scotch, usually followed by a bottle or two or three - depending on the group - of really good red wine. I had become an old white man. I wasn’t paying attention and had found myself on a racetrack that salespeople aggressive drove to master, I had allowed myself to get totally burned out, and the glamour of travel had definitely worn off.
I had started to allow myself to be programmed by other people’s perceptions of what a dinner out with a salesperson looked like. In 2015, I had gone out one night after a trade show in Boston with a couple of customers from different companies. Somehow, after eating the prescribed dinner and ordering a few times each from the full bar, “the boys” decided we should dip into another bar on the way back to our hotels. I didn’t want to go. I was definitely ready for bed, but we were having fun and I didn’t want to be a killjoy. But dude…I had been selling ALL DAY, talking to literally hundreds of people, leading a workshop and ending by entertaining at dinner. And I had 2 more days of the exact same schedule – 14 hours of teaching, selling, entertaining. I just wanted to go back to my hotel, hose myself off, roll into bed, put a pillow under my knees, an ice pack under my back, drink a lot of water while watching a little tv, then go to bed. And yet, I agreed, as this is “my job” to keep people entertained. I’m fun, after all, and I had a reputation to protect! But even after that assessment of how exhausted and ‘overserved’ I felt, and knowing I had to repeat it all again for the next 2 days, I still stuck with the boys…and we ended up having a very fancy flight of scotch. Or was it two?
I’m a strong producer, so I had that “rep” to protect. So I kept going out, and kept wearing myself out to maintain my company’s brand positioning. We were, after all, different. We were better. I was re-creating the brand experience by being fun, a good listener, a problem-solver and a builder of long-term relationships.
But the truth is, I not only exhausted myself for several years, but in that exhaustion of selling/presenting/performing and lack of eating throughout the long days, I found it my duty to lead, if not minimally “participate” in networking events and dinners. My solution? Just sip and talk. But no, even that was too much. I was doing what I thought I was “supposed” to do. What I forgot was that I’m a grown woman, able to make my own decisions! But…I just forgot. For the first 5 of 7 years, I had forgotten what I wanted, and was focused on what I thought my company and my customers expected. Even my boss told me I was over-extending myself and didn’t have to make all of those visits and complicated itineraries.
I had finally hit a wall, and I realized that I needed to stop being what I thought others wanted, and start doing me. What did I want? Well, I hadn’t really thought about it much, other than that I wanted to sleep well, get up feeling rested and ready to be of service, and to encourage positive interactions wherever I went. But I sure did think plenty about what I DIDN’T want: I didn’t want to drink too much, I didn’t want steak, I didn’t want to be a party pooper, I didn’t want to be tired all the time and I didn’t want to participate in all of my own complicated plans, to ensure I was always overdelivering for my company.
Steak sticks in my stomach. Scotch scorches my schedule. Driving drains my drive.
So, in about year 4, my team changed and so did I. I found fun, ethnically diverse restaurants that had some special vibe, and I put people together who I thought would enjoy one-another, build camaraderie and qualify as an entertaining, relationship-building evening. After all, if I was dining alone, it would be a small Mexican taqueria for a super veggie burrito and Diet Coke, or solo dining on endless amounts of sushi, or Mediterranean food with fresh feta, housemade pita, lemony dolmas and hummus. So move from taqueria to Mexican casual dining, great fun vibe, amazing margaritas and a lot of chips and you have a home run for a good group, that doesn’t include steak or scotch or darkness. I also started to learn that the entire evening’s success was not on my shoulders, and believe it or not, this was less exhausting! I had lifted the burden of being someone I thought customers wanted me to be, and allowed myself to not be the perpetual cruise director who was responsible for creating absolutely unforgettable evenings, but a willing participant in building solid relationships. I had made the decision to be myself, which is easier than playing a character 24/7 and giving myself away. I had slowed my roll, played a bigger, longer game, and started to see me again.
I had learned to turn this all around and think about what I DO want. I learned to set boundaries and limits on what I give away, so I have more energy to be of higher service. I have since learned that taking care of myself is taking care of my company, and taking care of my customers. Further, taking care of my customers and my company = taking care of me, and taking care of me = taking care of my company, my family and my ongoing well-being. And after all of that fear that being me and not doing what everyone else was doing, I found that I was wrong all along: my results did not suffer at all. I was still producing at a high level, with the added bonus of having something left for myself.
I now have energy to be me, to excel at my relationships, to be highly productive and not just busy, and to delegate the things I spend too much time on, that are not revenue-generating, needle-moving or success-building activities. I can hire experts where I lack knowledge, I can drink water with lemon in it, take my vitamins, maybe even exercise. In the end, what works is developing very strong and lasting relationships that create long term results and I give them what they need, not just what they want. I don’t need steak. I don’t need scotch, I just need me, in my best form.
But I do love my small batch bourbon and Japanese Whisky, for special times. I always find something good to take away…