My first serious job out of high school was secretary to the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at a life insurance company. That boss was my first mentor in business and set me on a path I never intended my career to go. After working for him for just over a year, he suggested I consider a position in sales after I finished college. At this suggestion, I simply burst into laughter and said never; this was my first lesson in never say the word never.
Four years later, I had been promoted but the company was being sold and split in two. I vividly recall my boss and mentor pulling me into his office stating that while I could transfer to a lower position which would allow me to stay employed, he felt that it would be a disservice as it was "time for me to spread my wings and fly". In retrospect, he was right which taught me the importance of never getting too comfortable.
I landed on my feet working as a buyer in the world of logistics where I honed negotiation skills. Then went on to work for a manufacturer's rep agency (basically a third party sales arm) for smaller automotive suppliers. Eventually, one of the companies I supported asked me to join their organization as the Sales Manager and thus began my journey as a sales professional. From this I learned how building strong business relationships can pay off in surprising ways.
Initially, I glued myself to their resident engineer as I knew if I was going to sell their product, I needed to educate myself quickly. Joe became another great mentor, not only teaching me about manufacturing, but more importantly how to face what the customer would consider a five alarm fire with calm confidence. First survey the problem and determine it's scope, rescue survivors, identify a plan of attack to put out the flames, collect data and address the root cause, and last implement a prevention plan to avoid repeat situations. I learned that panic only breeds more panic and solves nothing but taking a slow, methodical approach not only is the best route course to solution but level sets expectations and shifts the focus from the emergency to corrective action.
After almost a decade in automotive manufacturing sales, I owned and managed a small business for a few years. This was one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life; during this period I found ultimate joy from fulfilling a dream. After a few years as a struggling business owner I went back to corporate America. I took a sales position in yet another new industry and challenged myself once again. Within the first two years here company was sold, completely structured and introduced new management several times over. From this, a lesson to always be flexible and embrace change.
Over the next decade I faced challenges head on, overcame fears and not only embraced the world of sales but worked hard to become one of the elite. As I've grown and matured, I've looked to those I admire and respect to determine characteristics that I have yet to develop. The gentleman who hired me taught me to look for the little things that make a difference. This could be anything from some small area of expense that resembles a small leak but eventually creates a huge problem, to how you follow up with an email summary following a meeting. These seemly small things are exactly the things that differentiate the good from the great.
A dear friend, once my Operations Manager, taught me (even in business) to stand up for what you believe. This may not always produce the result you hope for, but it pays off in the long run and you will sleep better. It has taken years for me to develop confidence in my skills and I attribute my successes to the many I've had the privilege to work beside. The most valuable lesson I've learned is that we spend a great majority of our lives working, so if we are going to enjoy and appreciate life, we need to make fun a priority, even in the workplace. The most rewarding successes I've achieved were with a partner standing beside me. We faced challenges, barriers and roadblocks, picked each other up, found laughter, joy and absurdity in the struggles and shared pride and accomplishment in the big wins.
I know there will be more challenges ahead and lessons to be learned... I am eager to embrace them.
*This nonfiction piece is based on observation and research. I do not claim to be an expert in areas of public health, academia, mental health, or science, nor am I providing professional medical or legal advice. Opinions shared are expressly drawn from personal experience.