It’s your company’s job to stress you out.

I’ve been thinking non-stop this week about this. Dave Sagraves said something like that back in Episode 11. It’s your company’s job to put you under pressure, and it’s not really possible to consistently succeed as sales professionals unless we have that kind of pressure pushing us along. I cringe whenever he says that… because he’s absolutely right. I hate that he’s right. The optimist in me would love to believe that all of us, if we worked hard enough or had the right tools, could be top performers without that kind of pressure. But it’s just not feasible, and I’m no exception to that reality.

This past week I had an extra helping of pressure dropped on me at work. It’s never something that’s fun, but every time it happens it’s a wonderfully unwelcome opportunity to take a close look at who I am today, and who I want to be in the future. If you’re anything like me, your first and most immediate reaction will be to try and relieve that pressure as quickly as possible. Potential relief looks and sounds like: quitting your job, loosing your temper at your manager, or scheming and planning and gaming the system… anything to make your activity look good on the Monday morning call. This kind of initial reaction is normal, but probably not helpful.

It’s always dangerous to make decisions when we’re angry. The shame of a bad performance review, or being put on a PIP will bring out some powerful feelings. The fear of missing your targets can be overwhelming. Whenever we feel those emotions rising, it’s important that we be absolutely sure we’re using them productively. Fear and shame can run “hot,” and tend to drive us to be rash and reckless. If you can find a way to allow that fear and shame to burn themselves out, they leave behind a lot of clarity. Clarity that will help you come up with better strategies. Because brandishing your middle finger and quitting in a blaze of glory may feel good when you’re running hot, but usually burns valuable bridges as well. So step one is to get your emotions under control, so that you can clearly understand what’re really happening.

Once you’re calm and thinking clearly, try to recognize how much of this problem is yours. In real life it’s rare that something is 100% your fault, or 100% not. Anything that obvious is usually governed by some kind of law. The circumstances surrounding the pressure on you are irrelevant. Some part of it is your responsibility. If you can’t take ownership of your piece, you have no control over it. If you have no control over it, you are a victim. In certain situations we cannot avoid being a victim, but when it comes to the pressure of our chosen career in sales you have all the control you need.

You control your attitude. You control your mindset. You control your activity. And while you can never pry a check out of a prospect’s cold, dead fingers, you can make sure that every sales meeting you walk into has the best chance of success. You can’t make your manager treat you fairly, but you can act with integrity in the face of unfairness. You can’t make someone pick up a cold call, but you can make sure that you hit your dials every day. You can’t make your company continue to employ you, but you can make yourself so valuable that they’d never let you go.

It’s your company’s job to stress you out. It’s your job to turn that pressure into something usable. You are the one who decides. You are the one in control. No employment is ever secure, you serve at the pleasure of the company. But those of us who are in sales have more control than almost any other employee. If you can produce, usually you can stay. And if they cut you, then you’ll have no trouble finding another job… because you know that you can produce.

So the next time you find yourself in the pressure cooker, first remember to pump the breaks and don’t make and rash, emotionally driven decision. Next, take stock of what’s really in your control. Make peace with what is, and what isn’t. Then, commit yourself to doing whatever is required to be proud of yourself and the work you’ve done. I can’t promise that you’ll keep your job, or hit your goals, or that you’ll be treated fairly. In the end, those things are not in your control… but more importantly, those things should have little to do with how you value yourself.

One of the beautiful side effects of taking ownership of your actions is that you’re set free from the guilt of “what if.”

We are all visited by the “what if”. In those moments where there are no more excuses, no more justifications. No one to blame, just the truth of who we are and whether we tried our best. When those moments come, I want you to be able to say that you really did your best. You can lie to almost anyone, but lying to yourself is really hard. Getting through a “what if” moment is a whole lot easier if you can honestly say that you owned your part of the problem, that you pushed through the pressure, and that the cards fell wherever they fell. You don’t own the world, but you are responsible for yourself and your actions.

Don’t allow yourself be a victim of your circumstance. Don’t let the pressure poison you. Do the work so that you can be proud of the work you do, and how you do it. You are not your quota. Your value is not in how much you make or how much you produce. What you do is hard, and it’s worth doing. Now go do it.

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