Beyond the Number
From President's Club to chronic pain: How one top-performing sales rep conquered chronic pain with an unexpected cure
I curled over the kitchen island in my home. My wife rubbed my shoulders. A searing pain shot through my upper back and along both sides of my neck. The pain was nothing new. By this point, I had seen 24 medical professionals to try and solve this strange health mystery that I had been living with for about 8 months. It was truly a living hell to wake up every day and be in so much pain that I couldn’t even go to the gym and lift weights like any active 31-year-old male should be able to do.
As someone who was a competitive weightlifter, competed in CrossFit, played pickup football for years every weekend, and spent lots and lots of time horsing around with my daughter, this mystery pain made no sense. None.
So where did this all start? Short answer: with my sales career.
A Bright Beginning to My Sales Career
I joined a small tech startup in Seattle and had my first commissioned sales job in 2011. The following year was the first year I was eligible to make the highly sought after pinnacle of any sales career: President’s Club. Over the next three years, I would finish somewhere in the Top 10, sometimes Top 5’ish.
I was well-respected. I was a mentor to many. I had a really wonderful life. However, when 2014 ended, I set out on a new path: I wanted to be the top performer in the entire company.
The new year began and I was off to the races. In the final couple days of the year, it was neck-and-neck-and-neck between myself and two other salespeople (Nick and Ashley, in case you’re reading this). I was obsessed with being the #1 salesperson. In fact, I remember taking my wife to see Amy Schumer in Seattle for New Year’s Eve, and I had my phone open so I could watch Salesforce and make sure that neither Nick nor Ashley would pass me before midnight. Midnight came and I did it. I was the #1 seller in my company and surpassed quota 10 times in the 12 months of 2015. I put every ounce of selling capacity I had in those final 2 or 3 days and didn’t leave a thing in my pipeline to enter 2016.
Then, things took a downward turn.
Contribute to Beyond the Number
A New Year: Things Take A Dark Turn
The new year began slowly. Very slowly. By July, I think I was only somewhere around 50% of my quota YTD for the year, whereas I don’t think I ever got to May without being 100%+ year to date (YTD) in the 5 years prior. Something was up. I expected more of myself and was under constant internal-pressure to be the best in the company. The irony? Despite this slump, the executive team didn’t seem to have any concern with how I was performing. They kept telling me that they knew I wouldn’t be slumping forever. None of it registered. I was still treating every call and meeting like it was the most important thing in the world. If a customer said “no” on a deal or didn’t sign a contract, it would eat away at me in a way that I had never experienced before.
My internal rhetoric went from “Eddy, you’re damn good at what you do.” to “Eddy, you are a piece of sh*t and you don’t know how to sell anymore.”
This is when the pain began to kick in. I started getting knee pain in Mid-August of 2016. I got some painkillers from my doctor and the pain in my knee went away. A few days later, I developed severe sciatica in my right leg. Every step felt like lightning bolts shooting down from my hip to my foot. That cleared up after a week or so. Then, it really hit the fan.
Sales Management Dreams: A ball of nerves, a bolt of pain
I applied for a Management position and got an interview. The entire day before, I was a ball of nerves. Normally, the best practice before a job interview is to be nervous, but to talk yourself up and give yourself some confidence. Well, I failed. The entire day before, I would tell myself how much I didn’t deserve this job and then go back to the negative self-talk. This was when the pain accelerated. I remember going to CrossFit that day and having this internal storm during the actual workout. I was doing pull-ups when the timer ended. I jumped off the pull-up bar and my back locked up completely. I went in to the interview the next day and completely bombed it, and the pain continued.
I was broken. Truly broken.
Despite bombing the interview, I managed to pull it together, pop some extra pain relievers and put together a historic Q4 to make my 5th President’s Club. In the final 3 weeks of the year I came down with severe stomach issues that had a doctor urging me to get on medication for a nasty infectious disease that I ended up testing negative for (C-Diff). Right when I got that final signed contract to send me to President’s Club, though, the stomach pain vanished.
I was like a junkie in a withdrawal, except the drug was a sale.
Finally, the tide turns in my sales wellness journey
Fast forward about 6 months, and the day that would change my life by filling in the missing connection. I was lucky enough to get in to see the Head Team Physician for the University of Washington Huskies (Go Dawgs!) football team: Dr. Kimberly Harmon. After examining me and my imaging (which showed EMG problems in various nerves in the neck and back) she asked me one question that completely changed my entire world: “Tell me what is going on in your life.. What is your stress-level like?”
I had no answer. What did she mean?
“Why?” I asked.
Dr. Harmon answered “I do not care what this imaging says; these symptoms are likely a manifestation of stress.”
Now, most of the time when I left a doctor’s office in the 9 months prior I would simply leave with my head slumped over and a prescription for insert your painkiller of choice. When I left Dr. Harmon’s office I had a piece of paper that recommended a psychologist.
My initial thought? “I am NOT stressed out!”
Or was I? Once the initial question rose, I began on a journey of self-discovery around the relationship between mental health, physical pain, and my sales career. After discovering a few life-changing resources (links below), I became convinced that stress really could be causing my pain problems.
In July of 2017, I began seeing a psychologist and truly begin an excavation of my life and really “finding myself,” as a human being. We would discuss the amount of pressure I put on myself to be the best salesperson, the best husband, the best father, the best employee, the best weightlifter, the best son, the best sibling, etc. Falling short in any category caused a seismic explosion internally. As we created a running list of all of my health problems dating back to childhood, there was a 100% correlation between a stressful event in which I felt I came up short in something and some kind of health problem. It was astounding.
When I was a kid, getting teased for being fat would get paired with nosebleeds. When I was a college student, it was class overload while juggling an internship and a job, resulting in terrible reflux. I then got into my B2B Saas sales career, and could put knee injuries and illnesses to the final three weeks of virtually every quarter over a six year period.
All of this work I was doing with my psychologist was a game-changer. Yet, regardless of the amount of work we were doing together, I would still have muscle and nerve problems when I would walk into my building at work. There was a conditioned response; similar to the well-known Pavlov’s Dogs study in the 1890s - when I go to this place I associated the place with pain and fear, at a subconscious-level. For those of you that know how the mind works, the subconscious part of the mind runs the show 90% of the time and it’s where we store our greatest traumas, our fears and our insecurities.
The company wasn’t the problem...my sales career wasn’t the problem... my reactions, personality and conditioning was the problem. A month later, I made a huge decision. I decided to quit my sales job at my software company. I would spend the next six months trying to finding myself, a new company, and working with my therapist.
How this journey impacted my sales career
How did this experience make me a better salesperson? It has taught me empathy and better listening. For a long time I lacked empathy with buyers and would occasionally listen (hardly ever to my own intuition, too); now I find myself having more human conversations and really being an ally for my customers.
Think back to Dr. Harmon at the University of Washington: She changed my life simply because she listened to me. Twenty four doctors before her did not listen. Dr. Harmon had empathy for the situation, she identified the problem, she got to the root cause and she told me how to cure my problem.
Isn’t that what we are all here to do in selling?
Eddy Lindenstein is a Senior Account Executive at Outreach, a podcast host and a fitness enthusiast. His podcast, the “The Mind and Fitness Podcast,” has featured psychologists, surgeons, Emmy-award winning producers, authors, and competitive athletes. The podcast has thousands of downloads per month and is listened to in 25 countries around the world.