Beyond the Number
Sharing My Mental Health Secrets Was the Best Thing I Ever Did for My Sales Career—Here’s Why
How Spilling My Guts Helped Me Increase my Sales Numbers by 50%
Confident. Competent. Charismatic. And—although it doesn’t start with a “C”— Positive.
These are the kinds of qualities we associate with salespeople. In sales, image is everything. You’re always performing, always living your best life, with no breaks from being center stage and on top. For salespeople, winning means having it all—champagne toasts over inked deals, stays at the Ritz, speaking gigs, snagging Hamilton tickets, happy family photos taken in beautiful homes.
I had that life (and the social media photos to prove it).
And then, in 2016, I had a bad year. It was the worst year of my life, filled with unimaginable loss that culminated in being committed to a mental hospital in December.
I got better. And here’s the thing: My mental breakdown could have stayed private, known only to close family and friends. I could have kept my mouth shut, and my breakdown would’ve simply been seen as an unexpected break in my Instagram updates. This option was extremely tempting. Some would say it was the only logical thing to do. Not only was I a business professional, I was a salesperson. Remember that description of winning I shared above?! It’s a pretty far cry from a padded cell. If I showed vulnerability or came across as unstable, would it kill my sales career?
Though doubts crowded my mind, I chose to live by the age-old saying that it’s not the illness that defines a person, but the strength and courage to overcome it. Instead of keeping my breakdown a shameful secret, I shared my story. In return, the world gave back, with an outpouring of support and countless stories of similar struggles, including salespeople who felt suicidal over missed numbers, and salespeople who take sleep meds every night to stop their brain from racing.
It wasn’t easy to tell my story so publicly, but I’d argue that by being open, I’ve become a better mom and wife, and a better salesperson, too. Here’s how.
My worst fears didn’t come true. Posting my story on LinkedIn was terrifying. (Just picture me, hand hesitating on my computer mouse, debating over whether or not to hit publish for week after week.) After all, I identify as a workaholic. What would this level of vulnerability mean for my sales career and opportunities?
WIth 900,000 views on my story—and more than 60,000 comments—here’s what I can report: My work relationships remain the same. If anything, my focus on real-life connections (as opposed to online ones) has made them stronger.
I’ve gained perspective, too. It’s never good to lose a deal or have a customer churn, but now, I can assign that kind of news its appropriate value: not great, but also not the end of the world. Then, I move on to the next deal and next customer.
I advocate for myself earlier and more often. Now, when I have problems at work or issues I know I need to overcome, I talk to my manager. After baring my soul online for the world to see, direct conversations just don’t intimidate me anymore. Yes, it means opening up, and maybe sometimes that still makes me a bit nervous. But at the end of the day, a good sales manager is there to give help and feedback. I realized I’m letting her do her job by opening up earlier when something’s bothering me. This also helps me remove obstacles to my sales success in a more expedient manner.
Integrating work and life is good for my life—and also my work. Those days of working 24-hours in a row, or starting off at 8 a.m. and going, going, going until 10 p.m.? Those are over for me. Working a shorter, more scheduled day makes me happier—and my husband and kids, too—but it also makes me so much better at sales.
With a firm stop in place every night (no pushing it back to catch the later train allowed), I push harder. When I’m working, I’m so productive, because I know I have only limited time to power through my to-do list.
These days, I’ve got all sorts of time blocked off on my calendar. Around lunch, I take some time away from my desk, whether it’s a walk to grab food or a trip to the gym. These breaks jog my memory, leaving me with a fresh, sharp brain when I’m back at my desk. I also have two hours set aside every single day day for prospecting, and during those two hours, I’m laser-focused. I get so much done—much more than if I just spread the task out throughout the day.
Digital detoxes leave me revived. It feels important when we post our manicured photos online and hit reply (“sent from my phone”) within 30 seconds of receiving every email, but what do we really gain? I’ve rejected that “always on” state of mind.
Every night when my husband and two kids get home from work and school, my whole family puts our digital devices in a basket for two hours, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. No technology for anyone. This uninterrupted one-on-one time has made us a better, stronger unit.
Reading this, you may be thinking, but what about your emails?! What happens at 8:05, when the detox is over? Yes, there are emails. You can count on that (after all, not everyone is observing my two-hour digital detox, although I so highly recommend it). When my phone emerges from the basket, and I turn it back on, I’m refreshed and newly motivated to get back online and zip off responses. It takes less time, and is more efficient than if I hadn’t taken a short break.
My story is unique because I got help and got better. But my struggles are common. In a survey by online career database PayScale, sales account manager was ranked as the second most stressful job, with 73 percent of respondents rating the role as "highly stressful." In sales, it’s a double-bind because the stress is there, and you aren’t supposed to talk about it, which causes even more stress. I’m encouraged by some of the recent changes I’ve seen, like Salesforce adding meditation rooms to every office floor-that’s not something that would have happened twenty years ago, or maybe even ten. It is definitely in sales employers’ best interest to address the stress crisis in sales. Not only is it the right thing to do (which it is!) but according to The Oxford Handbook of Strategic Sales and Sales Management, sales reps who experience stress on a regular basis “tend to be less involved in their jobs, less committed to the organization, and to experience lower levels of work and life satisfaction. These salespeople do not perform as well and are more likely to leave the organization.” Retention, engagement and hitting your number are all linked to lower stress levels. I hope my story is not just an inspiration to other salespeople who might be struggling with mental health issues, but a call-to-action to sales leaders to ensure their salespeople are shining, not burning out.